It would, of course, be easy for us to focus on Governmental shortcomings, the cost of energy, green tax, skills shortage and lack of support for UK manufacturing from, well, pretty much everywhere. But you know us better than that (or at least we hope you do).
To be honest, the initial seeds of an idea for this Spotlight feature came from the myriad of positives we were informed of towards the end of last year. Indeed, even a cursory glance towards the winners at Mixology North 14 will show that there is a new confidence in UK manufacturing, as well as a new breed of energetic, impressive new players. From Orangebox and Johnson Tiles, through to younger guns Naughtone and Deadgood, it was UK manufacturers who stole the show.
That, therefore, is what we’re going to look more closely at over the next few pages. We’re only too well aware that the manufacturing sector still has significant issues that need to be tackled and addressed, but as the facts and figures a little later in our research will reveal, there is definitely room for optimism here.
We’ve asked some of the key British manufacturers to tell us more about their businesses, about the innovations and developments that they hope will push their companies forwards, about the social impact they make to their local communities and also about exporting their beautiful British products overseas.
This is not a piece of advertising-driven puff. We feel there is an enormous difference between pure promotional material and promoting an important sector of the industry.
Thank you to everyone who took the time and energy to help us put this comprehensive article together.
Whilst it is difficult to find accurate figures for the sector, there are a few facts and figures we do know. The UK furniture and furnishings manufacturing is a substantial industry, of that we are certain. According to 2013 Government statistics it contributes £9.4 billion to the country’s GDP, which equates to 1.8% of manufacturing output, and employs 115,000 people within 8,116 companies. In addition to this, the industry employs 134,000 in specialist furniture and furnishings retail and wholesale, 2,000 in repair, 13,000 in leasing and a proportion of the 43,000 registered specialist designers.
Furniture, furnishings and beds encompass a diverse range of products and markets, traditionally segmented into three sub-sectors based upon the purchaser’s characteristics:
• Domestic: serving the public, mainly through retail outlets and for household use.
• Contract: furniture for public areas such as hotels, schools, cruise liners, hospitals, restaurants, residential accommodation, stadia and airports.
• Office: desks, workstations, seating, tables, cabinets and other items for the office environment.
Companies often serve more than one market. In particular the distinctions between the office and contract sectors are blurred, and some manufacturers supply both domestic and contract end users. It is estimated that 30% of the UK’s furniture manufacturing turnover is attributable to the office and contract sub-sectors.
The industry has a high proportion of micro and small to medium size businesses. Looking solely at furniture manufacturing (i.e. excluding furnishings, retail, repair, design etc.), only 260 companies report turnovers in excess of £5 million and 84% of companies turn over less than £1m per year; 59% less than £250,000. This pattern is reflected in employment figures, with 78% of companies employing less than 10 people, and only 35 companies employing more than 250.
Despite its contribution to the UK economy, furniture manufacturing suffers from lack of recognition at a political level. The industry has no traditional regional hub, with manufacturing spread across the country (as our map perfectly shows). As a consequence, and with much industry support now targeted on a regional basis, it is considered that the industry does not secure the support and influence from government that is appropriate for its size and contribution to the economy.
The UK furniture market
The 2013 home furniture market (again excluding the sub-sectors mentioned above) is £11.3 billion (manufacturer selling price). UK furniture manufacturing turnover has increased since 2011, reaching £7.8 billion in 2013. Over that same period, total imports rose to £4.6 billion, whilst exports fell from a 2011 peak of £992 million to £958 million.
Import growth is primarily driven by China (32%), followed by Italy and Germany (11% and 9% respectively).
The main destination for exports from the UK is the Republic of Ireland (17%) followed by the USA, Germany and France (10% each)
(The generic term ‘furniture’ within these statistics means furniture, beds and furnishings. Spotlight statistics and data courtesy of the Furniture Confederation, UKTI, The New Economy & the BCFA)
It’s easy to forget that these sceptered isles offer so much in terms of raw materials, skill sets, expertise and connectivity – with nothing and nowhere being more than a day away.
