Digby dives in to troubleshoot Hereford cabinet maker

Posted on 3 Apr 2014
Kate Muxworthy, Lord Digby Jones and MD Mike Muxworthy outside Hereford Furniture. The manufacturing-mad peer troubleshoots the travails of three businesses in a new BBC2 series

Its Diggers to the rescue as Lord Jones parachutes in to help troubled Hereford Furniture in the first of a new three part BBC2 series starting April 10.

Family-owned Hereford Furniture had a difficult 2012/13. The recession was tough on furniture makers, with nearly 1,100 furniture companies going bankrupt or taken over since 2008.

“Stockists went out of business, leaving fewer routes to market, and those that remained had less appetite to take on a new supplier,” said sales and marketing manager Kate Muxworthy, daughter of owner-managing director Mike.

The £3m turnover company posted a loss of £80,000, its first since it was founded in 2006, and the outlook was not good for the Muxworthys, co-owners Alan Riley and Jakob and Louise Powell nor the company’s 40 staff.

Out of the blue, the BBC called up in August 2013. Would they mind if Lord Digby Jones gave them a makeover? With falling sales and possible redundancies looming, what was there to lose?

Industry champion Lord Jones had signed up to present a TV series where troubled manufacturers expose themselves to the cameras in exchange for the Digby treatment, an access-all-areas analysis of the company by a real business heavyweight.

In the mould of Sir John Harvey Jones’ troubleshooter series of the 1990s, Digby peels back the layers of the manufacturing department, accounting, sales processing, customer reviews and HR, to try to lift Hereford’s performance against the market tide.

A specialist maker of cabinets with a painted finish, Hereford also imports, brands and sells furniture, which accounts for 35% of turnover. Sales started falling heavily at the same time as it began to diversify and modernise its range to appeal to a broader market, a costly exercise. “We invested heavily in capex, like British manufacturers are criticised for not doing, but at the same time we could not sell product. It was a very stressful time,” says Miss Muxworthy.

The project was access all areas, says Muxworthy. “Lord Jones checked everything, including speaking personally to 21 shop floor staff. All the comments were filmed.”

His advice… you’ll have to wait for the programme. But it focuses much on productivity and business efficiency, we are told, chiming well with the ONS report on April 1 that productivity levels in the UK economy increased slightly in the last three months of 2013.

Believing in the crucial importance of small and medium, family-owned companies nationwide, Lord Jones moves on to two more companies in the series including a textiles company and a washing machine manufacturer.

We may expect to see more flag waving for the small company following the series, as more media attention is cast on the hidden economy, including this piece today by Michael Hyman in The Telegraph.

Digby Jones : the New Troubleshooter starts Thursday April 10, 2014, on BBC2