Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 11.37.14The head of the UK’s largest independent coffin manufacturer has praised the impact that outside investment has had on the growth of his business after seeing it break through the £10m annual turnover barrier.
Julian Atkinson, managing director at JC Atkinson & Co, has seen the Washington-based firm’s turnover almost double since bringing in a £150,000 investment from the Finance For Business North East Growth Fund that is run by NEL Fund Managers in 2010.
JC Atkinson & Son now employs well over than 100 people at its purpose-built factory, and supplies around 60,000 coffins and caskets every year to customers in every part of the UK, with the product range sold through the firm’s expanding wholesale division continuing to grow to cater for the wider range of funeral types that are now undertaken.
Products range from traditional-style, Fairtrade willow and self-design coffins through to others made frombamboo, wicker, seagrass and Yorkshire wool, and a selection of other goods have been made available in recent years to help cater for the increased degree of personalisation required in both funeral services and related keepsakes.
Having been named by the Sunday Times as the UK’s Best Green Company seven years ago, the firm has also continued to maintain its industry-leading focus on environmental and ethical best practice, and also maintains direct ‘fair trade’ relationships with suppliers in South East Asia to ensure they can reach and maintain agreed operational standards.
It has obtained and retained the Carbon Trust Standard, which provides a continuing commitment to reducing carbon emissions, and offers a specialist Greener Goodbyes service to help customers looking to arrange a ‘green’ funeral for themselves or their loved ones.
Originally founded in 1936, JC Atkinson & Son works with a UK-wide customer base of independent funeral directors, as well as acting as a specialist supplier for a number of larger, household name funeral businesses, andreceived its first NEL investment in the year 2000.
Managing director Julian Atkinson says: “Right through our relationship, NEL’s involvement has been the catalyst that has made projects possible.  Each investment we’ve brought in has been designed to achieve a particular goal, and their confidence has allowed us to be aspirational in following up on opportunities that we felt we should be exploring.
“We have grown ten-fold since first working with NEL, and while reaching £10m in annual turnover is a landmark of which everyone in the business is very proud, we feel there’s much more that we can do in a market that is continually evolving.
“Funerals have changed in recent years to become much more of a celebration of an individual’s life, and people want to see that kind of personalisation reflected in different elements of the event, whether in the type of coffin being used, the caskets in which a person’s ashes can be retained or the keepsakes available to remind them of their loved one.
“Our business has evolved in line with these developments, with product ranges developing all the time, and we’re able to offer everything that people need to help create the sort of funeral they want to hold.
“The continuing expansion of the wholesale side of the business has complemented our manufacturing success very well, and we maintain direct and positive relationships with all our manufacturers to ensure the quality of both their products and ways of working match our own standards.”
Yvonne Gale, chief executive at NEL Fund Managers, adds: “JC Atkinson sets a terrific example for making great use of successive outside investments, and we’re proud of the contribution we’ve made to their success.
“Having access to the right resources at the right time is essential if ambitious North East businesses are going to have the chance to realise their potential and create the regional revenues, wealth and jobs that go with doing so.”
Aimed at regional businesses which are at a development and growth stage, the Growth Fund forms part of the wider Finance for Business North East Fund.
Managed by North East Finance, it will see £142m of investment capital injected into the region by the European Investment Bank and the European Regional Development Fund 2007-13.
NEL is looking to make around 130 investments from the Growth Fund, and is actively looking to speak to ambitious north east companies with robust business plans.
For more information about NEL’s investment criteria, visit www.nel.co.uk or contact the investment team on 0845 111 1850.
The ERDF 2007-13 programme is bringing over £300m into North East England to support innovation, enterprise and business support.  It will help create and safeguard 28,000 new jobs, start 3,000 new businesses and increase the region’s productivity by £1.1bn per annum.
Details of JC Atkinson’s coffins can be viewed on their www.coffins.co.uk website.