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An Amazon-shaped approach to local, independent growth

In the new series ‘Inspiring Growth in the North West’ Top 100 law firm Ward Hadaway, in partnership with Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, talks to those companies leading the way in the region.

L-R Chris Swallow, Managing Director of Creamline with Paul Johnson, a Partner at Ward Hadaway

The series conceived and commissioned by the Manchester-based law firm celebrates entrepreneurialism, shines a spotlight on business success, and uses those who have been there and done that to act as a guiding light. The series paves the way for the annual North West Fastest 50 List – recognising the fastest growing profitable, privately owned companies in our region.

This week we speak to Chris Swallow, Managing Director of Creamline – a business which has grown from a doorstep milk delivery service to an online shop where people can order local produce and receive groceries with free delivery to their door – alongside Paul Johnson, a Partner in the Corporate team at Ward Hadaway.

“Since my father bought the business back in 1994, it’s retained its family orientated ethos which I think has been central to our success,” said Chris Swallow, Creamline’s Managing Director. “The business was built upon good old-fashioned values of being genuine, eco-friendly, staying true to our roots and championing our community – and this has never changed. We’ve seen a huge societal shift in the way supporting local and helping one another has become significantly important to people. The pandemic has massively accelerated that, but this is what Creamline has always done. We’ve nurtured our relationships with local producers and have always gone that extra mile to meet people’s needs.”

And putting people, whether that’s local farmers, their employees or customers, at the heart of what they do has certainly reaped reward. Since buying the small dairy business, Chris, his father, Tony Swallow and brother-in-law Rob Purvis have grown Creamline to a 320-strong team with a current turnover of £32 million.

Creamline’s head office at Trafford Park

Its growth journey so far has seen the business achieve key milestones including the launch of its ecommerce offering in 2013 and the acquisition of Dairy Crest North West’s business in the same year. Purchasing Dairy Crest instantly added 4,000 online customers to its database.

The business’ Best of Local service sees Creamline provide customers with the freshest vegetables, meat, fish, bread and other artisan items, sourced from other family businesses within the North West. The business also provides a Daily Essentials online shop where people can buy everyday items such as milk in reusable glass bottles, eggs and non-perishables.

 

“Retailing online completely transformed the business and has been a major catalyst in our growth,” explains Chris. “It’s fulfilled a great need from people who want to order local produce whether that’s milk, yoghurt or bread the night before and receive them on their doorstep in time for breakfast. At the same time, we also provide a platform that brings local businesses together, offering them access to hundreds of thousands of homes across the North West every single day. It’s a win-win situation because everyone benefits.”

“Not only does our service provide a genuine cost effective and convenient alternative to the supermarket, it’s also eco-friendly. We’ve championed choosing glass bottles over plastics and using electric milk floats since we established. We’re seeing even more uptake in our services because of this as people become more environmentally conscious. Our recent move into offering glass bottled oat-based milk alternatives is proving extremely popular too.”

Creamline’s online retail presence has grown exponentially in the last 18 months. This has been fuelled by the pandemic which saw a huge increase in demand not just for next day doorstep deliveries but a renewed focus on supporting your local community, including independent businesses.

Chris said: “Overnight, the Covid-19 lockdown saw us lose 20% of our business due to the closures of schools, hotels and restaurants but as the doorstep delivery demand increased, we found ourselves spending more time on our direct-to-consumer offering. As a result, this part of the business has experienced a 160% increase in growth since March 2020, gaining 8,000 new customers.”

Paul Johnson, a Partner at Ward Hadaway, has been working with Creamline for over 20 years. He supported the company in establishing itself as one of the North West’s fastest growing family-run retailers and advised it through various growth stages.

He said: “Our relationship with Creamline is incredibly long lasting. They’re proof that integrity and putting your community and customers’ needs first really does pay dividends. With its ecommerce offering, Creamline has created an Amazon style business model but at a local, community-focused level. The business brings together the North West’s local suppliers under one umbrella and in doing so meets customer need as well as supporting independent business growth.

“Creamline highlights the power and longevity of local business – something that has gained even more momentum during the pandemic. It’s been wonderful to witness how such passion, drive and a genuine desire to simply be kind and do the right thing has helped a business thrive. I wish Creamline continued success as the business navigates the next stage of its journey.”

In the next 12 months, Creamline plans to expand its ecommerce offering across the b2b sector and add a vegan and vegetarian product line too.

Chris adds: “I’m extremely proud of the relationships we have not just with our customers but with local producers too – it’s a positive, mutually beneficial partnership that we continue to nurture and take care of. This, I think, is highly representative of the North West region generally when it comes to doing business. There’s so much talent and innovation locally. We’ve actually just launched a Business Booster competition to offer an online platform and package of marketing support to help three deserving local businesses expand their reach. Local producers interested in applying should take a look on our website to see how to get involved.

What really makes the region stand out, in my view, is our strong community spirit, the way we wear our heart on our sleeve and our candid culture. It’s incredibly rewarding to be part of something that helps people and provides a service they rely on – I wouldn’t want to run our business anywhere but here.”

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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