Common Sense Key to Keeping Tomrods in Front
September 17, 2013
On the 40th anniversary of Tomrods, the Thirsk-based firm is still run according to its core principles. This year, turnover for the group and associated companies will be in the region of £75m (some £20m for Tomrods alone).
"When I started Tomrods in 1973 I was only 23 and I had to learn fast so that we survived those critical first few years," said Thompson, Tomrods' managing director. "Although having spent 43 years in the steel industry I am still virtually working on a full-time basis although I hope that over the next couple of years to start taking it a little easier." Back in 1973, Leeds-born Thompson (who studied law at Leeds Polytechnic) started Tomrods with an overdraft of £50, one telephone and one desk. In its first year, Tomrods' turnover was £100,000. Today, the company runs a nine-acre site off the A1. It offers many services including sawing, shot-blasting, primer painting, cutting and drilling, in addition to its wide stockholding capabilities.
Thompson said: "When you cast your mind back into the dim and distant past, it’s like looking into black and white rather than colour. At that time, my ambition was to work for myself without the interference of anyone else. The incentive was to try and get myself a decent living. I didn’t have any great ambition to get where we are now. It’s quite a surprise to see where we’ve got to. But I don’t tend to look back; I am looking forward all the time."
Running in parallel with the development of Tomrods are steel-related businesses:
All Steels Trading was launched in 2006 and operates as a bulk importer of both long and flat-rolled products. It also offers a large quantity of dockside stock for delivery within 48 hours from order. In the same year, Tomrods acquired Legg Brothers, a leading hot re-roller of special steel sections and profiles. Its mill has a production capacity in the region of 10,000 tonnes a year. Some 70 per cent of its products are exported, the largest share going to the US. Two years later, Bradley Steels, a large steel stockholding business, joined the group. Then, in 2011, the firm acquired The Steel Ball Company, the UK’s only manufacturer of hot rolled steel balls.
This gradual expansion of the 40-year-old firm means that the group as a whole has combined sales in excess of 100,000 tonnes and employs about 100 staff (40 of whom work for Tomrods). Thompson said: “I take great pride in the fact that we have managed to survive through all the different economic situations we have had. “We’ve survived the recession and tricky situations, particularly those you end up in at the beginning of it all. You have to take a few risks on people you are dealing with. When you set up a business, you don’t know how good you are going to be at it. From a personal view, I’m quite surprised I’ve managed to get the hang of steel stockholding.”
He added: "I still enjoy the cut and thrust of the steel industry but sometimes struggle to keep up with all the new technology. However, I am fortunate enough to have younger staff members who can help on this front." Despite the firm’s global reach, Thompson says a northern base is crucial.
"A lot of steel businesses are in the North East of England and a lot of steel fabrication is in the North East of England. It is very important that we are up here. Being on the A19 where we are means we have access to all different areas of the north, in particular access to the docks." Employees and their families, along with local and loyal customers, will be able to see the development of Tomrods for themselves on October 5 when the company holds an anniversary open day at the Thirsk site.
A Potted History
1950: John Thompson was born in Chapeltown, Leeds.
1968/1970: Studied law at Leeds Polytechnic.
1970: Trainee salesman with steel producer Duport Steel.
1973: Started Tomrods, working from home.
1974: Moved to an office in Knaresborough.
1975: Started stocking steel at Ripon.
1976: Moved to a bigger warehouse in New Park, Harrogate.
1980/81: Bought a 1.5 acre site in Knaresborough.
1990: Expanded into a warehouse in Tockwith.
2003: Moved Marston warehouse to York Rd, Thirsk.
2006: Started All Steels Trading with Laurence McDougall and together they bought Legg Brothers.
2008: Bought a share of Bradley Steels.
2010: Bought nine-acre site at York Rd, Thirsk.
2011: Bought a share of the Steel Ball Company in Gloucester.