Historic business embraces the future

Bateman Ogden managing director Bob Collins and director Richard Lunn
Bateman Ogden managing director Bob Collins and director Richard Lunn
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ONE of the biggest challenges facing long-standing businesses is combining their history and heritage with the demands of the modern world.

That is exactly the challenge facing luxury fabric merchant Bateman Ogden & Co when the 131-year-old firm decided to have a website created.

Managing director Bob Collins said: “We’re in a niche business that I suppose the majority of people would think it’s a dead business, but it’s not.

“We have to keep updating our ideas but at the same time keeping tradition going. That goes right through the business, from the suppliers right through every aspect.”

Established in Bradford in 1881, Bateman Ogden now has a £1.2m turnover and exports to every continent, with 15 agents around the world.

However, in recent years it became increasingly clear that not having a website was affecting the way the business was growing.

Director Richard Lunn said: “In the past, if people overseas wanted to try to contact us it would be by telephone or email or fax.

“We have lost people before because we didn’t have a website and we knew it was the time to push it forward. It’s difficult sometimes to change when you have a lot of history, but we have to change.”

Preparing to make the move was a significant decision for Mr Collins, who has been a director since 1973 after joining the company the previous year.

Mr Lunn was made a director earlier this year following the death of the long-term owner, Hugh Garnett, in August 2011 at the age of 79. He had worked full time for Bateman Ogden since he was 16 years old, when he joined the family business which had been bought in 1942 by his father, J Harry Garnett, from the well-known Apperley Bridge textiles family.

Prior to that, it had been established by Mr Bateman and Mr Ogden in Bradford – the heart of the UK textiles industry.

Four years after Hugh Garnett joined the business, in 1956, it moved from its original home in Holme Top Mill in Bradford to premises in the city’s Peckover Street. A decade later, it found a new home in Church Bank, allowing the business to further expand.

The final move was in 1973 to Wakefield Road, where it remains today.

Getting the right website to reflect all of the company’s history, while also joining the modern era, meant finding the right people to build it. Mr Collins and Mr Lunn believe the choice of Little Door Creative Services was the right one.

“They came in to meet us and we discussed the requirements that we had, and what we wanted out of a website,” said Mr Lunn.

“We were quite specific about what we were looking for. We gave them a few different sites we had seen and said, ‘This is a benchmark and the type of thing we want to see’.

“They came back with all sorts of propositions and we had to funnel that into what we needed and try to keep the history and the tradition, and modernise at the same time.

“They would go away and come back having put a lot of thought into what they had done. We were very impressed with that.”

Mr Collins added: “I’m very pleased with the balance we’ve got there. It’s not flash.

“In my opinion they have done an excellent job. We put quite a few restrictions on them.

“We don’t like shouting our own name off the rooftops, we’re quite low-key. We’re quite happy growing the business in our own way.

“The thing is, you need to be world wide and the only way to do it is being on the web.”

The new website has a section dedicated to the company’s history, while every page is clearly linked to its trade, featuring fabric-like patterns in its design.

Little Door creative director James Fisher said: “We wanted the site to be focused primarily on the trade – those already knowledgeable about the business.

“We focused on the fabric ranges first and backed that up by talking about the company‘s heritage and their in-house expertise.”

Although it has only been up and running since mid-October, the site is already serving its purpose.

“This is a new venture for us but it has already started to pay dividends,” said Mr Collins.

“It takes time. I expected the following morning to be knocked over, but that’s not how it works.

“When we hear from somebody who has visited the website, the beauty is that they have bothered to inquire. To do that, they must have been interested in what they saw.”

Bateman Ogden has already been trading overseas for eight years and has 15 agents worldwide, so the new website will not take it into new territories. It will, however, make it more accessible to international clients.

Mr Lunn added: “The website itself was not exactly there to bring hundreds and thousands of people to us.

“It was to wave and say ‘We’re here’. We haven’t been there before.

“Some people have asked if they can use some of our images on their own websites and put links to our website, which shows how well it is being received.”

The development has not necessarily stopped, however – Mr Lunn believes there may be more opportunities in the future and he has no hesitation in returning to the company which helped Bateman Ogden to bridge the gap between the past and the future.

“I think the website will progress possibly to sell online, although that has complications,” he said.

“James and Mark (Langdale, Little Door digital director) are the people who we would go to for that.”