Whilst lockdown disruption may have impacted upon Lawsons’ planned centenary celebrations last year, the family-owned business remains keen to share its story of 100 years of ‘putting its people first’ by reflecting on its development and looking forward to the future.
The first Lawson & Son Timber Merchant opened in Whetstone, London in 1921, and the business has subsequently grown into one of the UK’s largest independent timber, building and fencing merchants, with a network branches stretching from the South Coast to Peterborough. As it celebrates 100 years in business, Joint MDs Paul Rushent and Jeremy Norris are leading a period of rapid growth for the Lawsons group, both organic and acquisitive, but their focus is still on the company’s people as they note “it is the staff who are the driving force behind the business”.
John Lawson and his son Simon, the current Chairman, are respectively the third and fourth generation of the family to head up the business which currently operates 31 branches — 17 operate as mixed merchants under the Lawsons brand, with a further 14 specialist timber and fencing branches mainly under the AVS Fencing and Landscaping name.
Together with Joint MDs Paul and Jeremy, they ensure that the company strapline “Family Values — Professional Service” is embedded consistently throughout the business, demonstrating a focus not only on its customers but also on its employees and the wider community to create long term, sustainable and profitable growth.
“That means action, not just words,” explains Jeremy. “We created a Family Values manifesto which set out our beliefs — job security and honest communication to create a positive working environment, empowerment in roles and in ideas allowing staff to speak out, building a sector-leading pay and benefits package, committing to a huge investment in training and development — and we then delivered against it. We are sincere when we say that we put people before profit.”
Lawsons states it is equally committed to social responsibility and its work in the community. Each branch has a fund to support local charities or community projects in their area, and the business also works at a group level on social and environmental issues.
The sense of family has created a supportive ethic throughout the business, says Paul: “We respect and appreciate our staff and we trust them to help others. This has enabled us to support the Bounceback Program employing ex-offenders as well as working with YMCA Downslink to offer a pathway to training and employment for young adults at risk of being homeless.
“As a business we feel everybody has something to offer, no one should fall through the cracks in society,” he adds.
As part of its societal vision, Lawsons is aware of its environmental impact and the need to work hard to be a responsible business. With many of its branches located in urban environments close to residential communities, the merchant says it is increasingly conscious of the need to be a ‘good neighbour’ and is doing all it can to consider concerns about noise and air quality that those who live near to its depots may have.
For example, the merchant lays claim to being the first company in the UK to introduce an ECO Truck, an eco-friendly gas and electric powered crane lorry, developed in conjunction with Iveco and HIAB. Powered by compressed natural gas, the custom-built 26 tonne truck delivers the same performance as the diesel equivalent but is far less polluting.
Another benefit is its electric powered crane — the lorry’s gas-powered engine stops when parked and the crane operates independently. This not only reduces air pollution but also delivers a significant reduction in noise, which is a very real benefit for deliveries in residential areas.
Impressively, the innovative project recently won an award from the Noise Abatement Society and Ian Rowe, Head of Transport for the group, notes: “With more people working from home, noise and air pollution are increasingly serious issues and we are trying to minimise the disruption caused by the delivery of materials.”
Lawsons was also the first UK customer to invest in JCB’s electric-powered Teletruks and currently has a fleet of electric Combilifts and Teletruks deployed across its branch network, with more on order.
The restrictions of Covid meant that Lawsons was unable to celebrate its centenary year and for a company that prides itself on its staff focus — annual Family Fun Days, a Children’s Christmas Party and the “At Home Lunch” where the chairman invites branch staff to join him for an informal lunch at his home — this was a real blow. However, Jeremy hopes that as the situation eases the company will be able to mark the significant milestone with its staff.
He said: “We are ambitious for the future, we will continue to invest and grow the business, but realise that this is only possible because of the staff we have today and we want to come together to celebrate this milestone.”
Paul agrees on the need to celebrate the achievement and recognise how far the business has come, “but then it’s back to business, this is just another step in our journey.” Indeed, it is a journey that sees the firm committed to further investment as “a necessity for continuous improvement and growth”.
And this involves investment in the working environment and, naturally, in its people — whether recruiting and developing branch staff or through its graduate training and apprenticeship schemes.
“Some argue that we over-invest,” concludes Jeremy, “but our returns speak for themselves. We rank in the top five most financially successful independent businesses of our type in the UK. We believe that we have achieved this by putting our people first, who in return put the company first. Simply put, they care about Lawsons and want it to succeed — that’s what happens when you put people first.”