It all started in 1963 with my father buying a small business at 47
Cowgate. Little did I know that, 10 years later, after graduating
from St Andrews university, and four years working in London, I would
join him in running the family business.
Now my daughter Trina, with
her business background, is taking up the challenge with the support
of a management team with many years of experience. The success of
our business has been built on the loyalty and dedication of a great
team with a desire to give our customers, many of whom have been
with us over these 50 years, the very best service.
A company also
needs many business partners and we have been fortunate to have a
very supportive bank in Natwest, our accountants Larking Gowen and Mills & Reeve, our
solicitors, all of whom have supported us from the very beginning.
Over the next few years, we hope to increase our penetration within
our area and to look for new products to extend our stock profile.
When staff joined us my father would say they had "become one of the
family", and that is as true today as it was then. I can assure all
our customers that our tradition of care and service will continue.
A business that
breaks all the rules is
celebrating 50 years of trading. The EDP went to
see it to discover the
secrets of its success.
It's come through four recessions
and is still trading profitably after
50 years in business.
But Norwich-based Lamberts,
which specialises in selling and
distributing industrial equipment
across a range of sectors in East
Anglia, does not do modern
business by the book. For example:
It carries 16,000 stock lines
most of them available at the
company's Whiffler Road site -
contrary to the contemporary
practice of housing minimal stock
and ordering from a central
It will source just about
anything for customers - from
microwaves to pens - as well as
concentrating on its main product
It has an up-to-date website with
online sales facilities - but most
customers prefer to place orders
on the phone because they like
talking to the staff, or arrive in
person at the extensive trade
It has a loyal staff
- many have
worked for Lamberts for more
than 20 years - and promotions
are often made from within.
Tim Beare, chairman, son of the
founder Henry Beare and a 40-year
Lamberts veteran, says: "We have
always been flexible, able to adapt
to changing circumstances.
"At the same time, we have a
wide customer base and that has
helped us to weather storms
where others haven't.
"Service is at the core of
everything we do. How we look
after our customers and how we
deal with them has always been a
priority. And the staff are key to
that process. "My late father used
to say: 'Staff, service, systems - get
them right and you'll do well'.
"Now, as the company moves into
its second half century, big
challenges are on the horizon as
senior directors, including managing director John Rudd (retired) - a
former warehouse assistant who
worked his way up the ranks to
the top - get set to retire or are
already in retirement.
Aided by father, Tim, Trina
Beare will head up the next phase
in the company's history. A third
generation family member to work
for the company, she joined as a
purchasing assistant in 2006,
joining the board four years later
and becoming General Manager in
"I'm very keen to see the
company grow and develop, and I
have a great team around me to
help achieve that," she says.
The team, which totals more
than 40 staff, includes:
Paul Gardiner, Purchasing Manager (33 years' service with Lamberts*).
Karl Eade, Operations Manager
Neill Ives, Commercial Manager
Stocking up for the future
Trina adds: "Our strength has
always come from our wide
customer base - we're talking
about food factories, chemical plants, agriculture, engineers and
contractors - so we're never
aligned with just one line. With
wide customer and product bases,
if one sector is in trouble it
shouldn't affect us too much."
The broad product base also
helps to cement relationships with
Core products are pipes, fittings,
valves and tools backed up by a
Workwear division, which
includes corporate clothing, safety
equipment and janitorial products
such as soaps and cleaners.
Lamberts aims to turn around
orders in 24 hours, and can
achieve its target as much of the
stock is on-site.
"In hard times, big companies
tend to de-stock to keep cash flow
going," says Trina. "But this can
create problems when a customer
needs something quickly - say, it's
a breakdown in a factory - and
they have to wait two or three
days for the part to turn up.
"So, because service is so central
to everything we do, we took the
decision to stock as much as we
can so our customers can be
confident that their orders will be
out to them as quickly as possible.
We can also offer a 24-hour call-out
service for companies that register
The level of service has helped to
engender loyalty among
customers, some of whom have
been using Lamberts for 50 years.
And, while the user-friendly
open for online business, many
customers prefer to check
products are in stock and then call
the sales team to make an order.
Why? "They like to talk to the
team!" explains Trina.
