He’s a smart cookie, is David White
Since the day he told his own father it was time to hang up his apron and pass the company to him, he has pulled out all the stops to transform the Worsbrough Bridge business founded by his grandparents 80 years ago into a thriving enterprise, nearly tripling its turnover and turning a £16,000 annual loss into a £160,000 profit.
“I was 31 when I plucked up the courage to have that conversation. Dad had been running the business for over 30 years and knew the baking industry inside-out, but I felt I major changes were needed if we were to survive in a very tough climate,”says the 49-year-old.
Dad Jack knew the score - he and brother Colin had taken over the business from their father back in the Sixties. It was time to pass on the reins to the lad who not only knew the business inside out, having been a Saturday boy with them from the age of 12 and worked his way up to bakery manager, but had also studied to be a master baker at Sheffield’s Granville College.
“After a few years of breaking even, for the first time, the business had made a loss. Lots of small bakery shops were being put out of business by the supermarkets. I focussed on bringing in modern business management techniques to change the slide,” he explains.
David computerised the company, hired in industry experts to teach him new skills and turned to Business Link for financial expertise. He kept on a core of four White’s shops in Worsbrough, Darfield, Conisbrough and Barnsley market and steered the business further into manufacturing.
At the purpose-built bakery White’s had opened in 1954 the bakers clocked off at 2pm leaving equipment idle for eight hours a day. He set out to find new contracts to keep the machinery running - and found them with the very companies responsible for grinding family bakeries like his into the ground: the supermarkets.
“I decided that, if we couldn’t beat them, we would join them,” he says. “Within weeks we were baking muffins and cookies for Asda and CostCo. It wasn’t long before we were running almost a 24-hour operation. We were working smart, maximising on the running costs.”
Supermarket orders continued to grow. For the third year running, White’s Bakery on Charles Street will be making 250,000 Madeira cakes for Asda’s Scottish and Irish customers.
Though the giant-sized orders did initially bring additional pressures: “An Asda order worth £40,000 means our company having to pay up front for £20,000 worth of ingredients. We talked to the bank and our suppliers to get some leeway.”
White’s also won orders to supply local shops, cafes and schools and now has an agent in London who finds them new markets, including a contract with John Lewis cafes to supply 125,000 gingerbread figures each year.
Last Christmas, White’s had to think on their feet to win another John Lewis order. “We got a call the first week in December asking if we could come up with biscuits to fit the store’s hit festive advertising campaign, featuring the slumbering bear and the love-struck hare. We had samples to them in three days and were producing them by the second week in December,” says David proudly.
Fairtrade cookies, made from ethically produced sugar, vanilla and chocolate, are another rapidly expanding line. Production has quadrupled in the last two years to 100,000 a month for universities, coffee shops and colleges in London and the south.
Following the quieter years of recession White’s have had four straight years of growth. Turnover is at £2.6 million with a net profit of £160,000 this year. Its business growth strategy is being supported by Enterprising Barnsley, a European-funded programme delivered by Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council.
“The external support I’ve had has been really valuable. You have to not be afraid to ask for help - and then take the advice that is given to you,” says David, whose partner Kirsty runs the company’s accounts.
White’s is aiming even higher for future orders; “We want to work with the big airlines and are already in negotiations with Emirates for our mini Eccles cakes,” says David.
“We also hope to export ready-to-bake products to Dubai. Samples went out last week. We targeted the country because of its high number of five-star hotels. Another 150 are to be built in the next few years and we’d like to get Barnsley-made products on their breakfast tables and in their bread baskets.”
Entrepreneurial skills clearly run in the White family.
David’s grandma Elsie White started it all. She ran the library in Worsbrough Bridge and when things were quiet, she got on with her family baking in the back room.
“Book-borrowers got a smell of it and started placing orders for bread and cakes,” says David. “My grandad Albert realised there was a business opportunity in it. He left his job at the pit to set up a baker’s shop with her on Park Road in 1934, which is still in the fold.”
It sounds like son Matthew, just 20, is already destined to be a chocolate chip of the old block.
The fourth generation of the family is leading on the company’s new marketing initiative with schools across Yorkshire and the East Midlands.
They deliver flapjacks, cookies and shortbreads for school meals, made to strict Government healthy eating guidelines on low fat, low sugar and low salt levels. “We have doubled the number of school we supply in the last two years and Matthew has played a great part in that,” says David.
“He was a Saturday lad just like I was, but I decided to put him in my newsagent’s shop in Meadowhall so he could learn more about retail. He came into the bakery two years ago to work on the sales and marketing side while I concentrate on the industrial side . We work really well together.
“When I worked for my dad I was judged on the long hours and the hard graft I put in, but times have changed and it’s business skills the next generation need to display to steer this business forward.”
Father and son are a great team away from work, too. A year ago they bought their own rally car, a Subaru Impreza, and started competing in the Motor Sport Association’s British Tarmac Championships. They are currently in second place in Group N, aiming to take first place by November. Says David: “I’m the driver and Matthew is a really great navigator. I’ve no plans to let him take either of my driving seats just yet!”