Furniture suppliers’ mission in merger

Teamwork: From left, Gary Wilks, group commercial director; Gerard Toplass, chief executive officer; David Claughton, sales director; and Simon Crawford, group sales director.
Teamwork: From left, Gary Wilks, group commercial director; Gerard Toplass, chief executive officer; David Claughton, sales director; and Simon Crawford, group sales director.
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Two Yorkshire-based education furniture suppliers are to merge as they look to revolutionise customer service in the sector.

Keighley-based British Thornton ESF and its sister company EME Furniture, which is based in Dumfries & Galloway, will merge with Hull-based Claughton Office Equipment to form British Thornton.

The combined business will have an employee head count of 240, with the firm saying that they’re looking to grow that number.

Gerard Toplass, managing director at Claughtons, told The Yorkshire Post: “The marketplace in education, in terms of the supply of furniture, is extremely focused on the summer. Most schools require their furniture in the summer period, as a result of that there’s a massive demand on the sector.”

He added that as a result of this demand “there is an issue in the sector where the service levels are nowhere near where they should be”.

Mr Toplass, who will become chief executive officer of the new board, added: “What we want to try and do is really build an education business that can actually improve the level of service to all of the customers.”

On the board Mr Toplass will be joined by Simon Crawford, group sales director; Gary Wilks, group commercial director; Stuart Little, group operations director; David Claughton, sales director; Mike Elton, operations director, and Andrew Wright, chief financial officer.

One of the main reasons for going ahead with the merger now was because of the post-election clarity.

“Having some clarity in government is always important in a market,” said Mr Toplass.

He added: “I think for the next five years we’ve got a visibility of what the funding and what the profile for education investment will be.

“Whether the Tories are putting in more or less, than if Labour had got in, is in one sense irrelevant.

“We know where the investment is going and when it’s going. The runway, as I call it, is available for the next five years.”

Another factor for merger now is the recovering economy, says Mr Toplass.

Mr Toplass said that they had been in discussions with British Thornton since last year and doesn’t see any problems in the two cultures of the firm fitting together.

The fact that both firms are from Yorkshire is likely to aid the merging of the two cultures.

Following the merger British Thornton is hoping to increase combined turnover from £26m to £30m in the next 12 months.

The new combined company provides enhanced capacity to manufacture £50m of bespoke educational furniture per year.

Yours Trudy is a winner

A major motivating factor in the merger was creating greater economies of scale and to take advantage of British Thornton’s iconic Trudy brand.

Trudy is a co-ordinated range of furniture specifically designed for Primary and Early Years schools.

The brand offers bright and modern colours.

Mr Toplass said: “The education sector as a whole has not seen any real innovation in product development but we plan to build on the Trudy range by innovating and introducing more cutting-edge brands to market for different educational age groups including Secondary, Further Education and Special Educational Needs.”