"Everything we stock, and more,
is on the website. So customers
can see what's available and then
call us because they know the
sales staff. We also like to think
we're problem-solvers. Some
people aren't sure exactly what
they want, but our staff can find it
- even if we haven't got it, we'll
At the same time, the company
belongs to a key regional buying
group of independent family
companies, helping it drive down
end prices for customers.
But, while Lamberts will pull out
all the stops for customers, the
company is not so cuddly with
Tim Beare and John Rudd (retired) recall:
"We've beaten off the competition
in the past, and we opened up in
Peterborough for the same reason.
"We have a unique profile in that
we offer so much; while others can
compete in niche areas, we have it
Lamberts now makes no secret
of its plans to expand the business
in East Anglia, although it's not
naming any locations.
|How Henry Beare
built a business to
last the distance
The acumen of a post-war
Norwich businessman was at the
core of an industrial company
that has stood the test of time.
When London-based plumbing
and engineers merchant
Lamberts' branch in Norwich
came on the market, Henry Beare
saw an opportunity.
Already managing director of
builders merchant Ruymps on St
George's Street, Norwich, Mr
Beare believed the investment
could secure his family's future.
In the event, Ruymps was sold to
the oil company Charringtons, but
Mr Beare stayed on as managing
director of the builders' merchant
division on condition that he could
keep Lamberts for the Beares.
Fifty years on, with Henry's
grand-daughter Trina set to join
his son Tim at the head of
Lamberts Norwich, his foresight
The business started in 1963 at 47
Cowgate, with Peter Lawrence
poached from Ruymps and
appointed Manager of Lamberts.
Soon after, a 15-year-old lad just
out of school was hired as
warehouse assistant. In 1992, he
would become managing director.
Expansion into wider industrial markets
In 1967, the company moved to its
current premises on Whiffler Roadand began to expand its stock
portfolio beyond industrial
pipelines into wider sectors, such
as engineering, agriculture and
From the start, Lamberts focused
on industrial rather than domesticmarkets, avoiding competition
with the burgeoning national DIY
By 1973, Mr Beare's son Tim had
joined the company after a spell at
St Andrew's university in Scotlandand then work with Charringtons
The next year, a branch was
opened in Lowestoft to service the
then-thriving food manufacturing
industry, headed up by John Rudd (retired).
Ten years later, the company was
in the vanguard of computerised
accounting and, with Tim Beare
now managing director, it
upgraded in 1990 to a full
By now the Lowestoft branch had
been closed, following the demise
of food processing in the town, but
plans were being laid for another
branch in the west, at
Peterborough, another centre for
agriculture and food factories.
When Henry Beare died in 2004,
Tim became chairman, with Trina
appointed general Manager in
By the beginning of 2013,
Lamberts' 50th anniversary, the
company could boast that it had
weathered recessions in 1975, 1986,
1992 and 2010 - and it still
managed to improve profits each
year of the latest downturn -
including a record profit at the
Peterborough branch in 2012.
If I were a carpenter... I'd have missed out
Young John Rudd (retired) always wanted
to be a carpenter, but he ended up
at the head of one of East Anglia's
top industrial distributor
"When I left school at 15 I was
quite good at technical drawing
and maths, but carpentry was my
main interest so I tried to get an
apprenticeship in joinery shops in
Norwich," he explains.
"I tried everywhere, but there
was nothing doing. As luck would
have it, my cousin was friendly
with a girl called Angela Beare,
whose dad owned a company
called Lamberts of Norwich.
"They took me on as a
warehouse assistant in 1964 in the
Cowgate building where I was in
the warehouse, on the desk and
answering the phone."
It was a good grounding in a
business which saw John rise to
branch Manager of the Lowestoft
depot in 1974, company
commercial Manager in Norwich
in 1982, general Manager in 1984
and managing director in 1992.
John also played football to a
senior level as a midfielder with
Wisbech Town, Thetford Town and
Meanwhile, his 49-year career
path - from the bottom to the top -
demonstrates the mutual loyalty
which Lamberts and its staff
bring to the business.
Many of the team have been with
the company for more than 20
years, fulfilling the wish of
founder Henry Beare that when
staff joined they would "become
one of the family".