Over the past 10 years or so it has been, despite economic instability, truly inspirational to see the continued rise of UK manufacturers in this sector – both in terms of turnover and prestige.
Orangebox is a perfect example. ‘We are proud to announce that our strategy to purchase locally is continuing to gain momentum,’ the company tells us. ‘78% of materials/services are now sourced in the UK with 43% of materials sourced within a 20-mile radius of our state-of-the-art facility in Wales.
‘Being geographically close to our suppliers helps us streamline processes and invest in the local community. Our suppliers are amongst the most pro-active. This is evidenced in them supporting our environment aspirations, by acting as researchers and innovators, seeking out and advising Orangebox in environmentally responsible materials and helping us get the most out of them.
We believe it’s crucial to work together with our suppliers if we’re to reach our aim of truly smart manufacturing.’
Last year saw the First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, open Orangebox’s new 120,000sqft. head office, design centre and manufacturing facility at Parc Nantgarw.
The company also awarded the Queen’s Enterprise Award by H.M. Lord Lieutenant of Mid-Glamorgan. A worldwide mark of achievement, The Queen’s Award is an acknowledgement of Orangebox’s outstanding achievement in International Trade.
First Minister Carwyn Jones said of the achievements: “The expansion of Orangebox and the creation of these 75 new jobs is fantastic news. This is a company that is creating and manufacturing a high quality, much sought after product with strong environmental ethics at the heart of their operation. A great example of green growth.
‘Companies like Orangebox, who are exporting their products worldwide, are an excellent example of how goods made in Wales can sell globally. They are forging ahead in the exports market and I congratulate them on their success.’
The Senator Group has also built a reputation for being an innovator, from pushing the boundaries of design, to investing in new manufacturing techniques and predicting future needs.
Last year, the company launched a number of designs that embrace the use of new technologies and have anticipated the increased demand of collaborative spaces in the workplace. The Group also introduced its pioneering space planning concept. Settings, which enables more productive and efficient collaborative environments.
The Senator Group merges traditional manufacturing techniques with the latest technology, recently investing in laser edging technology to improve the finish and durability of its desking and tables.
Lee & Plumpton, meanwhile, points out that its British heritage is in fact a key part of its commercial success. ‘The fact that we are a British manufacturer is of vital importance in our industry,’ Paul Guze, Sales
& Marketing Director, tells us. ‘In a recent customer survey, 75% of our customers said that one of the main reasons they buy from Lee &
Plumpton is because we are a British manufacturer.
We are incredibly proud of our Norfolk history and heritage (we celebrated our 40th anniversary in October last year).
‘Our production plant is located on a 20-acre site in the heart of the Norfolk countryside. After numerous expansions and significant investments in machinery and staff, we now have 200,000 sq ft of manufacturing space with state-of-the-art production capabilities, skilled staff and our own fleet of delivery vehicles.
‘We’re so confident in the quality of our British made furniture that we offer a 10-year guarantee. In addition to our standard production capabilities, we have a team of highly skilled and experienced furniture makers that work exclusively on bespoke projects and tailored solutions.’
This pride and optimism doesn’t only belong to furniture companies of course. Camira, the leading independent UK owned textile innovator, manufactures an astonishing eight million metres of fabric per year from 500,000 square feet of space, mainly located in West Yorkshire’s textile heartland. Camira fabrics are used by blue-chip organisations such as the BBC, Transport for London, Lloyds Banking Group, HSBC, Google, Swiss Rail, and many more. Andrew Schofield, Camira’s Group Sales & Marketing Director comments: ‘UK manufacturing continues to be recognised as a source of quality, craftsmanship, skill and genuine best practice; a key differentiator for us in the textile marketplace.’
Quadrant Carpets’ James Scully is equally positive. ‘2015 will be a momentous year in the interior design environment. UK manufacturing companies, such as Quadrant Carpets, are bringing to market exciting new products, which emphasise our capabilities to innovate and deliver market leading carpets and flooring solutions.
