EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalists: Gary and Andrew Irwin, Bedeck

Company that has grown organically selling bed linen and towels eyes expansion

Gary and Andrew Irwin of Bedeck Limited: “We are  in discussions with stores in China to develop a franchised store model.” Photograph: Richie Stokes

Gary and Andrew Irwin of Bedeck Limited: “We are in discussions with stores in China to develop a franchised store model.” Photograph: Richie Stokes

 

Bedeck, which employs more than 370 staff across Ireland and the UK, designs, sources and sells branded bed linen and towels, on both a wholesale and retail basis.

The business was founded by Alexander Irwin in 1951 in Magheralin, Co Down, originally as a manufacturer of Irish linen handkerchiefs. The business is now run by Alexander’s grandsons Gary and Andrew.

Over time Bedeck has changed from supplying under retailer labels to branded products only, moved manufacturing overseas, created a retail arm, established its own website and developed new product ranges and brands to sell internationally. It has now grown to an annual turnover just short of £40 million (€45.3 million), from £1 million in 1988.

Bedeck designs for 14 brands, including six house brands and eight internationally recognised ones including Sanderson, Harlequin, Scion, V&A and Joules.

The company has an experienced sourcing team that procures product from across the world including Pakistan, China, India and Portugal. A complex distribution operation is managed through a 9,290sq m (100, 000sq ft) warehouse facility in Magheralin. This manages sales to all channels including retail, wholesale, online and international.

How do you foresee the revised corporation tax in NI and the recent UK corporation tax announcement impacting your business in the future?

The reduced corporation tax, if it still comes to be, will allow us as a business more cash to reinvest in our product development and stores, so supporting the success of the company. However, on a longer-term basis it will hopefully attract more companies to Northern Ireland, which will prevent the loss of a skilled workforce. We need a pool of talented design staff to select from and to offer opportunity. If Northern Ireland does not retain these people it will make it hard for us to maintain our design USP.

What moment/deal would you cite as the game-changer or turning point for the company?

The move to creating and selling branded products and the multiple routes to market to sell this.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

We currently sell some product across Europe and Middle East. This is currently not a large part of our business as sizing is different across different markets. In 2016 we worked with Target in the US and are about to sign with another partner to bring two of our house brands to that market. We are also in discussions with stores in China to develop a franchised store model.

Describe your growth funding path.

The business has grown organically over the years. Whilst significant capital projects such as the building of the warehouse have received bank finance much of the working capital has been funded from cash flow. Bedeck envisages funding future growth through cash flow.

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

Closing manufacturing, given the long family history.

Have you started to feel the effects of the economic upturn within your sector?

We have grown even through the downturn. This has been driven through the addition of brands, continuing to focus and invest in the quality of the design team and the benefits of having the multichannel routes to market.

How are international political developments such as the election of Donald Trump and the Brexit vote likely to impact on your business?

Brexit’s largest impact has been the weakening of sterling against the dollar. This has increased input prices by almost 30 per cent. This has reduced Bedeck’s gross margin and has required us to look at our business in a new way.