Week by week, we will be delving into the back stories of some of the greatest Yorkshire companies – finding out about the people behind them, their humble beginnings, how they became household names, and where they are now. Today we take a look at Magnet, and find out how a family of greengrocers from Bingley, went on to create one of the country’s most successful joinery and kitchen manufacturing firms.
Thomas Duxbury, whose family had lived in Bingley since the 1700s, opened a greengrocer shop near the town’s parish Church in the 1850s. Later in the century, his son Robert opened his own shop in the Ferncliffe area of the town. Robert’s son Tom inherited the shop in 1907, before selling it to his father-in-law for £7,000.
Being a Baptist, Tom Duxbury was very religious, and used the money to fund a trip to the Holy Land. On his return to Bingley, he swapped his horse for a firelighting company and decided to name it after the animal, which was called Magnet. He set up his headquarters for the new business in one of six houses that Robert had built in Bingley, located a few streets away from the greengrocers.
Through the First World War Tom earned a living dismantling old barges which he chopped up and made into firewood and firelighters. After the war they started to buy Government surplus stock, converting old ammunition boxes into hen-houses and furniture. By the 1920s, Magnet had pioneered the mass production of joinery, selling doors and windows. In the following decade they were supplying joinery and components to large construction companies.
Before long the company had expanded from their Bingley works, opening new sites in Keighley and Knaresborough to satisfy the extra demand for their products. A lot of their new business was to supply building materials for local authorities. It was whilst working for Walsall Council that the Duxbury’s realised they tended to sell windows in standard sizes, rather than bespoke items. Soon they produced a catalogue of their own standard products.
In 1936, Magnet was floated on the stock exchange, with the Duxbury family remaining as majority shareholders. It was around this time that they also opened a site in Birmingham, and a new door factory at Grays in Essex, which meant they were now able to supply their products across the country.
In the 1960s, Magnet opened twelve depots across the country, selling their ready made products to trade and public alike, cutting out the middle men, such as builder’s merchants. The success of their depots led to them building another manufacturing plant in the early 1970s, this time in Darlington. They soon expanded their product range, introducing cupboards and patio doors, and by 1975 had 115 branches across the UK. A merger in the same year with Southern-Evans, to form Magnet-Southern, brought their total number of depots to around 250 nationwide.
The 1980s saw the company go from strength to strength – as well as being a founder member of the FTSE-100 Share Index in 1984, they expanded the business further with new manufacturing sites in Rotherham, Thornton, Penrith, Burnley and Deeside. In 1985, after acquiring Thomas Easthams kitchen business, they opened the first of their culinary showrooms. Despite growing to be the country’s largest joinery suppliers, this success was to be short lived.
In the later 1980s, a downturn in the economy, particularly in the housing market, had a drastic effect on trade. In 1989, Tom Duxbury failed to lead a management buyout of the company, and the banks took over.
In the early 1990s, several of the company’s manufacturing plants were closed, before a takeover deal was agreed with catering equipment maker, Berisford for a reported £629m. This was the largest management buyout in corporate history at the time. Berisford, who eventually changed their name to “Enodis,” failed to revive the company.
Fortunes changed for Magnet in 2001, when it was purchased by the Swedish kitchen manufacturers, Nobis, for £134m. The Scandinavian company have since managed to build the business back up to the trade and retail giant it remains to this day. Currently they sell kitchens from 170 showrooms nationwide, aimed at a middle market. They also sell accessories, such as taps, worktops and electrical appliances too. Their trade arm continues to supply local builders, joiners and kitchen fitters with the parts they need for the job. The business is still expanding with a further four showrooms scheduled to open later this year, including one in Beverley, East Yorkshire. Not bad going for a business that was originally bought with a horse.
In the next post in this series, we will look at the cleaning firm, Johnson’s.
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