Selling to 850 retailers in the UK and many more overseas, with their own warehouses in Ireland and the US, Leominster-based equestrian equipment and clothing firm Shires Equestrian has been in business for more than 50 years and is still headed by its founder Malcolm Ainge.
A finalist in the HCR-sponsored Family Business of the Year category of the Herefordshire and Worcester Chamber of Commerce Business Awards, the business, which also has its own factory in China and a joint venture there, is going from strength to strength.
It has grown from a one-man operation in 1968 to an international company employing almost 500 people worldwide with a turnover of almost £18m. They used to manufacture in Bromyard, but competition meant a move to manufacturing in China, enabling direct shipping to the Far East and southern hemisphere, with invoicing in euros or dollars as well as in sterling.
A US warehouse followed, with both US and Canadian distributors – turnover in the US is one of the areas targeted for growth. But not all expansion is overseas – the company has just bought another warehouse in Leominster, so is committed to the area for the foreseeable future.
Growing market share is key markets is the focus for the future, with new brands of clothing, footwear and equine equipment, as well an expanding pet product range; the pet trade is a key target. With Malcolm’s son Stuart prepared to live in China for several years to establish the Chinese operation, and nephew Marcus frequently in the US to grow that market, it should be no surprise that another employee is going to relocate to Holland to grow the European market.
Stuart manages the manufacturing and purchasing, while Marcus manages the sales side of the business. Louise Ainge is a marketing manager and looks after all aspects of marketing, social media, packaging and the production of the firm’s annual 300-page catalogue. Decisions are taken by senior management with the involvement of middle and junior management teams.
The business is 95% family owned so major decisions are taken by family members with the involvement of senior staff members.
Malcolm said: “As in most family businesses, there are occasional conflicts, but the family focus is on the growth and continuity of the business, so issues are discussed and amicable solutions found.”
Ensuring that family members have the skills needed to take the business forward has played an important part in the firm’s development – extended periods abroad, frequent visits to exhibitions and work with other companies has been reinforced by training in business systems and distribution procedures. So the firm now has family members who have gained knowledge and insight into how to grow the business and face up to the international competition.