A century of service

We celebrate Joe Davies' 100 years of trading with the company's commercial director Paul Hooker

A century of service: Image 1 Tell us a bit about Joe Davies
Joe Davies, one of 10 children, was born in the 1880s. As a young man, he worked as a commercial traveller for a large Manchester wholesaler Richard Rowbottom. He was successful in this role and had a good round of regular customers in the North West. In 1915, Joe joined the army and served until the end of the First World War. He was demobbed, unharmed, in 1918. When he returned to employment, he was disappointed to find many of his customers had been passed to the newer employees, so he decided to set up on his own. He rented small premises at No. 20 Shudehill, Manchester. In 1919, he obtained a major agency for the company Benjamin Parkes of Dudley, a renowned maker of the hearth furniture (a hot line at that time). He had successful years as an agent before making a small showroom in Shudehill and began to buy goods on his own account, and thus started as a wholesaler.

How does it feel to be 100 years old?
Being a part of the company as it reaches 100 is an amazing feeling. There is not a lot that Joe would recognise in today’s business, but one thing that I am sure he would recognise – and be very happy about – is that we still provide customer service the Joe Davies way, with feeling and from the heart.

What were the initial goals of the business?
The initial goals of the business were for Joe to provide for his family in a country that was going through a massive adjustment after the First World War.

How has the product offering changed over time?
The range has changed completely over time. From around 100 fireside furniture items, then ceramics from the Potteries, through horse brasses to the massive explosion of ornaments, household fancy goods and frames that came with people having a bit more expendable income. Today it covers more than 10,000 lines across gifting, from snoozies!® foot-coverings, brands like Equilibrium Jewellery, the famous Leonardo collection from Lessor & Pavey (Joe Davies is the UK’s number one distributor of Leonardo) to its own well-known Shudehill Giftware collection.

Any classics that have stood the test of time?
With today’s fast moving and ever-changing design-led demand from customers, there is little that really stands the test of time over a number of years. Joe Davies has to be at the leading edge of product innovation, launching more than 2,500 brand new lines every season. That said, life’s special events, such as wedding and anniversary product, do seem to have more longevity, in particular baby Silver Plate items and frames.

Which collections are you excited about?
With so many great new ranges just launched at the NEC, it’s hard to pick a favourite – we are very excited about the new Sunny by Sue glassware additions for this year, our new Pairables snoozies collection is set to be one of our strongest-ever concepts for the busy season, and Equilibrium goes from strength to strength. Our Shudehill Home brand is looking very strong with wooden clip frames and a tribal animal design that really makes a splash, but that’s just the tip of a super product range.

How many generations have been involved in running the business?
Steve Davies is the managing director of Joe Davies and belongs to the fourth generation.

What values are important to Joe Davies?
Outstanding service, fair competitive prices and attention to the little things that make the big difference. This means treating people as people, always doing the right thing (even if it costs) and always working hard to be better at what we do, every single day.

How does the company’s history affect how you operate in the present day?
It can weigh heavy on your shoulders, but at the same time, that weight keeps you planted, gives a great sense of where you have come from and helps you make the right decisions for the future.

Which trade shows do you attend? Which is your favourite?
We attend Spring and Autumn Fair at the NEC, Harrogate Home & Gift in the summer and Harrogate Christmas Show in January. All the shows serve our business and our customers very differently. Having a favourite is hard – we love seeing our customers at any time. We are also passionate about our product wherever we have an opportunity to show case it.

How are you finding the economic climate in the UK?
It’s certainly been challenging for many, and we have taken the view, as we always do, to keep focussed on offering our customers what they need: stability of supply, consistent low pricing, great products and no hassle. We try to make it as easy as possible for people to do business with us, little things like no quibble credits, no hoops to jump through, low minimum order value and free carriage.

What have been the key milestones of the last century?
There are too many to list, but in the late ’70s the company purchased No. 29 Shudehill, Manchester, at the same time goods from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan started to feature in the market, the gift trade increased, and JD did quite well. The business then took on its first non-family manager, Syd Wood, who stayed with the Company for 40 years and masterminded all the trade shows. Anne Davies looked after the accounts and masterminded the installation of our first computer in 1984.In 1980, Norman and Peter made their first trip to South East Asia. It was a game-changing trip, opening up a completely new market to buy from and a new range of products. It transformed the business, and we had to build an extension to our warehouse.
At that time, the usual distributive path for imports was through wholesale and cash and carry or to retailers in big full carton lots. We sold only to our retail customers, so they had some exclusivity, and we all enjoyed a good period of growth. It was a good decade.

In 1988, we had our very first trade show, Harrogate. What a revelation! We took £64,000 worth of orders in five days; we were exhausted and utterly delighted. Other shows included Llandudno, Torquay, and eventually Spring Fair followed. We moved to our larger, new, modern warehouse premises in 2001, and just last year we implemented a completely new computer system more than 30 years after the first.

Any anniversary celebrations planned?
We have already enjoyed some drinks and celebrations with customers at the NEC Spring Fair, and we will be celebrating all year round, with some great fun activities lined up throughout 2019. Watch this space!

Any tips for younger companies hoping to make it to the 100-year mark?
Slow and steady, beware of over-stretching. And if you look after the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves.

What can we expect to see from Joe Davies in the next 100 years?
Hopefully, you will see Joe Davies getting better at what we already do. We will continue to make it as easy as possible for people to do business with us and not give our customers a reason not to buy. Most importantly, we want our many, great independent customers to look at us as their supplier of choice, and we’ll keep working hard to exceed their expectations.

For more information, contact the award-winning Joe Davies sales office on 0161 975 6300, email sales@joedavies.co.uk or visit joedavies.co.uk

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