MyWorkwear has doubled in its turnover in the past 24 months thanks to a reinvigorated focus on customer service, community engagement and long-term strategic investment. Jonny Williamson reports.
MyWorkwear is a leading provider of personalised uniforms, PPE, clothing, footwear and related accessories. Established in 1976, the Shropshire-based company supplies more than 3,000 products to countless professions, from chefs and welders to butchers and paramedics.
The nature of its business makes MyWorkwear an accurate barometer for the overall health of UK industry. When budgets become squeezed, one of the first things businesses cut back on is workwear.
It’s reassuring, therefore, to hear that business at MyWorkwear is very much booming. The company has grown substantially over the past 24 months, doubling turnover and tripling the size of its workforce. A string of investments in new machines and IT systems have delivered numerous efficiency improvements and further helped future-proof the operation.
The company recently purchased three new embroidery machines and a direct-to-film print machine, along with other specialist equipment. These significantly increased production capacity and helped secure new contracts from customers looking for personalised workwear and uniforms.
Now, the management team is aiming to take turnover beyond £5 million by 2025. I sat down with Co-Owner and Managing Director, James Worthington, to hear how.
MyWorkwear has achieved tremendous growth of late, more than 50% last year alone. What’s behind that growth and what changes has it brought to the business?
James Worthington: We were doing well pre-pandemic thanks to a growth-focused sales and marketing strategy and the strong management team we had in place.
What we didn’t anticipate during the pandemic was the large volume of new customers we would receive. We’ve always been very aware of our online competitors. Print shops in town and city centres being closed during lockdown resulted in a huge amount of traditionally offline customers suddenly placing orders through our website.
We saw the events of 2020 as an opportunity to refocus our business and invest in our future. We expanded our production capacity by 40% and increased our staffing, equipment, technology and marketing. We rebranded and relaunched our website and broadened our capabilities and customer base.
The fact I already had a strong presence on LinkedIn certainly helped during that period. Where most salespeople couldn’t get out or weren’t previously active on social media, I was able to keep championing MyWorkwear. Something which continues to pay dividends to the business.
I’ve also got a lot to thank Made in the Midlands for. Being part of the network has been hugely beneficial to our business. More than 100 member companies have so far become customers since MyWorkwear joined as a patron in 2017, including Bauromat, Boneham and Turner, Lander Automotive, SDE Technology and Wrekin Sheetmetal.
With a modern ERP system, cloud-based software tools, a dynamic digital marketing strategy, a slick website, automated ordering; it sounds like MyWorkwear is very open to the power of technology and data.
Absolutely. We’re steadily becoming a smart factory. We’ve even been shortlisted as Manufacturing Innovator of the Year for the Technology Supply Chain’s Innovation Awards 2022.
For a small company, I’d say we are very tech-savvy. A large part of that is down to the passion and expertise of my fellow Director and Co-owner, Ben Simpson.
Our new embroidery machines, for example, have totally streamlined that part of the operation. Previously, we relied on our machinists knowing what threads were on which machine so that when an order came in, they knew which machine to send it to. That whole process is now automated.
The system also collects information about what logos are currently being embroidered, average stitch counts, future orders and so on. We can now make commercial decisions going forward based on this data. We’re steadily replacing and consolidating multiple pieces of internally-built, bespoke software with a select handful of capable new systems which communicate with each other.
Our next project, which I’m very excited about, is the arrival of a new CRM system. This will enable us to be much smarter with customer data. It will streamline and simplify our engagements, and enable clear ways to upsell and provide additional value.
Customer service is absolutely core to our business. Any opportunity to enhance and improve what we already provide will benefit our customers and us.
Pre-pandemic, you had 14 employees. You’re now on around 40 and are recruiting for several additional positions. Do you find it challenging to fill vacancies?
Not really, no. A large change in our workforce is how young the average age is. That has brought a new vibrancy and energy to the company.
We used the government’s Kickstart Scheme and welcomed half a dozen or so young people to the business. Several of which were offered jobs. But it was just such a labour-intensive, time-consuming process. At one point, my Ops Director was sitting pulling his hair out.
In some ways, it created more issues than it solved. There were a couple of moments when we were close to being overwhelmed by orders but kept putting off recruiting because we believed the Kickstarters would be arriving shortly. It took about six months longer than we hoped until our first Kickstarter arrived.
We felt a bit let down by the scheme, to be honest, despite the good intention behind it. However, it did lead to a fantastic success story.
I took one of our Kickstarters, Jack, to Silverstone because he’s very into automotive. His family used to race banger cars. The whole experience just blew him away. He was so inspired to see people his age working on race cars. I explained nothing was stopping him from doing it and I introduced him to the University of Wolverhampton’s Racing Team, which MyWorkwear has proudly sponsored for the past four seasons.
It turns out he had sufficient grades to go through clearing and hopefully he’ll be starting on a foundation engineering degree at the University of Wolverhampton in September. He’s going to have to work hard but he’s so revved up for the opportunity and the doors it could open.
MyWorkwear is involved in a wide and varied range of STEM education activities and helping make a difference to someone like Jack is exactly the reason why.
You’re also involved in a host of community-minded initiatives, both as a company and as an individual.
Absolutely. I’m a huge believer in what goes around comes around, and will help wherever we can on all sorts of projects.
This summer, I will be undertaking the Cannonbawz Run on 27 and 28 August to raise money for Race Against Dementia. Fifty super, sports and classic cars will tour more than 500 miles around the North Coast of Scotland. To make it even more of a challenge, I’ll be driving both ways between Shropshire and Scotland, which will mean a total of 1,500 miles.
[James has so far raised more than £1,200 and if you’d like to donate, please visit his Just Giving page]
You oversee an agile, responsive company that has grown through times of adversity, while still managing to engage with and support the local community. What’s the secret?
Recognise your own strengths and weaknesses. You can’t do everything so know your limitations and surround yourself with wise people.
In my case, credit has to go to Ben and our Head of Marketing, Gayle Parker. She brings a wealth and diversity of experience to the company having held senior roles at the likes of NatWest, npower and Bank of America. We’re very fortunate to have her.