Teesside Cheese Company Goes Crackers At Christmas
(20 February 2007)
With the help of a Durham Business School programme, North East cheese-packer and distributor Tom Walker & Sons experienced its best year on record after supplying a whopping 2,900 tonnes of cheese to hungry customers throughout the UK in 2006.
Tom Walker & Sons, a family business at Leazes Farm, Thorpe Thewles, Stockton had its most profitable festive period since business began in 1982, after achieving 26% of its annual sales in November and December last year, boosting turnover to £10 million.
After 25 years in business, the company’s come a long way from its cottage-industry roots and is widely regarded for its expertise and innovation in speciality cheese packing and distribution. It sources and supplies cheeses from all over the world and counts national multiples including Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda and Waitrose as part of its strong client base.
Managing director Peter Walker, with his brother Mike and sister Pauline, run the business after taking over from their father nine years ago. Peter says it was after the family took advantage of a of a small business development programme at Durham Business School, that they’ve had the vision and the capability to take the company to new heights during the last three years.
Peter explains: “In today’s competitive climate no business can afford to stand still. As a family we appreciated this, but we were unclear as to how we could channel our ideas for growing the company into a workable strategy, without compromising it by taking our eye off the ball.
“The Strategic Development Programme (SDP) at Durham Business School provided the opportunity to take a step back from day-to-day operations to consider our ideas for developing the business, expanding into new markets and look at ways to enhance existing operations.”
The Strategic Development Programme is another success story for Durham Business School. So far it has helped over 35 small businesses in the region to remain competitive, equipping them with appropriate knowledge and skills in order to strategise and formulate effective business plans to achieve their ambitions.
Peter adds: “The programme helped my family and I to develop a more pragmatic approach to business planning, setting workable targets and implementing change. For instance due to seasonality, we had extra capacity for nine months of the year. Where once we might have accepted that as a trait of the market we operate in, we’re now continually developing the business to utilise these opportunities to build the business and improve efficiencies.”
Last year was a landmark year for the family. As well as experiencing record-breaking sales and distribution levels at Christmas, the company was also awarded 17th place in The Journal’s ‘Fastest 50’ league table of the region’s fastest growing private companies, in partnership with Ward Hadaway solicitors.
“The rankings came as a complete surprise, the listings are a showcase of some of the North East’s best businesses and entrepreneurs, including both new and long-established businesses, it was an honour and a testament to all our hard work to feature among them,” said Peter.
By 2010 the company aims to increase turnover by 50%. It currently employs 32 full-time staff and up to 60 agency staff over the Christmas period.
Jeremy Wright, SDP director at Durham Business School, said: “I’d like to congratulate Peter and the family on their success. The Strategic Development Programme is all about getting our entrepreneurs to think strategically about the future to help owner-managers like Peter, Mike and Pauline to understand how they can develop the business, explore avenues for future growth and implement new ideas.”
The Strategic Development Programme is a 12-month course, comprising flexible workshops and one to one mentoring with experienced business leaders from all backgrounds and sectors. The programme equips owner-managers with the skills, knowledge and tools necessary to determine and implement growth and change strategies, adding value to existing products and operations, with a strong emphasis on teamwork and employee development.