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Jo Haywood meets cousins Richard and Tom Ellis at the thriving West Yorkshire business set up by their great-grandfather

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Four generations of the Ellis family have spent 120 years building up a multi-million pound furniture business in Huddersfield, but theyre the first to admit they couldnt have done it without the passion, enthusiasm and undiluted hard graft of their dedicated team of workers.

This business is not just about us and our family, said Tom Ellis, great-grandson of J Thomas Ellis who founded JT Ellis Furniture in 1891. Its about everybody who works here. We have about 225 staff and each and every one has a bearing on our success.

The company, which designs and manufacturers quality furniture for a wide range of retail, corporate and commercial clients at its modern 200,000 sq ft factory in Silver Street, maintains continuity by operating a number of employee training schemes for both office staff and shop floor workers.

It also offers a three-year, NVQ level 3 apprentice scheme for young people keen to break into a thriving industry something many other manufacturers shy away from because of cost and time implications.

Our apprenticeships are very important, said Tom. There have been occasional grumbles over the years about costs, but we believe its money well spent. Twenty-five per cent of our staff come through our apprenticeship scheme and many stay with us for the greater part of their working life.

We invest in our people and they repay us with loyalty and dedication.
Its no coincidence that we have so many celebrating 25, 30, 40 or even 50 years with us.

Many long-serving staff were originally taken on by Richards father Roger, Toms dad Charles and their uncle James, sons of Tom Ellis, who inherited the business with his brothers Edward and Bill.

Each generation has worked hard to build on the reputation established by J Thomas Ellis, feeling the weight of family expectation on their shoulders but consistently stepping up and playing their part. As a company, we live and die by our reputation, said Richard. It has taken 120 years to build it up and were not about to start knocking it down now.

Another important aspect of continuing success is continuing change. We are a business that produces furniture; we are not a furniture business. We never put all our eggs in one basket and are always looking for new markets and fresh opportunities.

Retail is key at the moment, as is the student accommodation market, in which Ellis has been a pivotal player since the Seventies. But the company is also starting to make a name for itself in the emerging care home sector a rapidly growing new market offering abundant opportunities for a company with experience and foresight.

Whatever the market, we are all about doing the job properly, said Tom.
The product and level of service has to be right for us to be proud to put our stamp on it. If its not right, it doesnt leave the factory. And if we know we cant deliver by a specified date, well politely decline the job.

We never over-promise and under-deliver. In fact, we do the exact opposite. If we say we are going to do something, we do it. Its as simple as that.

Tom and Richard are both avid proponents of long-term planning, but that doesnt mean they already have the Ellis Furniture line of succession etched in stone. Both have a brace of daughters, who theyre determined will never feel pressured to join the family firm.

In fact, theyll be actively encouraged to follow their own paths, wherever they might lead.

Our parents insisted we make our own way in the world, said Tom, who sold tractors to the Russians for five years in his previous business incarnation. We had to get a few years of valuable business experience under our belts and apply for our jobs just like everyone else.

In a similar vein, Richard was a chartered accountant at KPMG for eight years. He saw it as a means to an end; a way of getting to grips with the multifaceted financial aspects of running and developing a business before actually implementing his skills at the family firm.

For Tom and I, every day in this business is about creating sustainable organic growth, he said. Our family and our team have worked long and hard to get us where we are. Our aim now is to add value while we have the honour of being custodians.

For more details about Ellis Furniture, call 01484 514212 or visit ellisfurniture.co.uk.

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