100 jobs at risk as Graham & Brown ends Blackburn manufacturing

By Ged Henderson

16 Aug 2023

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Wallpaper group Graham & Brown has announced plans to close its traditional manufacturing site at India Mill in Blackburn, which could lead to the loss of around 100 jobs. 

The closure is part of a new manufacturing strategy unveiled today, which includes increased investment in digital capabilities at a new state-of-the-art, low carbon production site in Padiham. 

The east Lancashire based group is looking to move the production of traditional wallcoverings to “strategic” manufacturing partners in Europe and says the closure of the Blackburn site is in response to “changing customer demand”. 

Graham & Brown, which was founded in Blackburn in 1946, currently employs around 400 people, with approximately 325 based in the UK. 

The proposals were announced to staff, customers and suppliers today. The family-owned group said it had started a consultation process with workers potentially impacted, during which it would be exploring “viable alternatives” to avoid or reduce job losses. 

It said the strategy was a response to “ongoing structural change in the global wallcoverings market” which has seen demand for traditionally-manufactured wallpaper contract. 

Meanwhile, the demand for more environmentally-friendly, design-led and digitally-printed products in the online retail channel has increased.  

This change, it said, had led to “rising production inefficiencies” at its traditional manufacturing site. 

Graham & Brown is one of the world’s leading home interiors groups. Its products, which are sold in more than 75 countries, span wallpaper, paints, soft furnishings and home accessories.  

Its portfolio includes owned brands, such as Graham & Brown, Superfresco and Contour, as well as licensed brands, with products sold direct to customer through its own e-commerce platform and through retail partners in-store and online. 

The business, which became carbon neutral last year, has pledged to become net zero by 2030.  

Its new digital printing site – which it believes is the most advanced, sustainable wallcoverings production facility in Europe - uses 100 per cent renewable energy, solvent-free inks and sustainably-sourced paper. 

 It said digital printing also made it easier to access its archive of 35,000 designs and that it planned to expand the ranges and volumes produced at the new facility "significantly" in line with rapidly increasing customer demand.  

Andrew Graham, chief executive of Graham & Brown, said: “The global wallcoverings market has been undergoing structural change for many years due to the growth of online retail and the category’s contraction in physical retail, trends which have accelerated post-Covid.  

“Consumers and retailers have also become even more environmentally conscious and are actively seeking more sustainable home interiors products. 

“Due to reducing demand for traditionally-manufactured product and rising production inefficiencies as a direct result, our manufacturing operation at India Mill in Blackburn is no longer fit for purpose. Sadly this means we need to explore the difficult decision to close the operation. 

“Our team have investigated a number of specialist manufacturers – several of whom we have worked with for many years already - and we are confident they have the right capacity and capability to meet our needs.  

“This would give us the flexibility and cost-efficiencies we need to continue serving this important part of the market even more strongly over the years ahead through our ongoing commitment to exceptional design development, customer service and category management. 

“What remains paramount is that we continue to support colleagues during what will be a personally unsettling period.” 

He added: “As a business that’s been innovating the market for over 75 years, we need to look ahead and respond to these changes to make sure Graham & Brown remains at the very forefront of our industry, with a more efficient, flexible, sustainable and digital-led operation capable of delivering our customers’ changing needs and meeting our ESG goals.  

“We plan to continue growing and adapting the capacity of our new digital production facility over the coming years, which will ensure we can manufacture the most innovative, design-led wallpapers for our customers and fulfil our ambition to be the world’s leading wallcovering design house.” 

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