‘Quadrant Carpets’ success is grounded in our knowledgebase and design expertise at the design and marketing site in England and our state-of-the-art carpet tile manufacturing facility in Scotland. The location is crucial, allowing us total control of our process, product testing, environmental control and delivery timeframes.
‘British working environments are evolving; businesses as well as architects, designers and manufacturers have accepted the importance of office design as a contributor to staff productivity and wellbeing.
‘Our independence and business agility has allowed us the commercial bandwidth to be bold in decisions on new carpet designs, offering the latest trends in vibrant colour and contrasting textures, such as our new Frequency range. Furthermore, our design-led strategy with a price conscious approach ensures that we have a solution for any commercial flooring project.’
Ocee Design is another UK manufacturer driven by new product innovation. ’In 2010 we decided to transform the business with the aim of doubling turnover in four years,’ MD Alistair Gough reveals. ‘Having achieved this, and more, we enter 2015 ready to announce a series of significant new product ranges and extensions to existing collections. Our growth has been founded on the introduction of new design-led furniture as well as significant investment in infrastructure. 2014 saw the transformation of our manufacturing and showroom facility in Northampton and 2015 will herald further exciting developments.
‘We constantly research the best working practices to help people work efficiently and enjoy their working environment. Ocee invests in products that advance agile or activity based working. We aim to provide the practical building blocks to make the agile environment work. We believe that a true agile environment cannot function without appropriate working spaces and we believe that it is important to offer the full package, from the task chair and soft seating, to collaborative working platforms such as the FourCast Wheeler chair or the truly flexible Kite table system, to RFID keyless lock operated lockers and Hotbox personal storage.’
You may well have seen a number of these initiatives at CDW or Designjunction (and in this fine tome, of course) – and you’ll no doubt have seen the amazing Johnson Tiles projects that have adorned the walls of Clerkenwell and grounds of the Tower of London. ‘One of the most exciting recent developments at Johnson Tiles has been the opportunity to collaborate with artists and designers from across the creative community,’ Creative Director Darren Clanford enthuses. ‘Traditional manufacturers working with creatives makes for a really interesting dynamic and opens up a world of opportunities for both sides. In many ways, it’s something we’ve always done, as we have worked alongside local ceramic artists in Stoke-on-Trent since the early 20th century. This spirit of collaboration can bring a fresh perspective to long-standing production processes, help to reach new audiences and inject renewed vibrancy and energy into your work.
‘It’s allowed us to work on some fascinating projects. For example, we produced printed tiles for artist Nina Beier’s first solo exhibition in London, revitalised a pedestrian tunnel in south London in collaboration with community arts organisation, make:good, while for the LDF we worked alongside design studio David David to decorate the V&A’s entrance tunnel with a stunning patterned tile mural.
‘Collaboration has also had a positive impact on our own products, as we worked closely with colour consultant and textile designer Ptolemy Mann to refresh the colour palette for our Prismatics range of ceramic wall tiles. This resulted in a major re-launch and the biggest change to our core tile range in more than 30 years. We previewed the new colours with a headline-grabbing mural at Clerkenwell Design Week last year, achieving new levels of media and social media attention that really helped to enhance the Johnson Tiles brand. This commitment to innovative and worthwhile collaboration is something that will only help us to grow in 2015.’
One of, if not the main source of pride from a number of the UK manufacturers we’ve spoken with is the impact their businesses have made on local communities.
Ever since The Senator Group opened its doors back in 1976, for example, it has been committed to investing in the welfare and development of its employees and local community. The company is now one of the largest employers in East Lancashire, with over 1,100 people.
As the Group continues with its impressive expansion plans, there is an increased need to attract and train young people to create the talented skilled workforce of the future. The company runs an annual apprentice and graduate programme and took on 17 talented young people last year alone.
