In 2010, Joel Dickinson sold his online retail business to become the sixth generation owner of family business Karpet Mills. Here, he reflects on the company’s history, ethos and the growth and new services he’s instigated since becoming managing director
Karpet Mills is a sixth-generation business that started in 1878, tell us a bit about how the business developed…
The founder of the business, John Dickinson started life as a cabinet maker. Cabinet making evolved into furniture production before the dawn of television led my grandfather into retail. During the following decades, we expanded the retail side of the business while ensuring we always kept balance across the company by taking opportunities in new associated ventures. Every generation of the family has always kept the blinkers on? to ensure we follow the right path towards growing the business.
What changes have you implemented in since becoming managing director?
After I sold my business in 2010 and moved back to the region I knew it was the right time to become the sixth generation of the family to run Karpet Mills. The transition felt very natural having done the hard yards growing my own business. I’d learned how to make things happen and I’ve not looked back. Since becoming MD managing director, I’ve opened two new branches, grown our contract arm of the business (supplying flooring for new build houses), as well as expanding our commercial flooring offering. We have 55 staff working full time alongside our contractors fitting the flooring.
What’s the ethos behind Karpet Mills?
We offer guaranteed low prices for our products and we back that up with top-rate, old-fashioned service. We’ve been serving the North East for over 100 years and we know what our customers want. The key to operating successfully in a competitive market is to offer customers what they want, when they want, and this changes over time. We aim to provide transparent pricing, honest advice and genuine product recommendations – this is the key to long term success. We would rather sell products that are right for the customer instead of trying to make a quick buck from an easy sale.
Tell us about the company’s commercial offering?
We offer the full spectrum of commercial products required to complete a range of projects. In particular, we specialise in large scale office refurbishments, student accommodation and hospitality properties dealing with most of the top commercial agents to provide our expertise and services.
Why should someone use the business for their commercial project?
In the commercial flooring industry it’s vital to ensure that the right product is used for the right job and experience scores highly in this sector. We have tens of thousands of square metres of history behind us and we can help to match the most suitable product to the budget constraints whilst ensuring the top service levels naturally expected of us.
What types of commercial projects have you worked on?
We’ve recently completed the major refurbishment to office space on Newcastle’s historic Grey Street. The Grade II listed building is currently undergoing significant development and investment, courtesy of property investment firm Stessa Commercial. Separate to this, we have completed projects for Universal Student Living, Hesleyside Hall, South Northumberland Cricket Club and Durham Cathedral.
What’s your business highlight?
In 2016, we had our most successful year in the history of the company and I was proud to be a part of that. I have wonderful and very capable staff and it is very rewarding to yield the return from such prolonged hard work. It is a true privilege to be part of such a long established and successful business.
What’s been the business’s biggest challenge?
When the recession hit in 2008, it was tough for a lot of people but particularly for retail in the North East. When I joined in 2010, we were still feeling the effect of the downturn and it required a lot of drive and tenacity to be able to overcome the challenges. Through altering the product mix and exploring new channels in the sector we were able to trade our way out of those hard years. In a business that has been through several ups and downs, we have the experience and history to be able to overcome these challenges and come out the other side stronger than we went in.
What are the short- and long-term plans for the business?
We have recently taken on a new business development team and relaunched our website that includes a Home Selection Service. We are looking to consolidate what we currently offer and ensure we maintain our levels of service. Long-term, we intend to take fairly measured steps. We don’t want to push on too fast and expand too quickly. We take things at the correct pace. That’s why we’ve been going since 1878. But for now, the future looks pretty bright.