With a growing sales team and a new head office mid-build, Back to School isn’t the only thing keeping Chadwick Textiles busy this year. As the company celebrates 50 years, Laura Turner speaks to owner and MD, Joel Chadwick, to learn more.
Laura Turner: What’s the history behind Chadwick Textiles?
Joel Chadwick: The company was founded in 1967 by my father, David Chadwick. Essentially, Chadwick Textiles’ rich heritage lies in the rainwear manufacturing industry of the 60s and 70s when Manchester, in particular, was awash with raincoat and jacket manufacturers.
David J Chadwick Ltd, as it was known back then, soon became one of the key fabric merchants in the north west of England and eventually throughout the UK, predominantly importing from large textile manufacturers throughout Europe. The company grew steadily and forged a strong reputation for developing and stocking a wide range of in-demand fabrics, offering just-in-time delivery to a huge base of manufacturers in the UK, Europe and Asia. Simultaneously, the business had also started to source further afield from more competitive sources, including China, Taiwan, Korea, India and Pakistan. Due to the ever-widening and more competitive sources available, this enabled it to continue to grow year-on-year.
Customers ranged from international and household brands through to specialist and niche manufacturers in almost all clothing sectors: technical and non-technical fabrics for fashion, sportswear, workwear and non-apparel.
While finished sportswear garments now represent 75 per cent of the business, to this day, Chadwick Textiles’ fabric division is still the UK’s leading supplier of polyester knit fabrics for sublimated sportswear to sports kit manufacturers throughout Europe.
LT: How has the company retained its market share?
JC: High volume UK and European garment manufacturing has now all but disappeared, being in steady decline from around the year 2000. Identifying this trend in UK manufacturing, we had already started to invest in alternative, textile-related businesses, including offshore garment manufacturing, nursery bedding and furniture products. In 2007, myself and the company’s sales director, Tim Roberts, identified an increased call to stock “off-the-shelf” sportswear products, some of which could be offered to existing fabric customers enabling them to broaden their offer with a wider range of styles. Utilizing the strong relationships we had built up in Asia, together with a comprehensive knowledge of garments in general, the emphasis was set firmly on unbranded, premium quality, functional garments as opposed to widely available, basic and budget alternatives.
Fabric technology and garment construction was evolving fast, as was consumers’ knowledge of such products. So, along with developing a core product range and investing heavily in UK stock, Chadwick Textiles – now in its 50th year – is enjoying considerable success in the team and training wear sector with an ever-growing customer base of multi-sports brands, retailers, resellers and garment embellishers.
LT: Today, yourself and Tim Roberts lead the company bolstered by almost 50 years’ fabric and garment experience between you, but who else makes up the team?
JC: We employ an experienced six-person strong, China-based QC team to help control quality with a proven supply chain of specialist sportswear manufacturers. We also have a growing UK team of 20 with a wealth of knowledge in sportswear and clothing in general, many of whom have worked for major brands such as Reebok, Adidas and Boden. Our UK team design, develop and control all aspects of quality while our sales and marketing unit, along with our warehouse team, all work closely to ensure the business is connected.
LT: What are you investing in to support growth?
JC: We’ve been consistently adding to the sales and marketing team as the company expands. Having built up a loyal customer base in a short time frame, we need to keep investing in people who understand our business and remain focused on customer service.
The UK market for teamwear and schoolwear still remains largely a “just-in-time” business, so high levels of customer service go hand in hand with ensuring suitable UK stock levels to enable a fast, efficient delivery across all sizes and colours at all times. We continue to invest heavily in greater levels of stock to that end, working closely with our supply chain to reduce lead times and seek other value-added benefits with our import process. We back this up with an emphasis on strong, direct marketing activity, both online and over the phone. We want to communicate with our customers and keep them updated with regular informative product updates and launches, as well as meeting face-to-face via our external sales department. The way in which we operate as a garment business now is far more complex compared to supplying fabrics historically.
LT: Part of your expansion strategy includes a new head office. How will this enhance the business?
