A Division of Stafford’s LTD

Behind the Doors:

Staffords Ltd and our online division, Repair it Reuse it

One of the latest buzz phrases around right now is ‘circular economy’.

Circular economy refers to the reuse, regeneration or recycling of materials and products. With climate change and sustainability high on all our agendas backed by the UK government and legislation the tradition of repair and maintenance is back in fashion.

This is good news for Staffords, a company started just over a century ago, in 1918, by William Stafford. Then called WJ Stafford, the business rode the wave of the surge in demand for typewriters, then usually imported from either Germany or the US.

Liverpool-based W J Stafford branched out into other office machinery and its major claim to fame was the supply to the football pools tycoon Sir John Moores with his first calculator to support the fledgling operation.

Following the Second World War the business was taken over by William’s son Ken. It prospered thanks to the increasing automation of offices, particularly the UK high street banks – a section of the market that was successfully cornered by Staffords.

For the next few decades Staffords repaired and maintained typewriters, fax machines, calculators and later photocopiers, fax machines, printers, word processors and personal computers, for many of the leading high street banks, insurance companies and building societies.

A network of 13 service centres was established across the UK, from Scotland right down to the south of England, primarily to serve Staffords’ financial customers, but also to support the country wide warranty service cover for several shredder and television manufacturers.

During the latter part of the 20th century, the UK became much more of a disposable society. Mass-produced electric and electronics devices became so cheap that it was more cost-effective to dispose of and replace rather than repair, faulty items.

However, there was a shift in public conscience at the start of the new millennium when the emphasis on the environment and sustainability grew more into focus.and the repair of domestic electrical appliances started to become more acceptable again.

One of the major manufacturers that Staffords dealt with over the years was Japanese consumer giant Panasonic. In 2002 a senior manager at Panasonic left the business to take a leading role with Groupe SEB a French global maker and supplier of small domestic appliances, its brands including Krups, Rowenta and Tefal.

Because of our longstanding professional background in dealing with electronic equipment for commercial enterprises, we were asked to provide service support for Groupe SEB`s UK operation.

Embedded within Staffords were all the necessary repair and recycling processes plus the technical expertise and accreditations that Groupe SEB were looking for to support its brands.

The success of our operations for Group SEB provided the springboard to attract other global manufacturers of domestic appliances requiring repair services in the UK including Miele, BT, Kenwood De’Longhi, Shark Ninja, Polti, Vax, Heineken, and other leading brands.

The public have become increasingly conscious about sustainability and the environment. There is also new legislation called the Right to Repair Act which came into force in 2021 requiring manufacturers of a wide range of domestic appliances to hold and supply spare parts and technical support for up to 10 years from the date the appliance was manufactured.

The new legislation combined with consumer focus on doing “the right thing for the environment” has led to the growth of the circular economy which aims wherever possible to recycle products capable of a repair rather than just discarding in the form of hazardous waste into a skip or landfill.

Where it is financially viable most electrical appliances can be repaired. So instead of just being glued together appliances are increasingly being screwed together to facilitate a repair or upgrade.

Setting up logistical routes for spare parts and components takes time and cost and there are still very significant volumes of domestic appliances imported into the UK with little or no technical support. The lack of service support leads to equipment being routinely replaced with a new unit and the returned item being scrapped no matter how trivial the fault.

For any portable electrical appliance that is found in the home or businesses it is far more cost-effective and invariably more convenient to arrange for a courier to deliver the item into a repair centre rather than sending an engineer to carry out an onsite repair. With this consideration in mind a change in our strategic focus resulted in the winding down of our field service operation and the establishment of a national repair centre incorporating workshops and warehousing.

For many years Staffords HQ was based at Gibraltar Row, close to the Liverpool waterfront, but the need for a larger unit together with the invaluable support of Knowsley Council resulted in the relocation to a modern commercial unit on Knowsley Business Park in 2002.

Following a period of rapid growth, we subsequently purchased the adjacent premises, and we now operate from a fully integrated 22,000 sq ft of modern workshop and warehouse space.

Employee numbers vary throughout the year according to seasonal demand but tend to be between 65 and 70.

Although our focus is now on domestic appliances, Staffords has retained its close links with several high street banks, focusing on the provision and maintenance of banknote counting and forgery detection machines.

A significant element of growth for the business has been the advanced replacement approach to providing warranty cover for manufacturers which we pioneered in the 1990s to cover the warranty on BT fax machines and television set top boxes. This bespoke service has now attracted the attention of Nespresso one of the world’s biggest coffee brands.

Nespresso have been so delighted with the new warranty process that they have sent over representatives from Belgium and Switzerland with a view to replicating the operation globally.

Traditionally, if a customer had a faulty or broken machine under warranty, we would send out a loan machine and bring in the customer`s machine which after repairing would be returned and the loan unit collected.

This process involves a minimum of four courier legs and in consequence a large carbon footprint. Under advanced replacement, if your machine is under warranty and fails to-day you will get a replacement tomorrow. We repair and refurbish the first machine to an “as new” condition before sending it out as a “pre-loved” machine to the next person, halving the number of courier legs and recycling faulty units wherever feasible.

Dave Latham, Staffords’ technical and operations director, explains: “There is now a growing interest amongst manufacturers for the advance replacement warranty model and recently Heineken/ Beerwulf have taken up the service to cover their domestic beer dispensing systems.

Whilst all faulty devices by their nature require manual intervention as each fault can vary, all our logistics and management functions are fully automated. Nespresso, for example, can track the progress of the customer`s machine from the time the initial call is placed until the customer is provided with a pre-loved replacement.

Via a new software system all our clients and the end user customers can have visibility about what is happening to their machine at any point in time.

The key players in the domestic appliance arena appear to be coming around to the benefits which can be derived from a positive approach to the circular economy. Sustainability is a trend that is only going to increase and the opportunities for the growth of the business are considerable.

In Europe, largely driven by legislation and consumer pressure, manufacturers and suppliers are more advanced in the repair/recycling of electrical products than in the UK although we are quickly catching up. Any manufacturer currently or seeking in the future to supply electrical equipment into the UK will have to make provision for the repair /recycling of their products.

A bi product of our repair services for many of the world`s top brands is Staffords ability to repair a wide range of domestic appliances which are no longer in warranty. Through our website Repair it Reuse it we offer a range of repair services to enable the consumer to derive maximum and continued value of their purchase.

The above background information on the Company is based on a published 2023 article for a leading Northwest Business Post.