As a company that was established in 1935, it will come as no surprise to learn that Staffordshire-based Washington & Riley Ltd has never been afraid to move with the times. This ability to adapt to changing market conditions over the years has enabled the architectural ironmonger to develop a leading reputation, both locally and nationwide.
Its forward-thinking approach was in evidence five years ago when the company was subject to a management buyout by Martin Hammond Snr, Managing Director; Jason L Thompson, Sales director, and Martin Hammond Jnr, Financial Director. The MBO heralded a number of changes across the organisation, including diversification into supplying commercial fire doors, although this initially proved trickier than expected, as Mr Thompson outlines: “After several frustrating experiences with ‘Manufacturing Partners’, the directors decided to make the investment and gain certification to manufacture fire doors in-house. This led to us outgrowing our home of 85 years in the mother town of Stoke-on-Trent, Burslem, and facilitated a move to our new home, a 15,000 sq ft factory in Market Drayton on the Shropshire/ Staffordshire border.”
The wisdom of the move into fire doors has coincided with a greater awareness of fire safety more generally. This has led to rapid advances in fire safety, which the construction industry is having to keep pace with, especially in the public sector.
One potential brake to these growth aspirations, however, has been the skills shortage, which is an issue that is making itself felt in a wide range of sectors, not just construction. “We currently have 25 full-time employees and are actively looking to expand the team, but quality tradespersons are at a premium at the moment,” says Mr Thompson. “We are constantly looking for experienced joiners to join our expanding team, while we are also on the look out for apprentices. In fact, we have just recently recruited a new apprentice to the team. As a company we are keen to help educate the next generation of quality tradespeople and give them the skills they require for a long and sustainable career.”
Being such a well established business means that Washington & Riley is certainly an attractive proposition for youngsters looking to start their careers, particularly as the company is so committed to training and staff development. This stems from the company’s logo: ‘Washington & Riley, For Service’, which is a motto that its directors continue to stand by and works hard to instil in all its team members.
As a result of its skills-based approach, Washington & Riley is able to undertake a wide range of different services including fire door inspections; the manufacture, supply, installation and maintenance of fire doors; fire stopping works and the supply of architectural hardware. The diverse nature of its services allows it to successfully undertake work for a varied customer base across a broad spectrum of sectors, such as:
- Local Authorities;
- Housing Associations;
- Hotel & Leisure;
By being able to target such a wide range of different markets, Washington & Riley is in the fortunate position of having a number of options for work. “We have found the current marketplace to be quite buoyant,” explains Mr Thompson. “All the projects which were required before lockdown were still there waiting once lockdown was lifted. Work has continued apace ever since and we are currently carrying out several projects across the education, healthcare and social housing sectors.”
In terms of significant projects the company has been working on recently, it has been carrying out many vital works for the NHS during the recent lockdowns, while it has also recently supplied 50 door sets to the British Antarctic Project.
With the company having such a healthy stream of work, Washington & Riley is determined to maintain the momentum by ensuring it has the infrastructure to support its ongoing growth plans. This was the logic behind last year’s relocation to a larger unit in Market Drayton and, more recently, the opening of a new trade counter. Mr Thompson elaborates further on the motivations behind both these initiatives: “Once we began to manufacture fire doors, we rapidly outgrew our previous premises so needed somewhere bigger. The move to the Market Drayton site during the first lockdown was a massive risk but it has helped our capacity to take on much larger projects, from tens of door sets to projects that require hundreds of door sets.
“During lockdown the need for a trade counter had waned somewhat but since the lifting of restrictions we felt opening such a facility in Market Drayton would be beneficial not only to the company but also to the community as a whole. Locals previously had to travel to Shrewsbury, Telford or Stoke to find architectural hardware, sealants and adhesives, fasteners and fixings, timber mouldings, plumbing supplies, equine hardware and safety wear. Now they can purchase these types of product locally and pay trade prices rather than the inflated costs that some of the ‘big sheds’ charge.
“The overriding aim is to continue to produce a quality product and provide clients with an excellent service that in turn will help us grow as a company.”
Having further enhanced its offering for customers, Washington & Riley looks ideally placed to the most of the opportunities it is seeing within the various market sectors in which it operates.