JC: We’ve expanded quickly in the clothing sector and simply ran out of room, so we’re very excited to be moving into new, purpose-built offices at our HQ in Altrincham, Cheshire. We want to make the business “future-proof”, not only by having the appropriate space to function and grow, but to attract further high-calibre employees, for whom we can provide a modern, stylish and enjoyable working environment.
As part of the development, we’re creating a fantastic new showroom to help encourage customers to come and spend time with us, and understand more about what we can offer: we find we’re able to convert new, potential customers more easily once they have seen our products in the flesh. Along with our new offices, we’re also refurbishing and extending our existing warehouse facilities, creating more space, thus allowing us to introduce more products and hold larger stock levels across the range.
LT: Moving onto Chadwick Textiles’ product offer, what does it encompass?
JC: We offer a brand quality, fully coordinated range of core team and training wear products. This includes mid-layers, base-layers, tech tees, training tops, jackets, shorts and pants and sports bags, also all unbranded key products, including our best-selling pro rugby shorts, power stretch female leggings and skinny training pants. Mid-layers, in particular, are fast becoming the must-have product in a teamwear offer.
In 2017, we launched our new i-gen P.E. and games kit range, which is doing fantastically well, raising the bar in the quality and style of school teamwear.
We don’t sell to end-users, our two main target markets are small and medium-sized multi-sport brands and resellers, plus a wide variety of schoolwear suppliers. Many of the latter adopt our range as their own, enabling them to approach clubs, schools and universities at all levels with a genuine alternative to the major brands. We see our products in a broad cross section of team sports nationally, from the likes of Premiership rugby through to schools and grass-roots sports clubs.
We want to make the business “future-proof”, not only by having the appropriate space to function and grow, but to attract further high calibre employees, for whom we can provide a modern, stylish and enjoyable working environment.
LT: What would you say are Chadwick Textiles’ key strengths?
JC: Our strengths lie in our considerable knowledge and experience to design, manufacture and deliver genuine “fit-for-purpose” garments. We have a strong commercial knowledge and an instinct for developing great styles. We also fully understand the needs of our customers and their desire for a reliable and safe pair of hands, which will maintain and produce a consistent product, especially where schools are concerned.
Undoubtedly, our fabric background has enabled us to see first hand what works and equally, what doesn’t work, when manufacturing or sourcing clothing.
LT: Where are you looking to next for growth?
JC: Looking ahead, we’re already excited by the potential to develop and expand our range. We have lots of new ideas in development that we want to add to our growing offer, but we are also conscious that we need to build and grow at a manageable pace and ensure we meet all the criteria of a reliable supplier.
We appreciate and acknowledge that many of our schoolwear customers are having to work even more closely with their schools and parents by offering online shops and a full bespoke embellishment service, so the market as a whole is more complex than ever before. Of course, we want to continue to grow our customer base too, but equally, we still see enormous untapped potential with our existing customers: we’re seeking to build relationships and offer value-added benefits when buying our range.
LT: How is the schoolwear market changing?
JC: It is evolving fast and we strongly feel that we are well placed to meet the demand for more technical and functional sports gear while balancing cost and quality. As relative newcomers to the scene in comparison to some of the more established and traditional schoolwear suppliers, our background in technical and sports textiles enables us to offer a fresh approach. Our team at the Altrincham base are all sports mad, so there is an enthusiasm that runs throughout the company for what we do. Our market research and wearer trials entail standing on the touchline at the weekend, in the rain, watching our kids play sport, so we also get to see what’s happening at the consumer level. We want to offer products that cross the divide and sell equally well into professional club sport as well as school sport, which many already do. Feedback on our performance and our products helps us adapt and improve – we listen carefully to our customers.
LT: What would you sum up as the key short- and long-term plans for the business?
JC: In the short term, the focus is on establishing ourselves as a key player in the UK market. In the long term, we seek to have a wider and more expansive range of teamwear products, which fit into our ethos of “brand quality without the brand”.