An award-winning textile company
is a family affair, as Tessa Gates
found when she visited Elm Tree
Farm in East Yorks
WHEN a fledgling business takes an award where many of the other contenders are famous companies – it has to be a bit special. Scutt & Coles is just that – a brother and sister partnership designing and marketing soft furnishing fabrics from a Yorkshire farm.
Elm Tree Farm has long been a family run business and three generations of the Scutt family are involved with the farm. "There are four families here trying to make a living out of one business – my father and grandfather, my brother Jonathan and his family and I have a family," explains Rod Scutt, a partner in the 405ha (1000-acre) arable farm at Eastrington, East Yorks. "With farming in the doldrums we looked at our assets to see how we could diversify."
A prime asset was his sister Belindas design ability – she has a first class honours degree in textile design – and the experience she had gained working for a textile company. Then there was Rods business acumen – he has a Masters in business administration specialising in management accounts and small business consultancy in addition to an honours degree in agriculture. Between them they had the makings of a business and with the help of a Rural Enterprise Scheme diversification grant, Scutt & Coles – creators of designer soft furnishing fabrics – was born.
The partnership is proving very successful. Belinda (whose surname will become Coles when she marries this year) concentrates on design while Rod takes care of administration and marketing. The inspiration for Belindas designs come from wallpaper used around 1875.
These designs are tweaked and mixed by her as she reworks them into patterns that have a traditional look with a modern edge. It takes up to year from idea to fabric for a design to go into production. When Farmlife visited she had seven different designs each with four to eight colour options in production.
Each design is initially hand painted in all its colourways by Belinda. When the designs are ready she takes them to the print mill. "The technology at the factory scans in the designs and picks out the dye colours and paints these on a sample for us to see. It take two weeks to colour up and then two weeks working on the fabric. The coloured chips you see down the side of rolls of fabric are the recipe for the bulk print," explains Belinda. "We intend to produce a new collection every year and to keep previous collections going.
"The last thing interior designers want is for you to drop something," says Rod. "You expect a traditional design to run at least six to seven years."
The pairs first offering has met with great success. Their Darnia collection scooped the Best Soft Furnishing Collection award at Design Interiors 2002. This is a huge accolade. Fifty leading fabric houses – including Sandersons – were at the show and 150 collections were judged. "We were competing against several PLCs!" says Rod. "Its a David and Goliath story. If ever there was a time a business could benefit from an award, it is in its first year. It has given our customers that bit of confidence to order from us."
* Pattern of sales
Best seller from the collection is Zepherine – a bold repeating pattern of flowers and leaves in a beautiful vase. "It is surprising how quickly a pattern of sales emerges," says Rod, who has recruited eight agents to market the collection throughout the UK. "They see designers and soft furnishing outlets who purchase a pattern book and open an account with us. They use the book to sell to customers and order the cut length from us. We supply the fabric and operate a next day service.
"We are selective to a degree where the pattern books go – we dont want to be in every shop on the high street. We are at the lower end of the designer market and the recommended price of our fabric is £22.90-£23.90/m."
The position of their company has been well thought out. "We looked at the audited accounts and profits of other companies and decided this was the avenue to take," adds Rod.
They are meeting their five-year business plan spot on and are exporting to southern Ireland ahead of forecast and are launching their collection in the US this autumn. The business has one full time employee and the prospect is that it will create more jobs for local people. At present the farmhouse is stuffed with rolls of fabric – "even Granddad is storing fabric in his bungalow" – and plans are afoot to create a purpose built warehouse, studio and offices in the old stable yard. Until then, Rod and Belinda work happily in adjoining offices in the farmhouse.
"We dont fall out – working with a sibling you can be more honest and straightforward about things," says Belinda. "When I am sitting next door and hear the phone or fax ring, I turn the radio down and hope that it is an order. I get excited at the prospect of people buying our fabric and hanging it in their homes and I think I will still be getting excited in 15 years time."
Rod and Belindas business has scooped an award with its Darnia collection of soft furnishings of which Zepherine (bottom right) is
the top seller.