Business school leads straight back to bed

Author: Mary Wilson

Fifteen years ago, Mr Woodcock and his wife, Maureen, used to manufacture brass beds and ship them to Vancouver. “We came out of beds 12 years ago when the market was not that buoyant, and went into antiques,” Mr Woodcock says. “This was quite successful. We shipped goods in containers abroad, until a client didn’t cough up for two containers.

“In six weeks, everything had folded. We had to sell our house, cars, everything, and ended up in rented accommodation with nothing. We were unemployed for a year. Bankruptcy might have been easier, but I didn’t want to go down that road.”

The Woodcocks went back to college and learned again how to run a business. “You get very channelled into doing things the way you have always done them,” Mr Woodcock says. “Going to business college was the best thing that could have happened, looking back.”

He discovered that iron and brass bedsteads were back in vogue, and decided to start bed-making again. The company he has run for the past three years, Enchanted House, makes authentic copies of Victorian beds, using copies of original tools and producing exact reproductions, right down to the last detail.

Mr Woodcock bought a foundry from Brian Wheeler, a Midlands-based businessman who was about to retire. He has kept in contact and still helps the Woodcocks with any casting problems. “We had no collateral at the time,” Mr Woodcock says, “and the banks would not help. Brian took a fancy to us and said we would help him by buying the foundry. So he let us have it on the understanding that we would pay him when the business was up and running.”

Ten years earlier, when the Woodcocks were selling antiques, they had bought a collection of original tools, which came from a factory about to bury them in the foundations of a new building. They bought them for next to nothing, never knowing how usefulthey would turn out to be.

The company is a genuine family concern. Mrs Woodcock handles all the administration, while their daughter, Karen, is in charge of new designs and distribution. Their son, Andrew, controls manufacture, and their son-in-law, Stephen, new prototypes and the foundry.

Mr Woodcock employs 14 staff in the foundry. He opened his first shop four months ago in Truro and hopes to open more in Birmingham, Exeter and Bristol next year. The company exports to Japan, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Spain, Australia and the US, but, being up against the larger manufacturers, still finds it hard to get its product into UK outlets.

“I’ve paid off all my debts, including the money for the foundry,” Mr Woodcock says. “It has been a struggle and we’re not quite back to where we were, but we are getting there.

“The biggest problem is cash flow. In the first year we made £20,000. The second year saw a 2,000 per cent rise, and we are expecting turnover to quadruple this year. It has nearly gone too quickly, but now we are winning.”

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