Historic Sheffield scissor firm re-focuses its market and sharpens up for growth in retail

The UK’s only remaining industrial and retail scissor manufacturer, William Whiteley’s, based in Sheffield, has expanded its premises and implemented a new strategy, which will see it extend its offer to the retail market.

For over 260 years, William Whiteley, now based at Holbrook Industrial Estate, has designed and produced high quality scissors for a wide range of industrial applications. This includes professional scissors and shears that are used in industries, ranging from automotive and aerospace to tailoring, crafting and upholstery applications. Most of the company’s products are hand-made in a time-honoured way, assembled and tested by craftsmen, using the skill and techniques honed and handed down over the centuries.

Director Jeremy Ward, who manages the business with his wife, a descendant of the Whiteley family, had to take the company in a whole new direction when the pandemic and lockdown hit in March 2020.

Jeremy Ward, Managing Director of William Whiteley, explains: “When lockdown hit and the government announced the Furlough scheme, our industrial customers shut down almost immediately and we saw a 90% drop in orders. This was frustrating as we’d been on track for a record year!  We decided to put our staff on furlough and to use the time productively to look at expanding other markets for the business.”

The obvious market for Whiteley’s was selling its high quality scissors directly to professionals and consumers. Whiteley’s directors worked with Andy Sorsby, Business Support Advisor at the Growth Hub, to determine the best way the business could organise itself to achieve this aim, alongside an industrial market that would come back online when the impact of covid subsided. As part of this process Whiteley’s identified the type of retail customer they could target and helped them frame what their offer could be and how they could bring this to market.

Whiteley’s had recently designed a new range of scissors which were be lighter, sharper and with the option of ceramic coatings, that would appeal to the professionals requiring high quality scissors or to consumers in the gift market.  The Exo Scissors had been recently developed utilising the rapid prototyping services of the AMRC and with the support of customers who invested in the development and initial production run. These scissors were developed using state of the art manufacturing processes, which meant they could be produced more efficiently and therefore more cost effectively.

There was such a huge demand from the retail market following the lockdown, especially for the Exo Scissors range that by July 2020, Whiteley’s needed to bring all staff back in full time from Furlough and went full steam ahead with manufacturing products for retail customers.

Jeremy Ward explains: “Our retail business started to really take off during lockdown.  However, the high demand and exacting standards of retail customers meant we needed more space and dedicated areas where we could carry out assembly and packaging.  It just wasn’t possible to produce the retail product in rapidly increasing quantity in the same way as the industrial product so we knew we needed to invest in a new warehouse and layout.”

Jeremy got in touch with Andy Sorsby at South Yorkshire Growth Hub, who recommended that they applied for a CAPEX grant towards extending their premises and buying new equipment.  The company had plans for a new single storey warehouse which would also give them increased production capacity and a dedicated clean area to carry out assembly and packing for retail customers.

Andy guided Jeremy through the application process and the company was successful in securing a six figure grant which went towards the extension of the building and purchase of new equipment, which the company had to match fund themselves.

The warehouse is now due to open in late 2021 and will give the company four times the warehousing space they had before, along with 100m2 of additional production space. It will enable Whiteley’s to improve quality control of goods in and out and have a more organised and efficient pick and pack system.  The grant was also put towards equipment including upgraded ovens and surface finishing machines.

Jeremy Ward explains: “Thanks to the grant and the new warehouse, we’ll be able to carry out assembly, quality control and packing in a dedicated area, enhancing our processes and enabling us to grow our business in the retail sector.  We are still 70% industrial but we see huge potential in the retail sector, boosted recently by appearances on TV’s Salvage Hunters and Antiques Roadtrip, as well as in the Sunday Times.  It’s a really exciting time for our business as we service both retail and industrial customers with high quality scissors.”

Jeremy adds: “It has been really valuable having that all important external perspective on the business from Andy and the Growth Hub team. When you’re an owner of a small business it can be a lonely place to be sometimes.  We couldn’t have got back on our feet so quickly without the Growth Hub.  The guidance and support with grant applications plus general business support has really helped us to tap into new markets and we are confident that with the extended premises, this is a market we can grow successfully.”

South Yorkshire Growth Hub’s advisors all have many years of industry experience; from manufacturing and service sector through to finance and international operations and offer that independent, impartial perspective, which can make all the difference.

Growth Hub business advisors are based in each of the four local authorities and can advise on many areas including:

  • Strategic planning & Leadership support
    • Sales and Marketing
    • Operations
    • Financial advice
    • Skills and also Digital/IT

Any business that is looking to re-establish or recover after the lockdown, or is facing challenges that put its long term future in question, should speak to the Sheffield City Region Growth Hub team who can help guide them through the support available.

Visit www.scrgrowthhub.co.uk.

Email: growthhub@sheffieldcityregion.org.uk


For more details and to buy high quality scissors, visit https://www.whiteley.co.uk/