The history behind William Turner & Son
In 1969, a gentleman named William Turner found himself redundant from his job as a schoolwear salesman when the firm he worked for closed. What William – or Bill as he was better known – could not have realised back then, was that this unfortunate circumstance had a very silver lining. Had he not been made redundant, he would not have established his own business, one we know today as William Turner, a leading supplier of school ties and accessories, which almost 50 years later, continues to thrive under the careful watch of Turner’s family.
But first things first: how William Turner all began. Until this time, school ties had previously been made from wool/cotton. However, ICI had just developed a polyester fibre that was suitable for making ties and recognising that these were much cheaper and could easily be washed, Bill Turner started buying tie cloth from Skipton and Macclesfield’s weaving mills. Based from a small spare bedroom in his house, he initially sent the cloth to local factories to be made into ties, before very quickly setting up his own tie making factory.
The business model was successful. Trade began to grow, fuelled not least by the new comprehensive schools of the early 1970s seeking inexpensive ways of differentiating themselves, the solution for which they found in the school tie. As time went on, word of mouth helped build the business’s reputation and with it, additional products and customers.
A family affair
Before long, Bill’s son, Keith Turner, joined the company and they themselves were joined by a team to provide the expertise to take the company forward. Sadly, Bill passed away in 1984, but not before seeing the company become a supplier to many schoolwear retailers across the UK with the William Turner & Son range.
In 2000, the business extended its portfolio and to accompany the ties, began supplying school bags. To enable this addition, William Turner partnered with a factory in China dedicated solely to its production. The relationship between the two businesses has fortified and grown over time, as has the family involvement in the business, as William Turner’s managing director Daniel Turner, Bill’s grandson, explains. “My father, Keith, retired in 2011 and my brother John and I, together with our fellow director Andy Smith who joined the company 40 years ago, took over the helm. My sister Heather also recently joined as HR manager, continuing the link as a family business.”
It’s all in the name
You may have noticed recently that William Turner has undertaken something of a rebranding exercise, which has seen the retiring of the company’s Unicol trade name. The rebranding project, which is being led by the company’s marketing manager Hayley Bonnick, was officially unveiled at the Schoolwear Show in October, with the name change coming into effect via the new William Turner landing page and the company’s 2017 brochure.
The brochure, which features both model photography alongside William Turner’s famous illustrated characters, has received rave reviews for its new approach. The change of labels, swing tickets and POS meanwhile, is gradually hitting the shops as we speak.
“My grandfather came up with Unicol as a trade name – William Turner & Son would sell Unicol products – but it often confused people,” explains Daniel, on the reasoning behind the rebrand. “For instance, at one Schoolwear Show where we showed under the Unicol name, we saw customers walk right past our stand and heard them say, ‘I wonder where William Turner is this year?’ What we’ve realised is that William Turner is the true ‘brand’; a name so trusted and well known in the market. We hope having all our products carry the William Turner name will make everything much more straightforward for our customers.
“No extra work is required,” he continues. “All of the ordering processes are staying the same. It’s just another way of telling people what William Turner has to offer. Our company name will always be William Turner & Son but for simplicity, we have shortened it to William Turner, which is what most customers call us.”
As well as simplifying the branding, the renewed focus on the William Turner brand is also paving the way for the company to reiterate its ethos and voice its values as well as providing a build-up to a very big milestone for the firm in a couple of years’ time.
“We are coming up to 50 years of business in 2019,” Daniel continues. “We are all incredibly proud of the heritage of the company and the fact that we continue to manufacture our school ties in the UK. We’re a quality, well-established, British-built company and with that in mind, we believe the name William Turner reflects this perfectly. To have William Turner stamped on every single one of our products can only spur us on to get better and better. It’s a really emotional thing, to see your family name on something you’re so proud of. Unicol has served us well, but this is about owning the brand and making sure our customers know how much we believe in it.”
Renewed focus on communication and marketing
Along with the name change, William Turner has seen other modifications in the last year, all with the aim of making the business as efficient as possible in today’s market. One such development is a new IT and phone system, now in the final stages of completion and which is having a huge impact on how the company communicates with its customers.
Additionally, the appointment of marketing manager Bonnick, who joined the team just over a year ago, has enhanced the business’s marketing strategies considerably, ensuring the William Turner brand is managed consistently across all platforms. Bonnick’s input has also allowed the company to introduce new sales material for retailers along with renewed focus on digital marketing which, in light of the how the schoolwear market is evolving, will remain a priority.
“Our retailers have to adapt to the rise of online consumer behaviour and the changes on the high street, but I do believe most relish these challenges,” says Daniel. “For us, it means we have to be better than ever in supporting our retailers in looking after their schools. The heavy investment into our IT systems last year is now starting to pay off, but we always have to look at how we can continue to improve.”
Championing UK manufacture
A key message underpinning William Turner’s marketing and communication is its support of UK manufacturing. William Turner’s philosophy is that a smart school uniform is of real benefit to schools and school children.
With this in mind, it prides itself on manufacturing quality, affordable schoolwear accessories including ties, bags, scarves, hair accessories, hats and winterwear. Essentially, a full range of accessories, one that the company continues to evaluate and supplement based on feedback from retailers.
“We will be shouting louder than ever about the benefits of UK manufacturing,” confirms Daniel. “The quality, consistency and speed to market it provides, as well as playing a part in sustaining the Great British heritage of textile manufacturing,”
With schools increasingly looking for smarter school uniform options, even at primary level, William Turner views the school tie as an effective and affordable way of achieving just that.
To meet growing demand, the company is placing significant investment in production. So, in addition to its factory in Skipton, North Yorkshire, the firm is moving its second factory from Colne, Lancashire, to expanded premises in nearby Nelson.
As well as the obvious advantages to production, the new factory will allow William Turner to capitalise on promoting UK manufacture to its retailers, with the plan being to invite as many as possible to the new Nelson site in order to demonstrate, first-hand, how the company’s ties are made.
This in turn will allow William Turner the opportunity to relay the key benefits it gains from UK manufacturing and for these values to be fed down, via the retailers, to the schools.
“We really believe that manufacturing school ties in the UK is the best thing for us and for the schoolwear trade as a whole,” says Daniel. “We want our customers to be able to sell to schools with confidence that their products have been ethically made. It’s great to employ so many dedicated and highly skilled people and we’re proud to pay proper wages.
“Having total control of our production means we can get ties made very quickly; we don’t have to wait for weeks for items to arrive from other parts of the world. And, by having a strong UK supply chain, we can also ensure consistency of quality and make-up, something that is critical to schools.
“We are grateful to all of our customers for supporting Made in UK and we know that however important that is in itself, UK-made is not everything; we also have to be better, quicker and more consistent than offshore.”
The William Turner philosophy
With two, expanding, UK factories under its belt and a work force of 120 employees, William Turner has come a long way, and its original, spare bedroom holding is now a 14,000 sq ft warehouse.
The purpose and values of the business, however, remain entirely unchanged as Daniel confirms. “As I hope our customers know, we strive every day to deliver a quality product on time, at a competitive price.”
He concludes: “Dad used to say, “Be pleasant, be efficient and get on with it,” which will always be how we like to do things.”