Yarmouth Oilskins: A Cultural Heritage Facilitating Growth

By Jackie McKellar, Consultant, Yarmouth Stores turnaround
One of the impacts of the global pandemic is the growing focus on the UK and local businesses and the role they play in the community and their cultural integration.

Published in Norfolk Director Magazine Spring 2021
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Business Turnaround Case Study: Yarmouth Stores Limited

I was introduced to Yarmouth Stores Limited three years ago.  Established in 1898, this 7th generation family-owned business has survived over hundred years of global change.  The business grew rapidly at the turn of the 20th Century, becoming a principal employer in the community supporting the Port of Great Yarmouth and related trades by manufacturing and selling maritime clothing for the fishing industry and ship’s chandlery. 

In its heyday the company employed over 1,000 skilled seamstresses in Great Yarmouth and Gorleston manufacturing PVC oilskins under the Yarmouth Oilskins brand, which were ‘sold throughout the world’.

As the demand for imported clothing grew, UK manufacturing declined and by 2018 the business had 10 seamstresses occupying the same iconic factory on the quayside.  Whilst a shadow of its former glory and struggling for survival with the brand fading, there was an opportunity to provide a different perspective, highlighting the value of hidden assets and support the business on a journey of turnaround.

Here are five steps contributing to the transformation of Yarmouth Stores.

1 Audit of Cultural Assets:

Providing a different perspective can shine a light on cultural assets of an organisation and bring energy, enthusiasm and confidence to bring about change. And, with a rich heritage, Yarmouth Stores has a fascinating story to tell. With its culturally important heritage brand, Yarmouth Oilskins,  a wonderful product archive, a skilled workforce, and a determination to survive, the team has breathed a new life and passion into the business, telling its story regionally, nationally and in Asia.

2 Know your customer:

As the ability to connect directly with your end customers increases, getting to know them and building engagement is increasingly important. For the Yarmouth Oilskins brand we have focused particularly on social engagement to connect with an audience sharing our cultural values.  Our photography is shot locally to capture their imagination, celebrate our history and share the beauty of our coastline.

3 Turnover vanity…Profit sanity:

Understanding the value of what you do and the way you do it, is critical to the growth of any organisation. Through valuing the skilled workforce and being honest about the costs and economic benefits of manufacturing locally, we have focused the factory on quality giving confidence to price products accordingly. Sometimes this means saying goodbye to business you have worked with for many years, but implementing an effective product costing approach has improved factory profitability.

4 Become the master of your own destiny:

Re-establishing and investing in the Yarmouth Oilskins brand means we rely less on producing for others.  This in turn gives us more control over our business productivity, improving profitability as we engage with the end customer directly.

5 Creating Partnerships:

From the beginning, the business was built on a partnership between manufacturing and retail for mutual benefit. In unearthing our heritage and re-imagining great products, it has given the business confidence and credibility to take its place in the UK manufacturing industry, create alliances with other heritage brands, and build a network of retail partnerships from Norwich and Woodbridge to Seoul and Hong Kong!

Jackie McKellar brings energy and passion to turnaround and/or brand projects with SME’s and the Third Sector.  T: 07711 418 516
E: https://ukdlink.biz/jmcncul

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