From the back of a van to working with Adidas - the rise of a Preston soft-furnishings giant
Some 15 years ago, Robin Bamford was sat at his desk at his soft furnishings firm, RB Contacts, when he got an email from Debenhams. The retail giant was undertaking a revamp of its changing rooms and needed thousands of new curtains.
“They needed this fabric and this colour, and I had it in stock,” says Robin (54). “I had a curtain made and sent it to their London office and the next day I got an email which just said: ‘Very impressive.’
“From that, we got an opening order, and that paid off my house,” Robin added, with Brinscall-based RB Contacts going on to do over £1m-worth of business with Debenhams. “It was like winning the lottery.”
Having sprouted from humble roots, the company was set up by Robin himself in 1990. At 16, he had every intention of going to college, but in the meantime wanted a summer job, eventually working for Chorley-based Rectella, one of the largest curtain companies in the UK. But the enticement of a regular pay-packet soon took precedent. “The lure of £35.51 a week made me think ‘I’m not going to bother with college’, much to my father’s disappointment!” explains Robin. By the age of 25, he was sales manager for the entire company.
With nine years of experience behind him and a contacts book fit to burst with the names, numbers, and addresses of just about every curtain shop in the UK - and plenty more in Europe to boot - Robin decided he could go it alone.
“I was seeing people within the trade who didn’t have much of a clue who were earning an fortune,” he says. “If these guys could do it, I could too, so I gave everything up, bought a second-hand van, and mortgaged myself up to the hilt to buy over 20,000 metres of curtain tape which the landlord of the local pub, The Cricketers Arms, let me keep in his old darts room.
“I’d fill my van up with tape and drive all over the UK and supply everybody who sold curtains.”
Eventually going on to actually sell curtain fabrics themselves before moving on to manufacture the product in-house, RB Contacts blossomed. With Robin’s now-wife Mandy managing the IT and HR side of the business, the Bamfords had formed a soft furnishings dream-team. And Debenhams’ changing room curtains were just the start.
“One of Debenhams’ sub-contractors was also working with Adidas, who were one of the biggest companies in the world and were building loads of franchises in airports,” Robin says. “They got in touch and we got another order to supply curtains for all their airport shops’ changing rooms. There were curtains from Brinscall in Russia, the UAE, and South America.”
Robin’s pride is palpable. “The harder you work, the luckier you get,” he says.
With their “baby” now well-established as one of the North West’s premier independent soft furnishers, Robin and Mandy - keen to take a step back - were bought out of the business last month by staff, with new owners Martin Wilcock and Beverley Loftus taking the reins at the newly-named Brinscall Interiors Ltd.
“There’s joy in the fact that my team has taken over; I’m absolutely delighted,” says Robin, who left the firm for the last time at 5pm on April 30th with a tear in his eye. “I really wish them well.”
And the future certainly looks bright. With nine employees who have over 100 years of seamstress experience between them as well as the largest designer pattern-book showroom in the North West, Brinscall Interiors are ready for the next chapter.
These days, the company focuses on the bespoke realm rather than wholesale, providing made-to-measure sui generis products for buyers and even celebrity houses.
“We sell a complete service; it’s not rags and bags, we’re start-to-finish and nearly 90% of the business comes from repeat customers or recommendations,” says Robin. “You get what you pay for, and there’s still a market out there for a quality, bespoke product that’s hand-made in Lancashire.”