Merger creates UK's biggest educational furniture manufacturer

Three of the UK’s leading educational furniture manufacturers, British Thornton ESF Ltd, EME Furniture Limited and Claughton Office Equipment Ltd (t/a Claughtons) have announced a deal to integrate the businesses to become the biggest educational furniture supplier in the UK, with the aim of increasing combined revenues from £26m to £30m in the next 12 months.

Keighley-based British Thornton ESF, and its sister company EME Furniture in Sanquhar, Dumfries & Galloway, is the market leader in the design, manufacture and supply of loose and fitted educational furniture. Its iconic Trudy brand is the leading name in furniture and fittings specially designed for Early Years and Primary Education and is now used as part of every one in four capital schemes in the UK.

Hull-based Claughtons has been designing, manufacturing and supplying high quality, practical and robust educational and commercial furniture solutions for over 20 years. The new, combined company will now trade as British Thornton with enhanced capacity to manufacture £50m of bespoke educational furniture per year and the ability to flex capacity to meet the seasonal requirements of the sector.

The deal is the first of its kind within the sector which is worth £200m per annum. British Thornton now claims 15 per cent share of the market.

The deal was led by Gerard Toplass, Claughtons’ managing director, who will become chief executive officer of the new board. He will be joined by Simon Crawford, group sales director; Gary Wilks, group commercial director; Stuart Little, group operations director; David Claughton, sales director; Mike Elton, operations director, and Andrew Wright, chief financial officer.

Over the past decade, investment in the UK education sector has been high, with British Thornton and Claughtons responsible for furnishing many landmark contracts through the Public Finance Initiative (PFI), Public Private Partnership (PPP), Building Schools for the Future (BSF) and Academies programmes. The company is unique in employing a 15-strong team of designers, space planners and product developers to continually enhance the product range and support customer build requirements.

Gerard Toplass, British Thornton chief executive, said: “The customer experience in the education sector in the UK has been lacking for some time due to the seasonality of the ordering cycle, a lack of product innovation and an inability for the market to properly meet customer demand. With our new business we are going to address this and we will change the sector for the better by bringing a more retail-focussed approach, enhancing the customer journey and ultimately improving value for money.

“The education sector as a whole has not seen any real innovation in product development but we plan to build on the Trudy range by innovating and introducing more cutting-edge brands to market for different educational age groups including Secondary, Further Education and Special Educational Needs. Our aim is clear: to innovate and improve the aesthetics of classrooms across the country while also improving the teaching and learning experience for teachers and students, who all use our furniture.”

British Thornton supplies most of the major UK construction companies, many of the major educational channel resellers (public and private) and deals directly with educational establishments. It is already working alongside a number of contractors involved in the next wave of landmark projects under the Priority Schools Building Programme.

The business now aims to enhance its team in line with its commercial objectives and is actively recruiting a number of roles spanning its Yorkshire and Scottish sites, in account management and the customer facing side of the business.

Further expansion plans are also on the horizon with British Thornton considering growing the business by acquisition as well as organically in order to offer the broadest range of products and services to the sector.

Corporate finance advisors Begbies Traynor Group (Manchester) advised on the deal, alongside Gosschalks Solicitors (Hull) and Blacks Solicitors (Leeds).