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Manufacturer Report: Gresham

Manufacturing is grubby, done by old men, in terminal decline and without investment (there’s nothing like a good cliché or two!). Our time with Bolton-based furniture manufacturer, Gresham, is a perfect example of this clearly not being the case.

01/04/2019 3 min read
Gresham Factory Bolton

Manufacturing in the UK is at something of a crossroads right now. Like most major advanced economies, it is a natural process of moving from heavy manufactured goods to service economy. In the UK in 2017, GDP was just over 18% from manufacturing and over 70% from the service sector. What remains constant is that those companies who are creating a product that has a high perceived value are winning. Having tight control over the production factors is key. Gresham is one such company.

In 1976, the year the UK and Iceland ended their Cod War and the Sex Pistols first shocked middle England, Gresham was founded.

Gresham, like its MD Julian Roebuck, gets on with things in a quiet and efficient way. In what some would say is typically ‘Northern’, Gresham has made its mark while going somewhat under the radar.

Five Year Plans
After a couple of years working for Gresham in business development, Julian led a Management Buy Out (MBO) in 2008. The next five years included the financial crisis and, more importantly, years of strife created by the good people in the financial services. Julian’s own admission is that this was a difficult and challenging period of time for the company. However, as their balance sheet of £33m turnover shows today, they not only survived but have since gone on to thrive.

The second five years for Julian were focused on analysing the business and making changes that would create a business ‘fit for the future’. With the senior management team and ‘work council’, they assessed the workflows, analysing the processes and bottlenecks.

One significant investment was to replace the four older edge banders (machine used to cover the exposed sides of materials) with a more efficient one.

 

 

This was repeated with the saws, while the most recent investment included a biomass heating system (the carbon in biomass is part of the natural carbon cycle; while the carbon in fossil fuels is not), which provides heat for the factory, offices and powder coating units. Solar panels are also evident across the factory and the wonderfully named ‘package on demand’ machine, more commonly associated with Amazon and Staples, which makes light of the most awkwardly shaped dispatches. A state-of-the-art powder coating machine completes a huge investment for the firm, this particular piece of wizardry allows painting to be done in a much shorter time and cuts cleaning time significantly, allowing colours to be altered without significant interruptions and notably with a tiny amount of waste.

Whilst most of the production is for its standard range, Gresham has recently housed its bespoke team in a large workshop, which most would envy. A cadre of apprentices supports the team on what is becoming a very significant part of Gresham’s offering.

Customers have also changed. Historically, universities and colleges were Gresham’s focus but, as the commercial workplace has changed, so has the world of education, demanding better solutions more akin to what their students will encounter in the real world. Whilst Gresham has a very strong and loyal following in HE and FE, with the help of high profile external product designers, such as Craig Jones and David Fox, its commercial clients are also growing. We are told to watch out for more exciting developments in the next six months.

Similar to many furniture manufacturers, much of Gresham’s business goes through the dealer route but Gresham has a very strong record of gaining business directly and through tender processes before the dealer is engaged.

 

The Next Five Years

Julian is a canny businessman who has overcome some significant challenges since the MBO in 2008, but his measured and stoic approach, along with the five-year plans, have served him and the team well.

The focus that Gresham has on investment to help both commercially and environmentally is evident and will put the business in a good place to achieve Julian’s plan to grow to a £50m company in the next five years. That’s no small feat, but if you get to meet him you are likely to have a similar view to us. You wouldn’t bet against him.

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