IN THE COMPANY OF: Wez Dance, Director of Craven & Co in Knaresborough

The Harrogate Advertiser speaks to Wez Dance, the Director of Craven & Co, the storage and handling experts based in Knaresborough.

By Lucy Chappell
Tuesday, 17th May 2022, 11:48 am
Updated Tuesday, 17th May 2022, 12:06 pm

Q: In a nutshell, what does your company do and how did it start?

A: We are a manufacturer of shelving, racking, trolleys and wirework products for a range of sectors including healthcare, pharmaceutical, industrial, retail, catering and education.

The company was founded in Knaresborough more than 60 years ago to provide fabrication solutions to businesses in the area. From this, Craven & Co created its first modular shelving system in the early 1970s, and the rest is history.

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Wez Dance, Director of Craven & Co, the storage and handling experts based in Knaresborough

We’ve been at our 50,000ft sq purpose-built manufacturing and office complex in Knaresborough since the early 1990s.

Craven bought Bedford Shelving in 2008, Booth Wire Products in 2013 and JW Lister in February 2020.

All were smaller competitors and are also now based at our facility in Knaresborough.

Q: What's the most surprising thing about it?

A: The endless applications that our storage and handling solutions are used in.

Q: What do you do?

A: We are an SME so my day-to-day role varies by the minute.

Predominantly, though, I work on the commercial side, dealing with tenders and liaising with customers.

A lot of the time I work with our production and procurement teams to look at efficiencies so we can offer the best price to our customers.

At the moment, more than any time in the past, people aren’t comfortable just getting one quote, so the pencil has to be sharp all the time.

Primarily our direct competition source from the Far East, but because we are a British manufacturer we can make efficiencies across the whole process, from production to distribution.

It gives us more control and more flexibility to be competitive.

Q: How did you end up here?

A: I started in motorsport at a young age, studying and working specifically in suspension geometry.

From there I changed path slightly in to IT where I spent 11 years working within data access middleware.

I was working from home for a company in the States and about ten years ago realised I missed the hands-on engineering world and had to get back to it one way or another.

So I began a sales role with Craven & Co in 2012 and gradually I got more and more involved with everything, including the production side, not just commercial.

Then, in May 2018, our current managing director Noel Baker and I secured the takeover of Craven & Co following a BIMBO (buy-in management buyout).

Noel is a former commercial FD with various global corporations whereas I’ve always worked for SMEs, so we’re a great team.

Q: If you weren't doing this, what would you be doing?

A: I suspect I would still be in IT (in a darkened room).

Q: What motivates you?

A: First and foremost my family, but I love the challenges, problem solving and fight you need to get on in this industry.

Q: What one thing do you wish you had known when you started out in business?

A: I wish I’d had the confidence to trust myself and my decisions more.

If I could have my time again, I’d be true to my convictions and more trusting of my gut instinct.

I used to over-think things and was so scared of making a decision for fear of getting it wrong.

The confidence I have now has come from realising that you can put things right and that making the wrong decision is far less damaging than not making a decision at all.

The other thing I’ve learnt is the importance of communication.

If you need to let a customer down, give them plenty of notice and let them know even when there’s no new information.

The success of the supply chain all goes back to decision-making and communication.

Q: What excites you about business?

A: The unknown, really.

There are no limits to what can be achieved.

We have great manufacturing capabilities and 50 skilled people, and can turn our hand to anything.

We are always looking for new ideas and we will never stand still.

Challenging as it has been, the past year has shown us that we can adapt and succeed when faced with something new and unprecedented.

Q: What is your pet hate in business?

A: Letting the customer down, indecisiveness and poor communication.

Q: What advice would you give to people just starting their careers?

A: Follow your gut instincts.

If you have made the jump to start out on your own then you more than likely have what it takes to make the correct decisions (most of the time).

Q: Who in business do you most admire, and why?

A: Steve Jobs.

Although he didn't 'invent' things, he certainly made them more accessible, which helped change the world we live in today.

His vision and determination was second to none.

Q: What moments of your career so far stand out?

A: Making the decision to change careers from IT was huge for me at the time, but the biggest moment was when Noel and I secured the takeover of Craven & Co.

That was huge, despite the personal financial risk involved, I felt it was something I had to do and would regret otherwise.

Q: What sets your company apart from the competition?

A: As mentioned above, our main competitors source from the Far East.

What sets us apart from them is that we are a long-established British manufacturer using mainly UK suppliers, which enables us to offer high-quality products in any quantity at a competitive price.

It also means we can be more reactive and deliver on short lead times or fulfil an order in rollouts, all of which can be so critical to customers.

In addition, we have an in-house design team which allows us to offer bespoke and innovative solutions.

This is why last April we were fast-tracked into the NHS supply chain to supply equipment to the Nightingale hospitals across the UK.

To a tight deadline, we delivered tens of thousands of trolleys, modular shelving and medical equipment including a specially-designed IV drip stand.

Q: What is the most difficult challenge your company has faced? And what challenges are you experiencing at the moment?

A: Covid-19, without a doubt, has been the single biggest challenge we’ve faced.

The vast majority of our business has traditionally been within the hospitality industry, which has been decimated and is unlikely to recover for some time.

The challenge now for us is to break into new areas.

We are currently growing within the medical sector, where we have many years of experience, as well as gaining traction in a new but related market with the recent launch of a product range for the mortuary sector.

Q: Have you got a five-year plan for the company?

A: Yes, to double the size of the group.

Granted, the plan has been significantly hampered by Covid, but now that we have steadied the ship it's imperative that we focus on getting back to it.

We have the infrastructure in place but we now have to plug the gap left by the decline in catering and hospitality orders.

Q: Why is it good to do business from Knaresborough?

A: It's where Craven & Co was founded.

We are very proud of our Yorkshire heritage - it has been good to us