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Timber manufacturer launches e-commerce site after Boost support and manufacturing grant

Empress Fencing

A leading Lancashire manufacturer and supplier of fencing materials and timber products has launched an online retail site after gaining business support through Boost; Lancashire’s Business Growth Hub.

Empress Fencing, based in Clitheroe, also received a grant from the Lancashire Manufacturing Growth Fund to help purchase a vital piece of equipment for its manufacturing process. The family business, which employs around 15 staff, hopes to further grow its headcount as a result of increased sales it expects the online shop to bring.

Andrew Ireland founded the business in 1996 at the age of 24, after acquiring a former sawmill and part of the business from his employer on retirement. His wife and joint owner Emma manages the administrative and operational side of the business while Andrew manages the sawmill and timber products.

She said: “Running a small business can sometimes put you in a fairly isolated position. The Boost mentoring encouraged us to look outward. It showed us what a positive experience it can be when you work with external expertise whose professional challenging and questioning can help you to create a strong plan to move forward.”

Empress Fencing specialises in gates, fencing, decking and bespoke joinery. The business also sells kiln-dried hardwood logs, coal, kindling and woodchips for home heating, which is a growth area for the business. As a wholesaler, the firm supplies materials to fencing companies, contractors and garden centres across the region. It also supplies timber fencing and gates to several local councils.

Seeking a clearer vision for the business

Despite healthy growth across its products and services, Andrew and Emma felt Empress Fencing needed a clearer vision of where the business should be heading and what areas they could continue to diversify in, to sustain its growth targets. Boost is Lancashire's Business Growth Hub and is led by Lancashire County Council and the Lancashire LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership).

It is supported by funding from Lancashire County Council, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Department of Business and Trade. As a funded business support service, Boost helps Lancashire business owners and leaders navigate the local, regional and national public and private sector business support landscape, to find the right support for their business. Boost also delivers several funded programmes for start-up, established and fast-growing businesses.

Boost growth advisor Mike Reece visited the sawmill and manufacturing site and met with Andrew and Emma to devise a strategy to meet their requirements. He introduced them to the Boost Growth mentoring programme, and they were matched with Boost mentor Stephen Thomas, a business development specialist. They discussed the way forward for the business with Stephen by identifying growth areas and reviewing the management structure.

Creating further growth through online sales

They also received support from Boost mentor Jean Atkinson, a sales and marketing specialist, who recommended setting up the e-commerce site to generate extra enquires and sales for their fuel products.

Emma said: “I found the whole experience of working with Boost so positive. The process was supportive and not at all critical. Our mentor, Stephen, helped us to look at the things that were bothering us and assisted us in planning a way forward. He worked with us and within our style and did not try to impose his style of working.”

Stephen also identified that the sawmill being in constant operation was essential to the business but with a critical part of the aging bandsaw needing replacement, Stephen put Emma and Andrew in touch with Lancashire Manufacturing Growth Fund. The fund provided a grant to help subsidise the purchase of a new control panel to ensure continuation of timber production.

Boost programme manager Andrew Leeming said: “Andrew and Emma’s experience with Boost is a true example of Boost’s overarching objective to find the right support for each business at the right time, working with the most appropriate support partners in Lancashire alongside our own programmes.

“I’m looking forward to following the company’s growth over the coming months and hope Boost can continue to be part of that journey.” Empress Fencing has now set its sights on expanding the e-commerce site to include other retail timber products and grow the wholesale side of the business with its ranges of customised gates, fencing and decking, which now reaches clients as far as Cheshire and beyond.

Emma added: “I would not hesitate to recommend Boost to other businesses as a way to progress your business.” 

Boost is helping Lancashire businesses. We have a range of funded support programmes and a team of business advisers you can talk to. To speak to someone from the Growth Hub about business support, contact Boost online or call 0800 488 0057.

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