Shires Equestrian: Received The Royal Warrant

PUBLISHED: 23:27 08 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:55 20 February 2013

Malcolm Ainge

Malcolm Ainge

The Leominster-based manufacturer of horse and riding equipment, Shires Equestrian, has just received the Royal Warrant. Hilary Engel went to meet their managing director, Malcolm Ainge.

The Leominster-based manufacturer of horse and riding equipment, Shires Equestrian, has just received the Royal Warrant. Hilary Engel went to meet their managing director, Malcolm Ainge.

"Perhaps we've been hiding our light under a bushel for too long," admits Malcolm Ainge. "Not many people know we're here."



Maybe we didn't know they were in Leominster, but everyone who has anything to do with horses knows who Shires Equestrian are. They make 200,000 horse blankets a year. They make just about everything that the stylish horse or rider, of all ages, could possibly want to wear. They distribute 125,000 copies of each season's catalogue to the general public. They have warehouses in southern Ireland and New Hampshire.



They employ about 60 people at their warehouse in Leominster, and 350 in China, where they own two factories. The business has grown steadily over 40 years. And now, after five years of supplying goods to the Royal Stables, they have the Royal Warrant.



How did they achieve all this?



Malcolm Ainge is a very self-effacing boss who insists that it has all been a "team effort". It is a family business, with his son and nephew playing a significant part.



Malcolm started out in Pershore in 1968 with 200, and a loan of 1000 to buy stock. He had worked previously for Barretts, makers of equestrian equipment in Feckenham, Worcestershire, the village where he was born. (Sadly they have just gone into receivership.) "I learned both sides of the business at Barretts, because that was when I started riding myself," says Malcolm, "so I was a customer as well." Malcolm is still a keen rider, and is treasurer of the Clifton-on-Teme Hunt. He now lives in Alfrick.



"At that time the centre of the equestrian industry was Walsall," says Malcolm. "Practically everything we sold was made in the UK." From Pershore the company moved to Bromyard in 1976, where it had its first factory; and in 1993 it moved to the industrial estate just outside Leominster, where it now has a huge warehouse.



"When I first saw this place there were puddles on the floor because the roof was leaking," says Malcolm. "By the time we had fixed it up it looked as big as a football pitch: I never thought we'd fill it." But in fact since then the warehouse has had to be extended, and a new office block has been added. 65% of Shires sales are in the UK, and the rest overseas.



"Our aim has always been to make good quality goods to sell at realistic prices," says Malcolm. "We began importing products from abroad, because UK prices were no longer competitive. And then 12 years ago we decided to set up our own factory in China. The first one is in Xiamen, which is a big city although no one in the UK has heard of it; and now there's a second one in Nantong. These days most equestrian products are made in China or India."



"We're quite unique in the industry in having our own factories," Malcolm points out. "Of course it means that we have total control over the raw materials we are using, and the manufacturing process."



It was clear that Shires needed someone in China to run the factories, and fortunately Malcolm's son Stuart volunteered. "He had no interest whatever in Dad's business at first," Malcolm recalls with a smile, "and he went to catering college. But a couple of years in the hotel industry convinced him that he'd rather be doing this." Now Stuart lives permanently in China, and speaks Mandarin.



Meanwhile Malcolm's nephew, Marcus, having studied engineering, also joined the company, and is now the sales director. "He's been helping out here since he was about 13," says Malcolm. I'm very fortunate to have these two working alongside me. It means the future of the company is secure."



Malcolm pays special tribute to Andy Pethybridge, the sales manager of Shires, who is largely responsible for the company receiving the Royal Warrant. "It was Andy who went to call on the Royal Stables," says Malcolm, "and they started ordering from us five years ago. They buy a wide range of products. I'm not saying that the Queen actually wears our clothes: but it's from the Queen herself that we have our Warrant." (Prince Phillip and Prince Charles can also grant Warrants.)



"It's a great honour, and we can put the Warrant on all of our catalogues, letter heads, exhibition stands and premises. Mind you, we've discovered you have to pay 700 to join the Royal Warrant Association."



One of the company's most successful developments in recent years has been riding and casual clothes for children, a range called Buddies. They also have a popular collection of leisure wear, called SSL.



For the future, Shires have two major new manufacturing projects. They plan to start making helmets, and saddles. "Actually making the helmets isn't difficult," says Malcolm. "The difficult part is the safety testing. A certain number of helmets in each batch is subjected to testing - basically being bashed with sharp and blunt objects. There is a standard known as EN 1384 which is recognised in Europe; but the British Horse Society insists on even more rigorous testing for competitions.



"The secret of saddle-making is in the 'tree' - the core of the saddle," says Malcolm. "We have now produced our own moulds for trees, and we are working with a designer from New Zealand to come up with a Shires saddle."



"We obviously have been affected by the recession," admits Malcolm. "Prices in China are going up, and the weak pound is a problem for us. But the business is continuing to grow. I think with most horsey people it's in the blood, and they'll probably economise in other ways rather than stop spending money on their horses. You often find with people who love horses that their stables are like a palace, even if their houses are a bit scruffy."



BOX



By way of coming out from under their bushel, Shires are organising an equestrian event on April 25 and 26. "It's going to be our equivalent of the 'Your Horse Live' show," says Malcolm. "We want it to be entertaining, and informative. There should be something to appeal to any rider, of any age."



Three retailers, from Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, are taking part - Barnstormers of Bodenham, Equestrian & Country Leisure Ltd of Holt Heath, and Fox Saddlery of Teddington Hands near Tewkesbury. There will be special offers on some items in the Shires warehouse, as well as demonstrations and talks.



Hilary Westropp and Richard Balfry of NEW boots will be talking about leg protection. NAF will be talking about nutrition and laminitis; Easy-Loader will be demonstrating their method for getting reluctant horses into boxes; and Shires' company horse, Indy, whom they acquired some years ago from a customer who couldn't pay a bill, will they hope be making an appearance.



Shires Equestrian Products


15 Southern Avenue


Leominster


Herefordshire HR6 0QF



01568 613600


www.shiresequestrian.com



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