“The service and support offered by all at Business Growth Hub are second to none. We have already recommended it to many other SMEs in our network, and they have benefitted significantly. But even more than that, we feel that there is such a unique culture at the Hub because it doesn’t matter who you have dealings with and which part of the team they are based in, the level of helpfulness, positivity, can-do attitude and friendliness is evident.”
- Brett Mendell, Director at Thomas Kneale
Rising up amidst the destruction caused by WWII bombings, Thomas Kneale set up in central Manchester, home of the UK’s textile industry, in 1947. Creating the Arbry brand, the original Thos. Kneale & Co Ltd grew to become one of the leading mail order houses in the country, supplying a wide range of household textiles. As the business evolved, the company shifted its focus completely from retail and mail order to business-to-business 35 years ago- supplying in bulk to residential institutions from government departments to remote hostels
Nowadays, Thomas Kneale is one of the UK’s largest B2B providers of bedroom and bathroom textiles, with a wide-ranging customer base including blue chip multi-national organisations, private businesses and a number of Government Departments. Witnessing the globalisation of the textile trade, a number of recessions and economic challenges, Thomas Kneale has remained steadfast, adapting and developing throughout.
Responding to the ever-changing business environment, Thomas Kneale keeps on investing in different aspects of the company; reducing their carbon footprint and upskilling their workforce. In April 2023, Thomas Kneale became an inaugural recipient of the King’s Award for Enterprise in the Sustainable Development category, awarded to just 15 businesses nationwide.
On the path of evolution, Thomas Kneale has been joined by a trustworthy partner, the Business Growth Hub (BGH). By offering their professional knowledge and business support service, The Hub helped Thomas Kneale overcome different development hurdles.
We have the chance to sit down with Brett Mendell, Director at Thomas Kneale, on the company’s journey of tireless evolution.
How did Thomas Kneale come to work with GC Business Growth Hub?
We are an SME based in Manchester with a rich history of over 75 years. Thanks to our incredible network of individuals and business events, we have been able to meet many fantastic people and organisations. It was through this network that we became aware of Business Growth Hub, and we consider it one of the most important discoveries we have made.
The Hub has provided us with enormous support in various areas, and their size, scale, knowledge, and influence have been instrumental in our growth and success as a business, as well as that of our colleagues at Thomas Kneale. Our primary motivation for seeking Business Growth Hub’s support is to improve our performance, adapt to current challenges, and ensure our continued success for the next 75 years.
Building a greener business model
Thomas Kneale took part in the Journey to Net Zero programme. What motivated the company to join, and what were the objectives in participating?
Net Zero is arguably the most important topic across the world in a generation, and we recognise the need to take action. However, we were overwhelmed by the vast amount of information available online. Despite its well-meaning intentions, the information left us unsure of how to proceed. We required a logical and relevant solution that suited our company’s size and goals. When we discovered the Journey to Net Zero programme, we knew it was the perfect fit for us. The programme provided us with information on Net Zero jargon, actions we could take, how to measure and report our progress, and how to involve others in our networks and beyond. The programme enabled us to achieve all of these goals.
How has the Journey to Net Zero Programme impacted the company? What kind of benefit has it brought to the daily operation, and how do those benefits translate into actual gain for the company?
First of all, the programme enabled us to make progress and effective change quickly with the help of technology. Every day, we operate with an increasingly reduced carbon footprint- that can be anything from the solar panels creating clean energy from the factory roof of our partner mill in Pakistan to the recycled content across our product range.
We have taken numerous actions, both big and small, that have created a significant positive impact collectively, and most importantly, we can measure the results to see the difference made by our efforts. This has benefited our company in many ways, including reducing carbon emissions and improving our reputation with customers who value sustainability. By working together and supporting each other’s goals, we have attracted new customers who appreciate our efforts to be environmentally responsible. Overall, our commitment to carbon reduction within a wider ESG strategy has been good for business.
And Thomas Kneale received the King’s Award for Enterprise in the Sustainable Development category...
The King’s Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development is a case in point, as we included in our submission the rapid progress we have made on Net Zero, and that was only made possible by the support we received from the Hub. We prepared our case carefully, responded accurately to the questions and submitted documentation demonstrating that we do not simply pay lip service to sustainability but actually deliver on it, day in and day out and that we had a very strong story to share.
To have been first shortlisted and then informed we won the King’s Award was beyond our wildest hopes and dreams.
Investing in Growth
You also work with Access to Finance and Skills for Growth. What advantages have the programmes provided for the company?
Finance is a critical part of any business, and Thomas Kneale is no exception, which is why we found the programme incredibly helpful. It allowed us to upskill, learn about available resources, and fill any knowledge gaps we had. One session on digital accounting was particularly eye-opening. We were impressed by how technology has made processes more efficient, freed up time for other workstreams and had benefits to colleague workload simultaneously.
The programme helped us learn and adopt new strategies to improve our operations, including streamlining processes, adopting new technology, gaining knowledge about funding options, and expanding our networks.
We have also participated in the Skills for Growth programme, which has upskilled the team in everything from technical aspects to soft skills such as leadership, confidence, and communication. The reason for wanting to join the programme is that people are core to what we do here at Thomas Kneale. We are constantly focused on the training and development, the learning and continuous improvement of the individual.
The Skills for Growth programme was attractive to us because it shows in one place how you can access a whole range of training courses and skills to help individuals improve in terms of what they are doing. In one place, for a period of time, we have been able to have a very concise, defined learning and development programme that everyone has had the opportunity to get involved with, and we have had some fabulous results.
Gaining knowledge through completing training courses in skills-based areas has given increased confidence to individuals. We have seen greater efficiency and new processes put in place. We have seen a growth in our sales as a result of the colleagues in the organisation taking part in the programme. And that is a good conclusion and outcome to see, showing that it has worked and has the desired benefits. It is absolutely one of the best things we have done in the organisation for a long time. It has enabled us to have a rapid upskilling of a number of colleagues very quickly but crucially very effectively as well.
Both Access to Finance and Skills for Growth are wonderful programmes that have allowed us to do what we do even better.
To find out more on Thomas Kneale, please visit:
GC Business Growth Hub was part financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) 2014-2021, as part of a portfolio of ERDF-funded programmes designed to help ambitious SME businesses achieve growth and increase employment in Greater Manchester. Eligibility criteria was applied. The 2014-2021 ERDF fund was allocated by the European Union that finances convergence, regional competitiveness and employment and territorial co-operation.
Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), formerly the Department for Communities and Local Government was the managing authority for the European Regional Development Fund Programme, which was one of the funds established by the European Commission to help local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support local businesses and create jobs. For more information, visit European Regional Development Fund: Documents and Guidance - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
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