Sheffield's oldest scissor company on track for record sales after lockdown boom in crafting and tailoring

A 260-year-old Sheffield scissor company is set for record sales from people stuck at home during the pandemic.

Thursday, 12th November 2020, 4:56 pm

William Whiteley & Sons has been discovered by home-based crafters, tailors, DIYers and makers of hospital scrubs, sparking a five-fold increase in online sales this year.

It has given the 12th generation company - believed to be the oldest in the western world and one of the last in Sheffield - a huge shot in the arm.

Bosses have spent £80,000 on three new smoothing machines that can process up to 1,500 blades in the time it took a ‘buffer girl’ to do 20, solving a production bottleneck. But they stress they account for just three of 39 production steps and the firm is still overwhelmingly ‘craftsman-led’.

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Hand grinder Andrew Colton, aged 61. He joined William Whiteley & Sons aged 14.
Hand grinder Andrew Colton, aged 61. He joined William Whiteley & Sons aged 14.

Five years ago industrial customers like Bentley Motors were 95 per cent of sales.

Now, the internet and social media have turned the heritage firm into a global brand and retail sales, already running at a record, could be half of business within the next 12 months.

Director Jeremy Ward said: “The pandemic has given us a huge boost. People are at home crafting and tailoring and making things like never before. People love our story and they want to support British manufacturing.

“But we can’t sell more stuff if we can’t make it and we had to increase manufacturing capacity. We’ve spent a total of £100,000, it’s a huge gamble. But we think we will meet or beat last year’s sales and possibly more.”

The team at William Whiteley two years ago.

Industrial activity has fallen due to the pandemic and the firm is expecting even more growth when it comes back, he added.

The company makes a special range for, and sells them at a discount to, ‘For The Love Of Scrubs,’ tailors making hospital wear at home. William Whiteley also donates a proportion of sales to the charity.

The new machines smooth off raw forgings by vibrating them in a drum with ceramic chips. One was switched on and left overnight for the first time this week.

Director Sally Ward said it was her most exciting time after many years in the business.

The company makes 200 variations of scissors.

She added: “When I joined we had one telephone and paperwork was done by hand. The internet and social media has tranformed our offer. We have a story that really drives people in.

“But probably the reason we are still in business is because we are very cautious and don’t oversell.”

The 15-strong firm has spent thouands on anti-coronavirus measures including fogging machines, changing the layout and PPE. But last month two staff members caught Covid and it closed for 10 days.

The company received a £10,700 grant from the Manufacturing Growth Programme, funded by the EU.

Whiteley's was founded in 1760. The oldest scissor-makers in the Western world.

Support can be used to buy machinery, leadership and management, R&D, lean manufacturing, productivity and capacity, quality systems and supply chain development.

MGP’s Marcus Pearson said: “William Whiteley & Sons is a fantastic Sheffield business, steeped in history and boasting scissors and shears that are in demand all over the world.

“The management team has a clear vision of what it needs to do to continue to improve its performance and the move towards bringing more elements of its manufacturing process in-house will assist it in this.

“Carefully targeted support and access to financial grants that give our manufacturers a competitive advantage is what the Manufacturing Growth Programme is all about.”

Heat treatment at William Whiteley & Sons

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William Whiteley & Sons