A gamble to diversify and help save a British industry on the brink of extinction is now paying dividends for a dynamic Burnley manufacturer.
Founded in 1999, What More UK has grown rapidly to become the UK’s leading manufacturer and distributor of plastic housewares. With more than 700 product lines, including a huge range of plastic storage boxes, bearing its trusted ‘Wham’ brand, it supplies retailers across the UK and exports to 64 countries.
It’s heartening to see the ‘Made In Britain’ stamp still carries a lot of weightWhat More director Tony Grimshaw
But a risky departure from plastics is now bringing fresh success for the highly-focussed Lancashire business. Its Wham Cook range of non-stick and enamel-coated metal bakeware is proving increasingly popular with buyers at key international trade shows, including the UK’s Spring Fair and the huge American International Home and Housewares Show.
It was at the end of 2014 when the tricky question of whether or not to diversify was causing furrowed brows at What More’s head offices just outside Burnley. In the end it was patriotic pride which swung the decision.
“We’d been very successful in plastics manufacturing through continually investing in new product lines, the best machinery available, and our people,” explained What More director Tony Grimshaw.
“We really believe in British manufacturing, which is why we were sorry to learn that long-established Burnley business George Wilkinson Ltd was going under. With local roots all the way back to 1887 it was Britain’s oldest bakeware manufacturer. When a business like that goes so much tradition and so many skills are lost forever.
“We had the capacity to relocate the business to our modern 500,000 sq.ft manufacturing facility at Altham, and it many ways it was an obvious bolt-on to our business, sharing many of the same retailers. But it wasn’t plastics, which is what we’re expert at.”
After much soul-searching it was decided to take the gamble, What More buying and moving the complete stock of presses and moulds from George Wilkinson’s Progress Works and, more importantly, taking on some of its most experienced engineers and production staff.
Since then it has invested more than £600,000 setting up its own bakeware toolroom and manufacturing facility, keeping the best of the old and enhancing it with new state-of-the-art equipment. The end result is a fast-growing range of Wham Cook non-stick Teflon-coated and vitreous enamel bakeware.
Combining the twin Wham brand principles of quality British manufacturing and great value for money, it is finding eager customers among retail buyers and consumers alike.
“We’ve been lucky with timing, as home baking is enjoying a massive resurgence both in the UK and abroad, partly through the worldwide success of TV show such as The Great British Bake-Off,” said Tony Grimshaw.
“Because plastics remain our core product we’ve had the luxury of time to build and develop our bakeware plant and the obvious benefit of a separate revenue stream to finance it. Having said that, we’ve been surprised at how quickly the new and expanded bakeware range is taking off and how popular it is with our existing retail customers and new ones.
“Interest from influential buyers at trade shows has been exceptional, especially abroad where it’s heartening to realise the ‘Made in Britain’ stamp still carries a lot of weight.
“But the big advantage we have is that we’re now a ‘one-stop-shop’ for bakeware. From conception to finished product, we can design a new bakeware product, make the moulds in our high-tech toolroom and manufacture in large quantities, all in-house at our purpose-built Altham factory.
“Put simply, we’re a buyer’s dream ─ we can make what they want, in the quantity they want, at the quality and price they want, and deliver it when they want… which is usually yesterday!”
As well as its own Wham brand products, the company is now manufacturing bakeware for retailers’ own-brand ranges and continually developing and refining its product lines.
A complementary range of Wham Cook utensils and kitchen gadgets is now available, mostly made in more familiar plastics and silicone.
Towards the end of 2015 What More also acquired the established and award-winning PushPan brand of 100% leakproof loose-bottomed cake tins.
It is now well down the road of bringing its manufacture from China to Lancashire, reversing the destructive trend of migrating British manufacturing expertise to the Far East.
“There’s no question that diversifying into metal bakeware was a gamble for us as a plastics manufacturer, and it has certainly brought its challenges,” added Tony Grimshaw. That the gamble has paid off isn’t down to chance, but to the hard work and dedication of our outstanding team at What More UK. They have made, and will continue to make it a success.
“Some say pride’s a sin, but we make no apology for taking pride in breathing new life into a local and long-established manufacturing tradition that was about to take its last gasp.”