Look how this 200 year old Doncaster firm has bounced back after a devastating fire

The walls of the board room at Smith Brothers are steeped in history.

By David Kessen
Friday, 28th June 2019, 8:14 am
Updated Friday, 28th June 2019, 8:33 am
The Admin team pictured. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-21-05-19-SmithBros-2
The Admin team pictured. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-21-05-19-SmithBros-2

There is a newspaper cutting from a story marking the firm’s 100th anniversary. What is particularly unusual, is that the story is dated from 1914.

There are architects plans on the wall for the firm’s previous buildings – one dates back to 1886. There company handbooks dating back to the 50s. The walls and the display cabinets tell a rich and long history.

The Admin team pictured. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-21-05-19-SmithBros-2

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It may be a business with a history dating back over 200 years – but Doncaster electricals firm Smith Brothers are moving with the times after bouncing back from a major setback.

First set up in Rotherham in 1814,  when William Radford Bayliffe opened his ironmongery shop, the firm became Smith Brothers in 1840, opening on Silver Street, Doncaster in 1925.

Through the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s the expanded from five employees to around 100 supplying local authorities, health authorities, electrical contractors and local businesses with all types of electrical installation materials.

But nearly 11 years ago, the firm suffered a major blow. In June 2008 the company’s warehouse was destroyed overnight by fire.

Long-serving members of staff l-r Gary Savage, Ursula Sheach, Barry Nokes, Nancy Sheach, Director, Julie Ridley, Kath Bryne and Beverley Chappell. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-21-05-19-SmithBros-1

Operations manager Dave Horner says it was one of the companies most challenging times, but it managed to keep trading throughout. Within days it had moved to a temporary building on Doncaster’s Black Bank. It rebuilt the site, moving into its site at Marshgate within six months, over Christmas 2008.

Since then, the firm, which now employs around 50 people at its Marshgate warehouse and its offices at Sidings Court, near Lakeside, has moved with the times – and now it is a major provider of solar energy all across the country.

Mr Horner said: “If you look at the changes from the 1920s to now, they are massive. Back them we were one of the first companies to stock vacuum cleaners.”

But over the last few years, the rise of green technology has seen a major source of work for the firm.

Dan Jervis, pictured in the sales department. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-21-05-19-SmithBros-4

“If we go back to 2015 or 2015, a lot of local authorities started to put solar panels onto their tenants homes. As a result we have been doing a lot of work with local authorities and big businesses to get solar into the roofs on social housing.

“We saw a rush to get solar panels on roofs before the feed in tariff dropped.

“But going back three and a half years, we are looking at different products to those we were using then.”

The firm has also expanded in the last years beyond its traditional wholesale work.

They have recently brought in their own in-house lighting designer who can survey commercial buildings and sites to offer them energy efficient lighting systems that are independent of any single manufacturer.

And the firm’s renewables team have worked with their own manufacturing partner, Prime Hybrid Energy, to develop solar batteries. They hope the work will help fight fuel poverty.

Their battery system is designed to make sure power comes primarily from the solar panels, but charges up the batteries again automatically when demand for power drops.

The idea is to reduce the need to dip into the national grid for electricity.

“The system will only use the power from the grid as a last resort, maximising the savings to property owners and tenants,” said Mr Horner.

Recent years have also seen the company move into finance, working out deals that allow for solar panels to be installed in areas where they otherwise may not appear.

Smith Bros are also moving into the electrical vehicle charging market, as they look to tap into the growing market for electric cars.

Me Horner said: “The future for the company is very exciting, developing into new markets with the latest technology, leading the way with the largest solar PV Battery Energy Storage Social Housing project in the UK this year, helping local authorities to prevent fuel poverty for its residents.”

The firm practice what it preaches on solar power. It has installed panels on its own premises which provide around 50 per cent of their power. They have also put in LED lighting to reduce their power consumption. 

But they will not be putting all their eggs in one basket.

“We’ve never been reliant on just one client,” said Mr Horner. “Our business spread has stood us well through many recessions and through a lot of slowdowns. After 2008, some areas slowed down, but others remained bouyant. But solar energy is now well established and is now an important part of our business.”