William Whiteley & Sons has been around for a long time, since 1760 to be exact. The business officially began during the forefront of the industrial revolution, although the family believe that it traded even earlier than this. Since 1760, William Whiteley & Sons have been designing and manufacturing beautifully hand-crafted scissors from their home in Sheffield, the birthplace of British steel.
Whiteley’s is still family-owned and run today, in the hands of the eleventh and twelfth generations. Paul Andrews went to visit to find out more about their journey.
Sally Ward is the eleventh generation of the Whiteley family to run the business, which she now does with the help of her husband Jeremy. Their daughter, the twelfth generation, spent several years assisting with the marketing of Whiteley’s before moving to the USA where she is now the marketing director for a manufacturing business.
As Jeremy explains, “We are a business based on traditional crafts and craftmanship, with many of the skills involved with what we do having been passed down through the generations - although they have continued to evolve, automate where possible and ensure that we still maintain the world-renowned standards that we have been known for over the years.”
Whiteley’s is the oldest scission manufacturing business in the world today, and their pride in what they do and have done for so many years is etched into the very fabric of the business. Family values are strong and continue to help shape the business and their work is clearly on display for everyone to see. Display cabinets are adorned with scissors that have a place in world history, were involved in coronations and represent a
throw-back to their use in key moments that define the world in which we live today.
This is a business that is proud of its roots, proud to be part of the history of British steel in Sheffield and proud to be one of the oldest family firms in the UK today. As Sally continues;
“Whilst we are proud of our heritage, we don’t rest on our laurels and continue to introduce new products, never compromising on quality yet sticking to our guns when now-defunct competitors cut prices or in the face of outsourced cheaper products.”
Today, this is a family firm that continues to push boundaries. They produce more than 250 different types of scissors, all uniquely designed to solve a specific cutting solution. Some of these have been designed by the current family directors, who have worked with some of the world’s leading manufacturing companies to provide advanced cutting tools for ever-evolving advanced composite materials. From Kevlar in bullet-proof vests for the Ministry of Defence, to carbon fibre in Formula 1 racing cars, the fabrics of some of the world’s finest bespoke tailored suits on Savile Row and the grass that grows around the holes of some of the world’s best putting greens, Whiteley’s make the scissors that make the cut.
Sally is now the family member driving the business force, although this was not something that she had really planned to do. Entering the family business was never on the cards as her profession was teaching and A-level chemistry her passion.
Her parents parted company and the business was in need of leadership, so Sally was left with little choice than to pick up the mantle, something she did despite having a young baby in a swing chair at the time!
The business became her passion and she immersed herself in learning – everything about the company as well as courses in business administration and improve her knowledge and skills.
“This was a real opportunity to learn and gain insights into best practice to bring back into Whiteley’s,” adds Sally.
“We kept the business alive and thriving through times of immense competition from the Far East and when the industry around Sheffield was declining too.”
Whiteley’s heritage and reputation stood them in good stead and these traits continue to stand them in good stead today. Their products are exported all over the world with customisable, named scissors now available too. As Jeremy adds, “We needed to move forward and offer differentiators, and simple things like laser-marking a name on a pair of scissors can be really important. Some of our products come into contact with expensive resources and everyone handles a pair of scissors differently, so knowing which are yours can be important,” he continues. “We are always looking to make the product stand out and take pride in the packaging too.”
Craftsmanship is at the heart of what Whiteley’s do and they can even celebrate the fact that they have the world’s longest serving hand grinder in the business – having started in his teens, Andrew Colton has worked for the company for over 50 years.
Having walked around the factory, it is clearly evident that this is a strong and loyal workforce with many members of the staff having worked for Whiteley’s for many years, and for some as descendants of previous employees. Family ties run deep and everyone is proud of the part they play in making each and every pair of scissors. As Sally adds;
“Our products are made with love and each and every member of staff has a part to play in the process. Our staff continue to evolve with the business every day and their skills are intrinsic to shaping the future too.”
This is a business that makes things, manufacturing products today as they have done for generations that are now available throughout the world. Sally and Jeremy continue to drive change, innovate and invest for the future. New products, new machinery and new packaging continue to be introduced as they look to the future.
“We are custodians of the business like our ancestors were before us and it is important that we focus on the future, developing, growing and continuing to build on their endeavours, welcoming the the rich heritage and narrative of where we have come from but also making sure we look to the future, whatever that is."
"We have a great team, great products and are proud of our roots here in Sheffield and excited to see the next chapter of the journey unfold,” concludes Sally.
Whiteley’s is a family business steeped in history, that evolved as part of the industrial revolution and the birth of Sheffield as the ‘city of steel’ and they continue to weave the fabric of the past into their future.
Since 1760, every scissor produced by the company has been hand-made, assembled and tested by craftsmen, using the skills and techniques honed and handed
down over centuries at this multi-generational family business. Long may it continue.
Find out more by visiting their website here