Still a silver lining for firm celebrating 137 years in business

David Pinder and son Michael are continuing the fortunes of Pinder Bros, the firm that has been in their family since 1877
David Pinder and son Michael are continuing the fortunes of Pinder Bros, the firm that has been in their family since 1877
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David Pinder jokes he’s blaming Downton Abbey.

He’s 73 and retirement from the family firm his forefathers founded 137 years ago is not on the horizon.

There’s a responsibility. The MD’s head is crammed with expert knowledge of the old crafts upon which Sheffield founded reputations and fortunes; silvermithing, cutlery-making and pewtering.

“I’ve got 50 years of experience in here,” he says, tapping his silvered thatch. “When I’ve gone, it will all go from this company.”

That invaluable back catalogue stacked up in the old grey matter is put to use by a near constant flurry of requests from around the globe.

“Downton Abbey is the latest English TV series having a big effect on the global sale of upper class British nostalgia products. People are clamouring again for hip flasks, tankards, goblets, silver trays, old-fashioned cutlery - things associated with class and elegance. And they want to know the heritage, age and value of the pieces they have,” he says.

“Thanks to emails, things my forefathers didn’t have to contend with, I am kept very busy with information requests from all over the world.”

That’s one downside to being a family firm of such long-standing. Another is keeping up the customer service. “We have always given a lifetime guarantee. Unlike most firms who did that, we’re still here to live up to it. And we do,” says David.

“We recently had a 1960s carving set returned to us for a repair. The fork guard had lost its spring. We scratched our heads, searched the workshops and managed to find one.

“Yes, a family business as old as ours is a difficult animal. It carries loyalties and responsibilities other firms don’t have to consider. And of course, you don’t want to be the one who fails.”

He didn’t blink, though, when it came to joining the firm. It had been his ambition from the age of 12. “I went to my first trade fair in Germany at 13, a trip my grandfather had first made in a converted bomber in 1948,” he recalls.

After Birkdale School, he studied silversmithing at Sheffield City College and went on the payroll with brother John. When their father Alan died at 57, he and John, aged 27 and 23, had to take the helm - becoming the second set of brothers to run the company in 100 years.

The ‘Downton Effect’ boosts business, though. When David first visited a trade fair in Japan it was to find interesting giftware products. Now he exports there, too; the Japanese have a yen for Sheffield’s traditonally-made pewterware.

The internet has similarly boosted fortunes. Pinder Brothers hand-made products and imports are now sold globally on a number of e-commerce sites.

But the biggest factor in the Pinder Bros success story is, says David, “being small and agile and changing according to market forces.

“Competitors far bigger than us went bust because they didn’t change. Keeping up tradition, old skills and qualities are vital, but change is what keeps a business going and keeps people in jobs.”

Pinder Bros employ 15 and, since great-great-grandfather John’s day, the company has bought up 15 companies, the last being cutlery firm Warris in 2000.

“We have imported since 1938. We track down the best giftware at fairs all over the world - from Atlanta to Hong Kong. And we export what we hand-make in Sheffield to 40 countries.

“Our pewter has become very popular. Tankards sell very well in Anglo Saxon countries. Japan, South Korea, France and Germany love our hip flasks. Our silver plate cutlery is used in top Russian restaurants.

The firm is doing nicely, but David readily admits: “If we sold up tomorrow and invested the money we would be better off. But this is our way of life,” he adds. “There is so much pride in keeping this company going on.”