UK MADE: Bisley

Why Bisley supports Brand Britain.

Bisley has been designing and manufacturing office furniture in the UK for over 80 years.

The business started off life in Surrey when founder Freddie Brown, established the company in the post-war era, following its early years as a supplier to the British war effort, where it designed and manufactured the first containers to be dropped by parachute, which were widely used by airborne forces throughout the war.

After the war, the company pivoted to start manufacturing office furniture and in 1951 the iconic Bisley MultiDrawer cabinet was born.

Inspired by the letter trays of the time, the MultiDrawer is Bisley’s best known and most loved product. More than five million of the diminutive cabinets have been sold across the world, cementing its status as an icon of classic furniture design.

In 1988 to meet expanding demand, Bisley purchased a 17-acre site in Newport, Wales, from which production is now solely conducted.

Seventy years on from the creation of the MultiDrawer, and despite pursuing a robust global expansion programme over the last 30 years, Bisley intentionally remains a UK manufacturer – over 15,000 items per week leave their Newport factory, and are exported to over 50 countries, with clients including the BBC, Google and L’Oreal. In the Middle East, Bisley recently won an order for Kuwait University, supplying furniture to most of the college buildings on the campus, which is one of the largest educational campuses in the world.

But regardless of the brand’s global presence, Tony Brown, son of Bisley founder Freddie, who was Bisley’s CEO for many decades, has always been driven by a desire to maintain Bisley’s role as a British manufacturer.

While many UK manufacturers moved production overseas, Tony has always stood firm in his belief that the design and build of Bisley’s products should remain in the UK, a stance that was recognised in 1993 with the honour of an OBE for his outstanding contribution to the British steel industry. The firm has also been awarded the Queen’s Award for Industry twice.

And as a passionate advocate of British manufacturing Bisley’s new CEO, Richard Costin, feels the same way. Richard is a strong believer in ‘Made in Britain’, a good match with the ethos of Bisley, where he took up the post of CEO in early 2020.

Richard believes that the future of British manufacturing, and Bisley’s role in championing it, is non-negotiable, considering British manufacturing as some of the very best in the world.

And it is because of this core belief that Richard will not envision a future where Bisley’s manufacturing arm might ever be offshored, despite recognising that for some UK firms offshoring has been the only way to ensure their survival.

“It’s not for us”, says Richard, “Bisley is a British firm with a long heritage. The workforce here is among the best in the world. Our people innovate and create with astonishing precision on a daily basis – it’s something I am immensely proud of. Why would we change it?”

It was this confidence in Bisley’s British workforce that paid off at the start of 2020 when the pandemic hit and when the factory was briefly shuttered for the first time in living memory.

Richard knew Bisley was going to have to innovate and fast.

With this in mind, he asked Bisley’s in-house designers to propose ideas for products that would work well in a flexible home/office scenario and asked them to think, if they had free rein over new products within Bisley’s steel and wood plants – that they could sell to dealers, via the on-line shop and to the domestic home worker – what would they look like?

With Bisley’s decades of design and manufacturing expertise, it was easy to channel that knowledge into developing a new WFH focused collection that would help them endure the storm. And that confidence was justified. While Bisley’s corporate order books had paused, they witnessed a 300% spike in e-commerce sales as office workers looked to quickly set up home offices.

The result is the new Belong Collection, which launched in the autumn of 2020 – a new range of office furniture designed with the evolving workspace in mind.

Its realisation was a particularly proud moment for Bisley, as not only was it created in just four short months (the conception of a new collection can often take years) but it is also the first time in a long time that the full process, from inception through to launch, has been conducted by an in-house design and production team located solely in the UK.

Despite the trend for the offshoring of production across multiple sectors over the past twenty-five years, many firms who initially embraced the concept are now beginning to swim against the tide and return home, largely led by rises in overseas wages and the time and cost involved in shipping goods great distances, among other factors.

And this is a trend that may now be exacerbated by the ongoing effects of the pandemic.

“The onset of Covid saw those companies with longer, more complex supply chains across the globe, experience complete production paralysis”, says Richard.

“And because of this it is already becoming apparent that some companies are reconsidering their approach, with onshoring, or at the very least, nearshoring of their supply base being contemplated so products are not stranded tens of thousands of miles away in the event of a global catastrophe, and are near, or close to, their end market.”

“It just goes to reaffirm what many British manufacturers have always known – the grass isn’t always greener”.

Contact Bisley through the BCFA Product Finder.

The BCFA Product Finder is a unique search engine created especially for interior designers to source contract furnishing companies. Utilising this platform will support your findings for upcoming projects, with over 200 members profiles showcasing the latest product launches, new materials available, industry news and design trends.

 

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About Jess Mockler

Jess is the Marketing and Membership Executive at BCFA and Design Insider. She has a passion for design, marketing and events with a history of working closely with designers in the interior sector after finishing University in Event Management.
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