By Sarah Walker
Established in 1920, Middlesbrough’s Hardware Supply Co has recently celebrated a century of service to local people – although in March 2020 it wasn’t sure it would even reach that proud milestone as Covid-19 sent the world into a spin.
Hardware Supply and HS Interiors were looking forward to putting out the balloons and bunting, but instead were forced to send their loyal staff home on furlough as the crisis bit.
Paul Faulkner, director of HS, admits it wasn’t the centenary year any of them would have hoped for.
“We watched our 100-year celebrations go down the toilet – luckily for us, we have lots of toilets!”
At the height of the pandemic, Paul kept the trade side of the business running pretty much on his own.
Determined to keep the business his grandfather (Algie) and father (Doug) had built up alive, he rolled up his sleeves and got back to putting together orders in the warehouse before leaving them outside the door five minutes before contactless collection by his customers.
At the time there wasn’t enough demand to bring staff back to work and it was a delicate balancing act to keep HS operating throughout the spring.
“Ultimately, you need the orders to come in to even be able to bring back staff, but you need staff to help generate orders!” he says.
Gradually, they were able to bring back staff across key departments by installing Covid-safe screens and new ordering and appointment systems.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing since then – challenges included home visits and work by tradesmen at a time when people were told not to have anyone in their homes, not to mention delays in the supply chain from Europe.
But demand has now returned, with high interest from commercial construction companies and trade, as well as homeowners looking to upgrade kitchens and bathrooms that they are now spending more time in.
“People who’ve been working from home are also thinking, ’I’m going to be here for quite a long time’ and are renovating their houses to accommodate working from home.”
Paul is optimistic, hoping the current demand continues as a springboard for the company’s next 100 years.
“While we’ve been much busier than we would have anticipated, we need consistency to help with future planning and nobody knows what is going to happen next year.
“For the first time in over 25 years we are rethinking how we execute our annual bathroom and kitchen sale and what format this will take. We will still be planning to have some sort of sale from December 27, but the format is still to be determined.”
His main concern is the welfare of his staff, some of whom remain on furlough, although hopefully not for too much longer.
“We value all our staff,” he says. “The vast majority have worked with us for many years, some for 40 years, and those who have been back have worked exceptionally hard during this challenging year to keep us moving.”
Despite the strange and turbulent times, he is driven by the same thing as he was five, or even 50 years ago – and that’s providing top-quality products with a top-quality service.
He says: “What drives me has always been the same thing and that is to give total customer satisfaction wherever we can.
“It doesn’t matter whether the customer is buying a bag of screws or a £50,000 kitchen, whether they are a tradesperson or homeowner, the service has to be exactly the same top-quality and we look forward to continuing to serve customers in the North-East through 2021 and beyond.”
The Faulkner Building, North Ormesby Road, Middlesbrough, TS4 2AP | hsinteriors.co.uk | 01642 243 403.