Press - Drapers Record United Kingdom - July 1995

Market Report : Kinnaird

The Kinnaird company has had its share of ups and downs in its history spanning nearly 60 years. Since the arrival of Harry Cullen (Managing Director), the company has increased its turnover by some 20%. In July 1995 Harry with Sam Curran and Gordon Crawford effected a management buyout. Pamela Scott went to the company's headquarters in Northern Ireland to find out more about the company, an undisputed brand leader in chenille nightwear and dressing gowns.

One wall of Harry's office is devoted to nightwear/dressing gowns - "I like to look at the garments we are selling, see how they appeal to the eye and to the touch." It's very much a working office - no fancy executive toys here! It is immediately apparent that Harry is a completely hands-on manager, who knows everything about the Kinnaird operation - from finance, the products, the sales and the coffee percolator!

The administrative headquarters (including warehousing and stock control) is close to Lurgan with the factory situated in the heart of the town in Union Street. The company founded in 1937 was originally based in Belfast. At the beginning it was dedicated to the manufacture of candlewick bed spreads but broadened its scope in the 1950's into the production of quality candlewick dressing gowns.

Harry adds, "then the company was well ahead of its time and its production operations were quite advanced. The business grew rapidly and in the late 1960's was taken over by Tootal: a partnership that continued for 14 years. In 1982 John Kinnaird effected a buyout but unfortunately when Marks and Spencer pulled our of chenille garments, it left Kinnaird as a company exposed for a time."

Harry was brought into the company in 1992, basically as something of a troubleshooter. " The company was making a loss in the early 1990's and I was asked to try and sort it out. I am glad to say that I managed to get the company back into the black in 1993 and in fact, so successful were our efforts that we were awarded the BKCEC Award for Export (and we have been finalists for the last two years)."

It was in 1995 that Harry with Sam Curran and Gordon Crawford, backed by 3i and the IDB, took the major step of a management buyout. "It was time that the people involved in making the company a success once more had a real say. That is one key advantage I believe this company has - the executives are all working shareholders, they are directly involved in the day-to-day operations and problems," Harry adds. It is obvious that Harry has little time for those who can't roll up their sleeves and put in a hard day's work - every day!

The management buyout was just the start of a series of moves to 'up' both the profile and focus the operations of Kinnaird. The sales operations at home and abroad have been reorganised - a fully employed Sales Manager in the USA (their largest single market, a designated agent in Germany and 8 UK agents with further plans underway to expand European and UK distribution.

As a company, Kinnaird does concentrate heavily on export, particularly to the United States of America. Harry comments, "we have a strong market in not just the Kinnaird brand but also private label and contract. Conservative estimates reckon our share of the chenille market to be 15% of the entire American market." Seventy percent of Kinnaird's entire production goes to the States, with 30% to the UK, Northern European Markets and Spain.

One of Harry's key words is focus. "It is focussing on our strengths - that is in chenille production - that has brought the company back on track with healthy turnover and production. And I believe it is focus that will further strengthen the company in the future," states Harry. By focus, Harry means concentrating on the brand image of Kinnaird, exploiting new opportunities in the field on chenille production, taking control of production and sales, constant innovation in design and heavy investment in the future of the company.

In his understated way, Harry has already 'focussed' his attention on several of these objectives. Last year, the company unveiled a new corporate logo 'Kinnaird Intimate Apparel' to reflect the management changes and give a more up-to-date image of a traditional business. Harry however believes in making a pound go a long way and helped design it himself for just under a £100.00. Furthermore Harry prepared his own market research test. He explains, "We got someone to produce hosiery packages with the new Kinnaird logo and brand name to see how well the name was recognised. We were very pleased to learn that without exception, people instantly recognised and associated Kinnaird with quality, chenille nightwear. And we don't have any intention of going into hosiery production, it was just a market research tool!" he adds.

Taking advantage of the company's natural strengths, a new sub-brand 'Kinnaird by Conor Ryan' was created last year a 'designer' collection of luxurious chenille robes. So encouraged was Harry by the customer response that for Spring/Summer 1996 another new line was introduced - a capsule loungewear cum beachwear range. "We have to be realistic about our business - if we just do dressing gowns and nothing else we would become a six-month a year business. However, the response to the beachwear/loungewear collection has certainly shown us there are ways to get around this problem."

"We are constantly looking to improve the design and appeal of our products and expand our core products of chenille dressing gowns. We have a full-time designer based in our Nottingham office and I do like to be involved in the concept and design of both the main and new collections," says Harry. Kinnaird's unequalled record of quality and first-class delivery makes expansion into new areas more feasible.

However, the most important plan on the agenda is the consolidation of the entire Kinnaird operations onto the Portadown Road site, just outside Lurgan, which will entail selling the Union Road site in Lurgan itself. "We want complete control of production, sales, distribution and administration in a single site. We have plenty of room here to expand - we just need to sort out the finance. The investment needed will be in excess of 1 million, a large amount which will be devoted to the installtion of our own dyehouse for yarns and fabrics. This is definitely our priority for the next 18-24months, to refurbish and extend the factory at Portadown Road so we have a completely integrated site."

Harry seems confident that the finance will be forthcoming by the end of this year: "we have been part of this community for a long time, we are a substantial employer in the area and one of a handful of textile companies here." As regards of the current stock control and warehousing system whilst there is already much room for expansion, the company wishes to install further computerisation. The one thing that won't change is the hand-checking of each and every garment before it is delivered. "We are generous in our cut and fabric and we don't take shortcuts. This is how we have built our reputation and we certainly wouldn't want to diminish that in any way."

Harry's ambitions for the company don't end there. "We have to push our brand more," he says, "raise the profile by providing more and better merchandising and point-of-sale material to our stockists. I am aware that we will not achieve everything at once but it's more than time that we upgraded the public perception of the brand name in line with the recognised quality of the products." Likewise, he realises that the company needs to address the European market in more depth but is reluctant to plunge in before the new factory site is well underway and the company can cater properly for new markets in terms of production and delivery.

Whilst the core of Kinnaird business will always be centred on chenille, Harry has some long-term aims in broadening the fabric portfolio. "I would love to go into more unusual fabrics for nightwear and dressing gowns such as tweeds and linens and obviously a dyeing facility of our own would be of tremendous advantage if we go down this route." Harry's own love of linen comes from many years' experience in Irish linen before joining Kinnaird. However, he is realistic about these aims, "We have plenty of work to do on getting the focus of the current Kinnaird portfolio right before expanding down this route."

There is definitely a no-nonsense approach to business, making pennies count but no reluctance to invest heavily in future. With an increase of 20% in turnover since Cullen arrived in 1992, it is obviously Harry's aim to keep up and improve this performance for the year 2000.