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Phillips Brothers Celebrate 125 Years As A Family Firm

Family business near Ipswich is celebrating 125 years in business under the fourth generation accompanied by the fifth generation who are fulfilling their apprenticeship. When it comes to family business milestones, the evolution to date over the past 125 years of Phillips Brothers is fascinating. Today, Phillips Brothers is a major bedding supplier of sawdust, straw and wood shavings to the poultry market and a brand leader for equestrian bedding throughout East Anglia and beyond. Who would have thought that back in 1894 when Harry Phillips who at the time was a fish carrier at Billingsgate Market was asked to supply oak sawdust for the smoking of fish that the business would have become the award winning family business that it is today.

Phillips Brothers who operate from Raydon in Suffolk is a great story of a business that has grown from an entrepreneurial spark and one that continues today in 2019 where they are celebrating 125 years in business and under the management of the fourth generation accompanied by the fifth generation fulfilling their apprenticeship.

Over the years the business has grown and continued to develop structures and governance to help it stand the test of time. Four successive generations have strengthened the business which is now run by the great-granddaughter of the founder, Jane Knapp with her brother Paul Phillips and their cousin Ian Phillips. The fifth generation is also now represented within the business as Rhys Knapp, Jane’s son is responsible for running the day-to-day operations.

As a family business they continue to go from strength to strength, constantly investing in new machinery, new working methods and enhanced production methods to make sure that the business remains at the top of their game. With this investment and continued growth comes success, such as winning the East Anglia Family Business of the Year Award in 2015 in the national awards organised by Family Business United, the support organisation that champions the family business sector across the UK and beyond. Awards give recognition and for Jane it was a special moment for the family firm. As she explains, “With many of the statistics highlighting that many family firms fail to make it past the third generation, recognition of a long standing business like ours was particularly special , showing what can be achieved given hard work, dedication and the right approach to the business and the family over time.”

For Phillips Brothers the focus has always been on a tireless and unrelenting commitment to embracing change, learning, continuous self-development and leadership. Putting the business first and taking proactive steps to make sure the business is well placed to meet the needs of the customers is key and one of the underlying reasons for the move of the business from London to Maldon in Essex in 1994 and then subsequently to relocate to their current home in Raydon. As Jane adds, “Being closer to our core customer base and having the space to expand and grow strategically has always been important and for a family firm that has been around for many years it is important to look at the needs of the business and to react accordingly. The move to Raydon near Ipswich has provided the ideal location for the next stages of growth for our business.”

Jane and the team are focused firmly on the future, investing in the needs of the business at all levels. As Jane adds, “We try to provide opportunities for all our staff to grow and develop with us, as we have done with the development of our HGV 1 drivers, made all the more pressing due to the overall shortage of drivers in the UK.”

Looking forward is always on the agenda which requires focus of the future leaders and managers of the business. As Jane adds, “Business is business first and foremost and for a family firm in particular it is important not to become complacent. We are always looking for future leaders and not just amongst family either. We need to have the right people in the right roles going forward and make sure that the time is invested to help people achieve their full potential, something that in the long run can only be good for the business too.”

As a fifth generation family firm, Phillips Brothers have seen four transitions from generation to generation, something that many family firms struggle to discuss openly, let alone successfully manage. As Jane reiterates, “Succession planning can be a taboo subject for many but it needs to be addressed, discussed openly and in readiness for the next generation to have the time and responsibility to drive the business forward. For us, it has always been important for the next generation to have the skills they require in order to continue the legacy.”

Jane is also a firm believer in networking and peer-to-peer learning to bring in vital ideas and frameworks too. As she adds, “It is important to see things from different perspectives and to seek input and ideas from outside too, helping to challenge what may have become the ‘norm’ over the years. It can be incredibly rewarding to hear from fellow family business owners and to hear their stories and how they have overcome some of their challenges, especially as they are often the same challenges faced by other family firms. Knowing that you are not alone is great but even better is the fact that you can learn from a peer group and get really practical insights into how to address things.”

As a family firm, Phillips Brothers are celebrating a key milestone in 2019 – 125 years as a family business, and whilst the celebrations are ongoing, investment continues in a business that has continued to grow, develop its brand and generate increased loyalty and support from its customer base. As Jane concludes, “2019 is a year of tremendous pride for the entire family, an achievement that could not have been reached without the support of our loyal and dedicated team now and in years gone by. Previous generations built on the business that arose from the market all those years ago and we continue now as a fifth generation family firm with goals of our own. We continue to build on the work of previous generations as we aspire to being recognised as the number one supplier of animal bedding to the poultry and equestrian markets.”

A great example of an innovative and entrepreneurial family business that continues to invest, focus on the future and develop frameworks to enable it to continue to flourish into the 21st century and beyond. History is important but focusing on the future is the key.

We look forward to following their journey for generations to come.

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