We spoke to five very different family businesses – from an established firm with a Royal warrant, to a new Welsh chocolate factory welcoming droves of tourists, to find out what sets them apart.
You may have heard of RJ Balson – a butcher’s shop based in Bridport, Dorset, that recently celebrated its 500th anniversary, with experts declaring it the oldest family company in Britain.
It has weathered the reformation, English Civil War, as well as the start of the Industrial Revolution and waves of recessions. Add in the fact around 240,000 UK firms collapse each year, and it’s clear that’s quite the achievement.
A recent constructaquote.com survey found the overwhelming majority (97 per cent) of business owners wanted their children to follow suit into the family firm, but few could imagine leaving the legacy RJ Balson has managed to.
It is this desire to create a legacy – rather than just make money – which is often cited as the reason for success of so many family firms.
Mark Hastings, director general of the Institute for Family Business (IFB) said family businesses “are the backbone of the economy, and the bedrock of our communities”. It’s no coincidence, he feels, that many have been operating “for hundreds of years”.
“Their longevity and enduring success are testament to their innovative and long-term outlook,” he explained. Such businesses don’t just survive, but also thrive over generations, by planning ahead and cultivating a “sustainable outlook, whilst still adapting to stay relevant to the modern world”.
“They run over £1.1trn in the UK each year and growth in the sector brings benefits to the whole UK economy,” Hastings explained.
With that in mind, here are five inspiring family firms – from the established names to young newcomers, which have differentiated themselves for a number of reasons.
(1) Spice Kitchen
Sanjay Aggarwal set up his Birmingham-based business on eBay in 2013, initially as a way to keep his retired mother and father busy. Aggarwal thought the online food firm would make the perfect option. His mother creates fresh Indian spices using “an antique spice grinder that’s been a family heirloom for over a hundred years”, and after taking a picture of her spice tins and putting it on eBay “24 hours later we’d made our first sale”.
Aggrawal splits his time between this and his own recruitment business, with the spice ecommerce site now selling “everything from high quality hand-blended and home-ground artisanal spices and spice blends to high quality wedding favours, cookware, giftware, teas and mulled wine spices”.
In fact, their mulled wine was so popular that last Christmas, the family team had to put together 1,000 units ready to be sent within a week. “It’s those kind of moments where we all pull together and I love working in a family business,” Aggarwal said.
The combination of utilising family members’ individual expertise and “recipes passed down through generations” has meant it’s a family firm in all aspects. The commitment has even extended to “totally overhauling the family home to streamline it around production needs of Spice Kitchen so everyone can get involved during busy times”.
(2) Corgi Hosiery
Not many firms can boast the honour of providing products for the Royal family, but established family firm Corgi Hosiery was awarded a Royal warrant in 1989. Founded in 1892 in Carmarthenshire by draper Rhys Jones, who produced woollen stockings for local miners, the business has remained in the family ever since.
Co-managing director Chris Jones said it “still enjoys the loyal custom of the Prince of Wales”, while its factory supplies some big-name department stores, including Harrods and Bergdorf Goodman. “Exports account for 45-60 per cent of the turnover,” he said.
The business hasn’t stagnated though – far from it – with grants and support from the Welsh government contributing to Corgi more than doubling both staff and turnover in the past five years. “It also provided assistance to buy new machinery to increase our product range and an extension to the factory. That boosted turnover from £800,000 to £2.5m in five years,” Jones explained.
He feels the family quality has meant each generation grows up in the firm and really understands the products. “We’ve worked from the bottom up and done all the jobs on the shop floor so we know the business inside out.”
Jones said the family factor can also throw a spanner in the works when relatives don’t get on well. It has happened in the past, he admitted, with the business running into trouble because of it. Now on more stable ground, Jones feels “it’s easy to get emotional about it, but you should resist”.
“Be passionate but not emotional.”
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