The Harrison Spinks bed business is now into its fifth generation with three generations still involved in the business and innovation and reinvention have been the key. Harrison Beds spent the majority of the 20th century as a mid-range mattress manufacturer, with a solid reputation and solid returns, though very little real growth. Then the ‘90s recession hit and the business suddenly found itself in trouble.
The current MD, Simon Spinks, takes up the story: “We’d expanded into a new building and took out a lot of debt to finance it, but when the downturn came the bank wasn’t exactly supportive. I started by making some operational changes to cut our costs, but there’s only so much of that you can do. We needed to grow our top line as well; the question was how? In the end we got our inspiration from two things: one was looking back at the past, and the other was looking ahead, at innovation.”
“I did some research about where the business came from and went through a lot of the old archives. That’s when I found references to the name ‘Spink & Co’. That was the first time I knew my grandfather had ever used that as a trading name. The second thing was to look around at our own industry and see which of our competitors were actually making money. Surprise, surprise, it was the ones that had some sort of unique selling point, a technology that allowed them to sell at a premium.”
That insight prompted Simon and his father to look at new ways to make beds, and Simon came up with an idea inspired by a Ford car engine. It was, in essence, a spring within a spring, which led to the creation of a completely new type of mattress, and some extremely valuable Intellectual Property.
That mattress was launched onto the market as a premium-priced product under a new Spink & Edgar brand name. “That was a big change for us: we’d never thought of ourselves as a consumer brand or acted as one, probably because we had too much of a ‘small business mentality’.”
Since then, the company has continued to innovate, with a pioneering 100% natural mattress which deliberately runs counter to the current fad for memory foam mattresses. They also own a 300 acre farm where they grow their own natural fillings – hemp and flax and also rear sheep. They locally source as much as possible, including fibre crops and wool from other local farmers. As Simon says, “We’ve never been afraid to swim upstream.”
These innovations have helped propel Harrison Spinks to annual growth rates of around 20%, but that degree of success eventually becomes a challenge in itself: “The risk is complacency, because success is not a burning platform. So you have to create that. And you have to be prepared to fail: you’re not a truly innovative company if you can’t handle the possibility of failure, because if you don’t fail, you don’t learn, and if you don’t learn, you won’t succeed.”
The next challenge is to ensure the recent upgrade of the company’s IT infrastructure is fully integrated and standards of production and customer service are maintained and enhanced as the company gets bigger. And there will be more innovations to come, too. As Simon says, “Our mission is simple: we want to change the way the world sleeps.”