Uniform IT for employee-owned business

The UK’s leading supplier of personalised school uniform, which is employee-owned, is investing in new IT and preparing for growth with the help of loans from Co-operative & Community Finance and the Co-operative Loan Fund.

BoyGirlSheffield-based School Trends supplies 6,000 schools and well over 1 million school children throughout the UK with personalised school uniforms. The business started in 1988 and grew rapidly, with the founders strongly believing in a participative work culture and in 2004 the company became employee owned.

There are 125 employees mainly based at the company’s office in Westfield near Sheffield. The business is 100% employee-owned. The majority of the shares are held by the employee-benefit trust and all permanent staff also own shares directly. Employees elect representatives to the governing council of the business.

Daran Brown, Managing Director of School Trends, said: “I absolutely believe that employee-ownership brings out the best in our staff. It means that everyone here has a personal investment in doing the best for our customers.”

School Trends also has strong environmental and ethical trading policies and supports local charities, it is an excellent example of a responsible business that combines profits and principles.
Co-operative & Community Finance and the Co-operative Loan Fund supported School Trends in 2013 when it bought the freehold of the premises it was leasing, and so these lenders were the first choice when School Trends needed further finance. The new lending is being used to invest in a greatly improved IT system.

Daran Brown explained: “At the moment we have three separate IT systems which is not ideal. With the loan we are investing in the best one and losing the other two. Ten percent of our customers are already on the new system and in the first quarter of 2017 we expect all of them to be.”

School Trends have also taken the opportunity to consolidate other loans into a more economic package, which will give the company more working capital to manage growth.

Tim Coomer, Business Development Manager at Co-operative & Community Finance, said: “We are pleased to lend to School Trends again. It is a successful employee-owned business with strong principles. It is just the kind of venture that Co-operative & Community Finance and the Co-operative Loan Fund were set up to support.”