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Tameside Talks Business: Findel leads the way

Host Dave Sweeton speaks with Findel CEO Chris Mahady

A new series of podcasts titled ‘Tameside Talks Business’ has been launched.

In the coming weeks and months, host Dave Sweeton will be talking to the leaders, movers and shakers across the borough’s business world to find out how they make and shape our region’s business offer and how that touches all of our lives.

From big business to small, he will be leaving no stone unturned as he delves deep into what makes Tameside’s diverse business community tick, driving not only our local economy, but reaching across the regional, national and even the international scene.

What makes good business? How is it sustained in the toughest of times from pandemics to economic downturns? Plus, it’s not just about providing jobs, but Corporate Social Responsibility which sees firms and companies giving back, helping to make a difference to our very own Tameside communities.

The Tameside Talks Business Podcast series is available online and through our social media. Simply tune in to find out more. 

In the very first of our ‘Tameside Talks Business’ podcast series Dave Sweeton speaks with Chris Mahady, CEO at Findel Education Ltd.

Headquartered in Hyde, Findel is a well-known, highly regarded business across not only Tameside, but the world, with the e-commerce educational resources supplier catering for the UK, plus international schools and nurseries. 

Encompassing general and specialist brands including Hope, GLS, Davies Sports, Philip Harris, Spa4Schools, A-Z and LDA, Findel provides products across all areas for primary, secondary and early years teaching, as well as specialist resources for school business managers, science teaching, PE and sports equipment. 

Putting it simply, as Chris states: “If you take a school or a nursery and tip it upside down, pretty much everything that falls out we supply!” 

Findel’s origins can be traced back more than 200 years to 1817, with its brands and websites today offering more than 32,000 products to customers in the UK and overseas, the business exporting to some 120 countries.

With a distribution centre and offices in Nottingham, Findel employs 400 people across the UK, with around 300 based in Hyde.

The new, all modern HQ in Hyde on Ashton Road will be familiar to many as the former Hyde Mill site.

Chris says: “We have been established in Hyde for well over 100 years. Many of our employees are from the local area, so we are very proud of Tameside and our heritage. 

“Tameside is our home, our colleagues live here and they are the heart of our business.”

In a near one-hour interview with Dave, Chris describes how the business has gradually grown to encompass the numerous brands it incorporates and that education services are so familiar with. 

Some of the heritage of the brands - like Philip Harris - goes back more than 200 years, being, as Chris describes it ‘older than electricity’.

The brands serve a diverse range of items to meet all school needs, from sports and science equipment teachers require, right down to furniture supply. So if it’s in a school - the likelihood is it’s connected to Findel, which is now the market place leader in its field.

In fact, Findel owns about nine percent of a £1.2bn education suppliers market place.

“We have grown significantly over the last three years and by around 60 per cent after coming out of Covid,” reveals Chris. 

“It’s been a proud journey for us as when we picked the business up, funding in education was tough and we knew we had to transform the business in many ways.”

One of those key transformations was operating digitally.

Chris explained that six years ago they were supplying more than two million catalogues into schools that were up to 1,800 pages thick. Now everything is online, meaning a significant digital and technological investment.

In fact, Findel spend around £2.8m a year in digital infrastructure and development teams.

“If you don’t transform, then you’ll die,” Chris puts it bluntly.

It was Covid that proved the catalyst for change with schools and the company having to find very different ways to operate at the time and driving the investment in the business to deliver differently through technology.

In the podcast Chris provides a fascinating insight into how the business continued to work through covid, especially all of the delivery challenges that posed in supplying schools.

“It was our duty that we continued to provide a service to the nation’s schools, and that was first and foremost at the top of our minds,” says Chris.

He praises great leadership and management across Findel as well as recognising a great HR team that supported colleagues.

But before the pandemic, Brexit too had presented its own set of challenges.

“We do some £2.5m of sales into Europe and that went to zero overnight because of Brexit,” revealed Chris, a decision he described as ‘crazy’.

“It brought in levels and barriers we just didn’t need. It took us over three years to build that back and then we had covid. Nobody saw that coming.

“Then as we came out of Covid we were hit by worldwide supply chain issues, followed by inflation.

“When you look at the changes and challenges we’ve had in the last three to four years, then wow, they are monumental and I think that every business that has survived that, then they have become stronger and more resilient and ultimately those businesses should become the stars of the future now.”

Having ambition and being brave might be at the heart of all things Findel which has helped shape its success, but above all it is a business that truly cares. As a business that is all about children, that comes naturally.

The Findel Foundation enables colleagues to dedicate time and give support to charitable work in the community, with more than 30 per cent of colleagues giving at least two days a year to schools and local good causes.

“It gives everyone who works for us a sense of pride and purpose,” explains Chris.

“People who want to join us are also keen to learn about what we do with a regard to a social and environmental perspective.”

Today the Foundation supports a wide range of causes, including Greggs Breakfast Clubs and the Rio Ferdinand Foundation, helping to make a difference in a very real way.

Talking education in the business world means there is no way of avoiding politics and of course the looming general election.

Funding for schools comes predominantly from the public sector so a general election result has direct impact on a business like Findel.

“When you look at the UK we should be doing so much more and there is not enough funding going into education. So the funding schemes are really important to us,” says Chris 

“Labour are saying they are going to put more funding in, but putting politics to one side, strategies should be there long-term with all parties working together, because if you change strategy everything just falls apart.”

Mental health, customer service, all are explored by Dave within the interview.

“Customer experience is at the heart of everything we do,” says Chris, who also praises Tameside Council for bringing businesses together.

“We are really proud to be part of Tameside as a business, community is everything to us and meeting other businesses and sharing practices, helping and supporting each other is really important. 

“Businesses are working together and meeting on a regular basis which gives a feel good factor for the region and we are blessed with some fantastic entrepreneurial businesses and we love working with them.” 

Findel were winners in the prestigious ‘Employer of the Year’ category at the recent Tameside Business Awards 2024, as well as being listed as finalists across four categories, those categories being: Large business of the year; B2B community impact business of the year; Sustainable business of the year, as well of course as Employer of the year.

It was the second year running the business has been recognised at the awards, Chris stating: “This is a great testament to all of our colleagues through their dedication, passion and sense of care to support our local community in Tameside. We were all incredibly proud to be shortlisted in so many categories for the second year running.”

Chris’ colleagues describe him as Findel through and through and there is no questioning his passion for the business and also for Tameside.

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