I had a chance to sit down with Chris Gawith and chat to him about his two brands, Samuel Gawith and Gawith and Hoggarth. It was an audio interview, so I have transcribed it as such.
Are you thinking about dropping one of the brands?
No, not at all. They are all made under the same roof; when Sam Gawith came over to us we bought the men, machinery, and the brands, basically everything just sort of moved, more or less all of them stayed, maybe one or two decided to move on. It has been run up to now as just their company under our roof, which works to a point. But now we’ve discovered what the demand is, but the two brands will remain as they are.
The problem with leaving it just at that stage which we are trying to address. You can’t operate as a business with two teams of people; we need to manage the equipment and the human resources to deliver what pipe smokers want us to deliver. Gawith Hoggarth can produce tobacco a lot quicker; it’s just the nature of how the tobacco is made at Samuel Gawith.
I remember at the funeral of my father, Bob Greggory came up,
“You don’t know who I am yet, but I have an interesting proposition for you.”
Can you expound more on the merger?
[Editor’s note: Information on the 2015 merger is here.]
On the merger – it wasn’t a poetic thing, it was because Gawith and Hoggarth had more or less muscled Samual Gawith out of the UK so Samuel Gawith had to go out and find the export market, I think it is nice that you see these companies are back together – if we hadn’t done this Sam Gawith may well have gone to the wall (closed).
Now you’ve been talking about the old historical building and restoration for a while; what’s the status?
We’re renovating the old Gawith and Hoggarth building where the two brothers were originally, that will be hopefully finished in 2 years and will be an exhibition shop, and some commercial aspect to it as well, and accommodation upstairs which originally was how our family worked. They lived upstairs and worked downstairs in the factory – I’m not saying I’m going to live there because there is no parking or no garden. But we’re putting it back to the way it was. We’re keeping all the old running gear and everything we can salvage and put back there, its a heritage project for the family. We’ll have our own venue to have pipe events, and international customers can come to try and see whatever they want.
This building sat empty for 25 years. It’s a great listed building. Planning concepts to touch it – if it fell down, we’ve got a big project. It’s a £1-million project; we’ll look back and go it’s worth the spend.
The first phase is structural work, and the 2nd phase is what can we afford to do.
What about your distribution here in the US, can we expect more product? You were using Arango and Phillips and King?
Bob Greggory tried to explain the arrangement, but we wanted to consolidate and make it less complicated.
Is there a reason you chose to go with Phillips and King rather than Arango for distribution?
Not that I know of. It was a common consolidation, and this is what we’re going to do.
How much leaf do you have?
My dad was insistent that we kept a minimum of 3 years of raw leaf.
So about your restructuring …
Part of this restructuring we’re doing is to address the inefficiencies of the company. We do hear that “customers saying we can’t get through.” We had people doing five other things at the same time. The changes that we’ve made in terms of internal process for the UK market – before it was taking three people to process a single order and we only had four people. Invoice checking, orders coming through by fax, copied out, guys on the road handwriting, printed out, typed back in, there was a lot of frustration on my part at this. My background is engineering so it’s all about fixing process. We need the human resources so we are going to do it better and we’ve hired more people to do specific jobs. The service is improving now.
A company that has had 30 years of neglect in terms of investment and now its come home to roost, we’re throwing a lot of money now into this company to make it what it should be. What was happening before the previous “admins” did not appear to want to address the process concerns. They worked with a finite amount of product for the export market, so the US would be limited to X tons, china X tons – what we’ve done in the last 6 months we’ve pulled that limitation back, and now we have 18 months of orders. The orders in China are twice the size of the US. Obviously, we’d like it to be more balanced.
I’m personally addressing the production issues, the admin stuff is sorted now, and we have admin automation, but the bottleneck now is the production. So the aim that I believe we can do is I think we can triple the production of Sam Gawith Flake which is the slow one if you like, without changing anything physically. A simple example – how long does it take you to remove the flake from the ovens? 2 1/2 hours.
Why so long?
Crack the tins, the way it’s set up now the tins the flakes are cooked in are steel tins bolted together, four bolts have to be undone, and then they find the flake is stuck to the side of the tin, so they have to work it off gently. So I said, “have you tried putting some paper in there?”
So I went right out the door, went to the supermarket and bought a roll of greaseproof paper and tried it – next day it came out right away. So little things to fix it and improve production. A lot of these things we can iron out to improve our production time.
Where have the complaints about production been the most, the US or UK?
From our point of view we’re not dealing directly with consumers in the US. We have a distribution market in the US – in the UK we’re dealing with the guy who has a corner shop and occasional consumers contacting us. It’s taken 6 months of change to start seeing the benefit of our changes now to improve our processing.
How many companies are there?
There are two companies Gawith Hoggarth Tobacco Trading, which looks after all the commercials in the UK, and the international company that ships to distributers. Gawith Hoggarth and Co Limited, that’s all the exports which is what you see in the US.
Are you coming to a pipe show in the US any time soon?
We’d like to come to the Chicago Show in the next year or two.
Dalmore, I used to drink a lot of Jura. Affordable single malt, at the moment Deanston – local distillery near my house in Scotland. I’m not into the big peaty stuff, I’d like to try more of the American stuff as well.
Brexit advantage or disadvantage?
In terms of what we do, it might put us at an advantage. We’re more interested in shipping to the US and China than shipping to the EU – its meant to be free trade, but when it comes to regulated products, it’s not.
When it matters the EU crumbles in getting things done, but when it comes to passing regulations that we don’t need; they can accomplish that.
“The future is bright for us, which is nice, which is not something I would have said 5 years ago. “
Thanks again for Chris for taking the time to sit down with me, and it looks like we can expect more product hitting shores everywhere soon with the strides he’s making at production.
|James Foster goes by the online handle of Pylorns in the forums, and he is the creator of an app for keeping track of your tobacco cellar inventory called The Pipe Tool, serves as the President of the Austin Pipe Club and is a Certified Tobacconist.|