Monday, 27 February 2012

A Shaw thing

Ceramic sink and architectural terracotta specialist Shaws of Darwen is a British manufacturing success story around the world. It is creating 'new classics' in sink design and continuing to grow

If Shaws of Darwen was described as a niche manufacturer of handcrafted fireclay sinks in the rural environment of Lancashire, you could be forgiven of thinking of a quaint, artisan company. But, for the past 132 years, this company has specialised in the precision of new and restoration architectural terracotta, which has been used in the new phase of Harrods. And this meticulousness in quality has been carried through to its 115-year old fireclay sink range. MD David Dare “Our architectural terracotta is designed to last 100 years – that’s 100 cold winters and 100 hot summers. But if I tell you it’s the same clay, the same glaze, made by the same people in the same place, you can see how that quality is carried through to the sink range.”

Shaws of Darwen is a British manufacturing success story. It was acquired in an MBO three years ago, led by MD David Dare, from its parent company Qualceram Shires which had fallen into administration. Since the MBO David Dare says: “We’ve seen growth year-on-year in both the terracotta and in the sinks division. Overall, this year we’re about 15% up on last year.”
David Dare attributes part of the company’s success to an insulated high-end kitchen market, particularly at an export level. “This year, we’ve increased our export sales – very deliberately. We are selling a lot in Northern America, Middle East, and Australasia and into Europe. Probably 60-70% of our business is export. But from a sinks perspective, the UK has grown by about 5% last year. Overall, this year we’re about 15% up on last year. We are just budgeting for next year and we’re looking at the same levels of growth.”
But it’s been the quality of the product which has seen Shaws of Darwen grow its business in the tough economic climate. David Dare says: “Whilst it may sound twee, we have genuinely been doing this since 1897. It takes nearly three weeks to make a sink and we do it all by hand. People find it very hard to believe in this day and age. We’ve not tried to automate it. Our best selling sink is the butler which hasn’t been changed for the past 130 years.”
And now the company has extended its 30-strong domestic sink range for the first time in five years, with the launch of four models, which David Dare says is unprecedented: He explains why: “We introduce new products slowly because we expect the designs to last 50-100 years – not one season”. And although it takes four to six months for the company to develop each design through to final stages, David says the majority of this time is gauging customer reactions around the world. In fact with CAD and rapid prototyping, Shaws of Darwen can create foam samples incredibly quickly.
Now extending its Classic Collection is a 1.5 bowl version of Brindle, a smaller 800mm version of its Shaker sink and a larger 1000mm version of its Butler. While adding to its Original Collection is Entwhistle, an 800mm framed single bowl sink with a three-hole overflow.
But the company manages to marry the traditional values of its handcrafted products, with the latest in 21st technology, with up-to-date kilns and now a website to promote products, support retailers and even allow them to shop online.
And the company is continuing to grow and develop. "It galls when I hear all the tales of woe in the industry", comments David. "We are taking on new apprentices. The office-based staff [numbers] have grown, as we've invested in staff". He concludes: "Now, that's a positive story!"

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