H Dawson hits high street to champion the cause of wool

Wool supplier H Dawson is moving on to the high street with plans for a range of stores championing woollen bed products.

The Bradford-based group will open its first store in the North East market town of Morpeth this September.

Jo Dawson, owner and chief executive of H Dawson, said: “There’s a great affinity with wool in the town. It has a good demographic and it is a great opportunity at a great spot.

Sign up to our Business newsletter

“Providing that’s successful, then we will be ready to launch a whole range of shops.”

The store will be known as The Wool Room and is an expansion of the online retail operation launched by H Dawson in 2008, which sells wool duvets, mattress toppers, throws, cushions and baby bedding.

Mr Dawson said the online retailer has developed a strong fanbase, helped by its appearances at agricultural shows.

“People have come up and said ‘you’ve changed my life – I can sleep properly’,” he said. “That’s really exciting. The product we are selling can really add benefit to people’s lives.”

The company cites research from Hull University which found that sleeping on or under wool provides 25 per cent more deep sleep than other commonly used fillings.

Mr Dawson admitted that launching in the high street during a recession is “a definite risk”.

He said: “Anybody looking at retail would think it is crazy, but in reality it is a unique product, it lasts longer, it makes you sleep better and it is healthier.”

Amino acids within wool absorb toxic air pollutants, such as sulphur dioxide, formaldehyde and nitrogen dioxide, said Mr Dawson, who pointed out that it is also flame retardant.

Many of the products sold by The Wool Room are sourced from his customers.

He said: “H Dawson is at the back end of the chain; The Wool Room is at the front. The front end helps customers to H Dawson. We are able to work with them to develop products.

“It enhances demand for our customers’ products.”

He recalled a dinner party at which he was promoting the benefits of sleeping under wool. A guest replied: “That’s fabulous, but where can I get it?”

At the time, wool bedding products were harder to find, so he had the idea to start The Wool Room.

Mr Dawson said he has since had advances from people who would like to launch the business in different territories.

The 40-year-old is a passionate campaigner for the benefits of wool; he grew up on a sheep farm near Harrogate and his £100m-turnover company, founded in 1888 by his great-grandfather Harry Dawson, handles five per cent of the world’s supply.

H Dawson trades “the finest wool in the world all the way through to the coarsest wool in the world” and sells into 75 countries, said Mr Dawson.

It sources its raw materials from 35 countries and has long-established offices in China, India, Italy, Australia and New Zealand.

H Dawson opened its China office 22 years ago and handles 10 per cent of all wool that goes into China. The company bought a business in Ireland last year and could make more acquisitions in the future.

Mr Dawson became chief executive in 2006 after he and his father bought out other family members.

Richard Organ, who has held directorships at fashion brand Jaeger and shoemaker Clarks, is non-executive chairman of the board, while Mr Dawson and his father Andrew are the sole shareholders.

Mr Dawson believes that wool has enormous potential.

“If we were to be wide ranging about it, wool is probably one of the best opportunities for man going forward in a world that is going to be short of protein.

“Sheep are a great opportunity. They will live on land where you cannot cultivate anything else. They are a very hardy animal.

“Not only can they provide food they can also provide a fabulous renewable fibre.

“They will tread their dung back into the ground, which helps the ground to grow.

“They are a great opportunity for us in the UK to provide future food and fibre in a natural way for a growing population.”

H Dawson is a supporter of the Campaign for Wool, convened by the Prince of Wales in 2010, which is promoting wool as the ultimate renewable, sustainable and biodegradable fibre of choice for consumers and manufacturers.

He said: “I wanted to start telling people about wool through pure frustration. It’s been incredibly badly marketed.”

The product itself has been in demand though – its price has risen by 300 per cent in the last two years.