This latest intake of young apprentices are learning a variety of traditional crafts, ranging from upholstery to cabinet making, whilst at the same time being trained in the latest manufacturing technology.
Another business that impacts hugely on its own local community – and has done for over a century – is Johnson Tiles. ‘We’ve been based in the heart of the Potteries here in Stoke-on-Trent for nearly 115 years and have always been a major employer for the town,’ Creative Director Darren Clanford tells us. ‘This is something that means a lot to us as a business and we’re committed to providing meaningful employment and opportunities for local people. We are one of the few manufacturers still producing tiles in Britain and we try to source as many of our raw materials as possible from within the UK, which obviously has benefits for our supply chain too.
‘We have a great apprenticeship scheme in place at Johnson Tiles, so we bring employees into the business at all ages and all levels of education, from school, from college and from university. We have excellent links with universities in the local area and around the rest of the country.’
One of Camira’s key priorities in recent years has been the development of a sustainable skills base, as it believes the future of the West Yorkshire textiles industry is rooted in nurturing young individuals. The company also has a successful Modern Apprenticeship programme, in partnership with the Entice Project, which allows youngsters to work whilst studying for appropriate NVQ qualifications. Camira was even mentioned last year during Prime Minister’s Questions by Colne Valley MP Jason McCartney for its educational outreach and work with the employability of young people.
Gresham MD Julian Roebuck is similarly proud of the apprenticeship scheme that has been implemented at his company’s head office – with a real emphasis towards employing from local schools and colleges.
Heading south to Norfolk, Paul Guze, Sales & Marketing Director at Lee & Plumpton, tells us that the L&P is an Investors in People accredited company that employs over 150 people in its local community. ‘Training and career development are very important to us,’ he tells us. ‘Many of our employees have been with us for over a decade – and some for 30 years or more. Vernon Plumpton (one of the original founders) is still Chairman of the board. Even after 40 years, the company remains a family-owned and operated British manufacturer of quality furniture.’
Next door in Suffolk, Silverline employs some 120 people – with roughly 90% of those employees coming from the local community, living within a 15-20 mile radius of the factory. Still a family-run business, Silverline tells us it is now on to the 3rd generation of family members fulfilling roles within the company. Training is offered on site and it is preferred to source skilled tradesmen locally.
Ocee Design is another manufacturer keen to work with its local community. ‘This year Ocee Design celebrates its 25th year,’ Managing Director Alistair Gough proudly tells us. ‘At the heart Ocee is a family business, a British independently owned business with a very loyal workforce. We are part of the local community and believe that our links with our local university, schools, colleges and charities are the way to ensure that we develop the skilled team of individuals we need to drive the company forward in the future.’
That same passion for working with local talent can also be found in younger businesses, as Charles Bramwell at Sixteen3 shows: ‘Sixteen3 was started in 2009 as British designers and manufacturers of quality commercial soft seating. We’re based in Warrington, Cheshire and have a team of around 25 people, including experienced frame makers, upholsterers and machinists. We try to work with local suppliers as much as possible, and as such use metal workers, powder coaters, woodworkers from around the North West.’
When we’re talking about innovation when it comes to manufacturers, we’re generally referring to the products rather than the processes. Product innovation is of course vital for manufacturers – but that can come from a number of areas, such as smart design. It is often these overlooked new developments in processes that make the big changes possible.
This level of innovation means a great deal of investment – and a number of our manufacturers are continuing to invest in order to stay ahead of the international pack – just look at the successes enjoyed by Orangebox, Boss and Senator, to name just three furniture manufacturers.
Milliken’s Solution Dyed Nylon Tufting capability, for example, is still expanding with additional production equipment acquired in 2011 and in 2014 and yet more investment in equipment and expansion planned for 2015. Milliken continues to enhance and develop its proprietary Millitron digital patterning technology; 2014 saw some significant technological advances, which have enabled the carpet manufacturer to develop an unparalleled range of colours. These advances freed up the design team to create exciting new collections with a vastly expanded colour palette. Milliken has a strong in-house design team and is continuing to hire new designers.
