Warings Furniture has landed its biggest contract in the company’s history after securing a £4m deal with hospitality-giant Whitbread. Business writer Ben Woods finds out more about the achievement – and what the future has in store for the Norfolk firm.

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History

Warings Furniture was established in 1986 by Graham Waring and originally traded as a contract furnishing business.

But in 1991 Rachael Waring – Graham’s wife– joined the company and it was re-named Warings Furniture, where it evolved to concentrate on the manufacture and supply of furniture.

Since then, the business has moved from a small operation in Unthank Road, Norwich, to Thorpe, before transferring its operation to Larling, near Snetterton.

Three years ago, the firm revealed that it would be returning to Norwich city centre in the shape of a coffee shop, which it opened on Cattle Market Street.

The cafe provided a different strand to the business by giving it a customer facing operation, which allows it to sell furniture to shoppers and independent businesses alike.

Meanwhile, moves have also been made to beef up its headquarters at Larling, with fresh investment in new offices for staff and a new warehouse for storage and manufacturing work.

It could be mistaken as little more than a quaint cafe and furniture shop nestled on the fringes of Norwich’s city centre.

But behind the coffee lies a prominent player in the global hospitality industry, supplying bespoke furniture to market-leading brands.

And this reputation has now been underscored by the announcement that Warings Furniture has secured a major £4m contract with Costa Coffee owner Whitbread.

The two-year deal will see the firm supplying internal and external furniture pieces for more than 2,400 sites across the entire Whitbread portfolio, including Costa Coffee, Premier Inn, Brewers Fayre, TableTable, Kitchen, Beefeater and Thyme.

It has been hailed as the largest single contract win for the Larling-based company, following an exhaustive and rigorous tendering process.

And it also compliments the firm’s impressive client portfolio, which includes many of the UK’s iconic brands such as Pizza Express, Pret A Manger, J D Wetherspoon, Jamie’s Italian, Revolutions Bars and Travelodge.

For Graham and Rachael Waring, managing directors and owners of the business near Snetterton, the deal has been a breakthrough moment in a key year for the business.

“This is a massive contract for us and we’ve worked hard over the past two years to secure Whitbread’s business. It is testament to the quality of our people and products, our excellent track record in the hospitality sector and our ability to provide an exceptionally high level of product and service,” said Mrs Waring.

“We love working with companies we respect and have had Whitbread in our sights for some time. It has excellent brands, provides great customer experience and is a hugely successful business,” she added.

But while the bumper deal is a significant moment for the firm, it is only part of its recent success.

This year, it ploughed significant funds into the business to meet the demands from his customers, with investments in new facilities, machinery, a new head office, and vehicles linked to its haulage operation.

Currently, Warings is putting the finishing touches to a 23,000 sq ft warehouse, increasing its stockholding ability and helping the company to cope with the scale of the Whitbread contract.

And as far as recruitment is concerned, the business cannot take on more people quick enough.

Despite recently employing 30 new staff across its administration, sales, logistics, upholstery and joinery departments this year, the business is still searching for about eight or more skilled – or unskilled– workers to join the team.

“We have been recruiting nonstop since the summer,” said Mrs Waring. “We have already recruited about 20 and we still have another eight to go.

“We expanded our upholstery department, along with our polishing and joinery operations, and we are still looking for more people.”

The recruitment drive comes as the firm gets set to record a turnover in excess of £6m by the end of this year – with a forecast to reach £9m to £10m by the end of 2014.

For Mr Waring, breaking through the £10m turnover mark would be another significant milestone in the couple’s personal journey with Warings.

And he admits that once the company stretches beyond this size it is likely to spark some noticeable changes – from further additions to the boardroom, to possibility of floating the business on the stock market. It is a stark contrast to when Mr Waring first launched the business 27 years ago on Unthank Road in Norwich.

However, Mr Waring said the couple rarely reflect on what they have achieved. But there are times when they take the dog down to the Larling site on the weekend and feel a real sense of pride.

Mrs Waring said: “Most of the time we don’t see the woods from the trees, but sometimes we do see the company from a different perspective and I think we have not done that bad.”

“It has always been the case for us that we are always striving to do better than what we have already done,” Mr Waring added.

“But when we come down at the weekend and have a walk around the site, I think ‘wow’ we have come along away since we started in Norwich.”

So what is next for this well regarded furniture firm, which continues to mount strong growth? At the moment, it is the prospect of strengthening their presence globally that is really exciting the couple.

“A lot of the brands that we supply are investing in the future by breaking into global markets,” she said.

“We are already doing some work for those brands overseas, so doing more of that will be a big change going forward.

“The reason we are seeing it is because the British brands are getting it right when it comes to creating destination restaurants.

“For a long time, these brands have gone beyond simply selling a product or a meal, and have sold an experience.”

The combination of Waring’s manufacturing operation, and its appetite for exporting, makes it the type of business the government wants to see, as it looks to build a more robust economy.

But will the company go so far as to establish its own operation abroad? According to Mr Waring, it is not out of the question.

“If one of our customers decided roll out across China, Malaysia, Singapore or Cambodia, then we could set up a Chinese business with the Waring’s manufacturing model,” he said. It would probably be a joint equity office with a Chinese manufacturer – the thought of setting up an operation like that is what really excites me.”

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