Shaws still relishing challenges after 125 years

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OVER the last 125 years, Shaws of Huddersfield has survived some of the worst economic upheavals in history to bring jobs and investment to Yorkshire.

Today, the family-owned company remains proudly independent and supplies retailers, farm shops and delis with chutneys, relishes, salsas and sauces.

According to Jan Docker, the managing director, the firm has flourished because it invests in its staff. The firm plans to look at overseas markets and spend cash on capital investment to help it keep growing. If you’ll pardon the pun, it is still relishing the challenges ahead.

“When we get staff, we tend to keep them,’’ Ms Docker said. “People aren’t just numbers. People feel they belong. I know every member of the team, which is what you get with a family-owned business. The Shaw family love this business because it’s always been part of their lives.”

The company’s longevity is largely due to the business acumen of the Shaw family. Originally from Scotland, Ely Shaw and his family arrived in Huddersfield in the early 19th century. They were attracted to the expanding wool textile trade. In 1889, George Shaw, a descendant of Ely, and his two sons Walter and Vincent, established a general merchants, manufacturers and druggists business in Huddersfield. They manufactured general merchandise such as vinegar, pickles, relish, hand cream, patent medicines and bleach. In the early 1900s, the team of five staff moved to larger premises, where Shaw’s relish was made by boiling fruit pulp, sugar and cornflour to make a brown sauce. The product was delivered by horses pulling covered wagons.

In 1913, having grown extensively, Shaws moved to larger premises at Storths Mill, a former woollen mill built in 1826 on the site of a Tudor house. The site is still its home today. Walter’s sons, Norman and Malcolm, joined the business after the First World War, and re-established the pickle manufacturing operation. To stimulate trade during the Great Depression, Shaws introduced the pickled beetroot, which became their best known product. During the Second World War, they also concentrated on malt vinegar brewing which proved a hit with consumers during times of austerity. The 1950s saw the arrival of Norman’s younger son Martin, who joined the company as a vinegar brewer. With the impending retirement of both his father and uncle, Martin realised he would need help, and in 1967, Terence Peace joined the business as company secretary, He was appointed to the board two years later. In the mid 1980s, Martin’s son Matthew joined the business. In the years since, he has risen through the ranks to become chairman. The board also bought neighbouring property which has been renamed Shaw Park. It gives the firm space to create jobs by expanding its manufacturing unit. In the early years of this century, Martin and Terence handed over leadership to the next generation. Terence Peace’s son Jim Peace was appointed as production director, while Terence’s niece Jan Docker also became managing director. Today, the company has 20 staff and a turnover of £2m, and its sights are still set on expansion.

Ms Docker said yesterday: “It’s survived by adapting and changing to the times. For example, between the wars, it couldn’t get its own glass so it built its own glass production factory. When the wet pickles market took a dip, we sold that business. When manufacturing took a dip, we bought property which has now become Shaw Park. We rent the properties there out to other companies. We knew that it was dangerous to have all our eggs in one basket.

“Our manufacturing operations desperately need more space. We used to employ 120 people, but we’re never going back to that, because it used to be a very labour intensive market. We’re looking to hire more staff. Our retail products are available in Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, along with farm shops and delis.

“We’re investigating the export market in Australia and New Zealand. The Shaw family remain the majority shareholders. We’re looking at launching a whole new range of products. We’re the fifth generation, and we want to pass it on to the sixth generation in a healthy state.”