Camira continues to foster a culture of continuous improvement and innovation to push the boundaries of possibility and exploit developments in science, technology and engineering. Key innovations have included the development of a flame retardant, stretchable, recycled polyester fabric, meeting pan-European higher level flammability standards; the introduction of high endurance fabrics for 24-hour use guaranteed for 10 years; and technical knits formed into 3D shapes or breathable meshes. There’s lots more exciting work in the pipeline, we’re assured, with the whole Camira team working tirelessly to stay one step ahead.
Back in the world of furniture, our friends from Frem recently purchased two new hi-tech saws, one for Pineham and one for Wakefield, because of a bottle neck in the production and too much volume of work going through (now that’s a good problem to have!). The Sliding Table Dimension Saws were chosen for their versatility and being appropriate for bespoke production methods.
Frem is also currently introducing 5S manufacturing disciplines, that will enable it to adhere to good practices in production: these will help reduce waste, help efficiency and help its staff because by creating better work environment and organised flow and place for all tools and components.
Many won’t be aware of this, but Frem is also one of the UK’s leading manufacturers of screens and acoustic products, with a manufacturing plant in Haverhill. Last year the company moved out northern production to a new plant in Wakefield, which has had a hugely positive impact on its manufacturing processes and efficiencies.
‘At Johnson Tiles, innovation has been at the heart of what we do ever since we started out back in 1901,’ the company’s Innovations Manager, Jon Wood, tells us. ‘15 years ago we invested £35 million in a brand new, purpose-built manufacturing facility for the business amidst challenging conditions for manufacturers in the UK, and we continue to benefit from a forward-thinking approach to design and production.
‘We continually invest in new inkjet printing machines, something that has been a major growth area for our business since we installed our first industrial-scale inkjet tile printer a decade ago. This technique allows us to produce inventive designs or to replicate traditional luxury finishes such as marble, stone or wood without the luxury price tag or the environmental costs of using natural materials. Digital decoration also gives us greater flexibility in terms of prototyping new designs and producing low volume orders.
‘We are always keeping track of new materials, advancements in machinery and the digital evolution and are keen to stay on top of how the latest materials and techniques are shaping new architecture. We have a dedicated design team and an innovation department, so this helps us to integrate innovative techniques and designs throughout the business. We also work closely with various academic partners, as forging links between academic institutes and manufacturers is essential for enhancing knowledge transfer in science and technology.’
Silverline is another manufacturer to continually invest in state-of-the-art machinery. The company’s most recent purchase, late in 2014, was a £350K laser cutting machine that helps increase flexibility, quality and allows the business to be ahead of potential new expectations that develop in the market. Silverline sees this type of investment, which improves processes and increases capacity, as key to future growth and stability in the marketplace.
Due to the nature of the product and the limitations of the raw material used in Silverline’s products, innovation lies in incorporating features that offer benefits such as reconfigurable solutions for future scenarios and consideration to the end of a products life. Each product reaches, at some point, the end of its life, so Silverline designs to ensure there is ease of entry into the recycling chain.
Pledge describes itself as a ‘true’ office seating manufacturer – by which it means that it is not merely a component assembler, but has the capability to produce both metal and wooden components in-house.
In-house facilities include metalworking, metal powder coating, woodworking, wood staining, upholstery and assembly.
It is a company objective to produce as much of the product in-house, ensuring total control of raw materials and waste disposal. This gives Pledge the ability to manufacture product to its client’s specification, design and requirements, and still have total control in the development process, with later production not dependent on component deliveries from miles away.
From its 160,000 sq ft factory, based on a nine acre site in Bedfordshire, the company designs, produces and deliveries in excess of 3,000 chairs per week. The company has a fully self-contained metal shop, producing tubular frames and formed flat sections for reception seating. Pledge is endeavouring to reduce its dependence on external suppliers and has recently invested in new tooling for popular ranges of seating where it was once sourcing from outside the UK