Firm says getting enough staff is its biggest problem - not sales
A RENOWNED Barnard Castle furniture maker is celebrating a landmark 25th anniversary.
Anthony Nixon Furniture, in Birch Road, has grown from a small industrial unit in Evenwood to completing major contracts in London and internationally.
The business was the Mercury’s front page news in 1993 when it became the 500th client of Teesdale Enterprise Agency, being awarded a gift of £150 by the then chairman, Jack Johnson.
“It was a lifetime and many hair shades ago,” said Chris Dauber, co-owner of the business.
The company started life with Derek Nixon and Mr Dauber working from a small industrial unit behind C&A roofing, in Evenwood.
Mr Dauber said: “We had found the perfect rural workshop in the old stables at Barningham Park.
“Sir Anthony Milbank could not have been more helpful, but the conversion and restoration of the listed building took longer than expected so we took a short lease
at Evenwood, moving to Barningham a few months later.”
Within six months the pair had recruited the first of the many young trainees it has employed in the intervening years.
“Our biggest difficulty over the last quarter of a century has been finding dedicated and skilled staff,” said the co-owner.
“To this day, we are faced with blank stares when we tell an ever-growing army of business consultants that our problem is not sales – we have not advertised for 20 years and yet we regularly turn away high value work because we simply do not have the capacity.
“When Derek and I were young, even the poorest schools had well equipped woodwork facilities, allowing youngsters to find out if they had aptitude or affinity with the trade and to start acquiring manual skills.
“It feels as though the only technical equipment on offer these days is a computer keyboard, so we do not get enquiries for trainee positions, which is sad.
“The knock-on effect is that fewer colleges now offer training – our closest college running a furniture making apprenticeship is more than 50 miles away, which is untenable.”
In 2000 the company moved to its present premises in Birch Road. Despite being almost ten times larger than its Barningham home,
the firm is close to outgrowing the site as larger and
more prestigious projects continue to be on reputation alone.
“We are fairly unique in that we are small enough for
our team to be individually practised in most areas – machining, assembly, fitting, carving or finishing while at the same time being flexible enough to handle bigger, time sensitive projects,’ said Mr Nixon
“London and the South East has always been a significant market for us.
“I had dealt with high value projects in the capital in my previous employment and Chris had lived there for many years, so the logistics are not as intimidating as they might have been.
“That said, the cost of accommodation and travelling for our fitters in London is significant, and we prefer the overseas work we have done in places like the Spanish Costas and Monaco.”
Mr Dauber added: “Many people think of our furniture as expensive, but this is because the bulk of the home furnishings sector is all about budget marketing – when was the last time you saw furniture being advertised as anything other than low cost?
“If you consider the hours of a skilled cabinet maker’s time involved in everything we do, the furniture starts to look rather good value compared to your car’s last service.”
The firm now employs 13 people with current contracts ranging from a small shelving unit in Darlington to a major refurbishment of an eight bedroom Chelsea apartment within walking distance of Harrods.
“After 25 years, we know we will never be wealthy in monetary terms, but there are so many more rewarding things in life,” said Mr Dauber.
“Every job is different and we predominantly work on products of real practical value and beauty.
“I have lost count of the number of older customer who tell us how they wish they had spent their working lives doing this instead of pushing paper around a desk.
“Of course, they were largely retired by 60, which is not something we will ever achieve.”