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The skate people

Jun 15, 2018
Deputy Editor David Jordan takes a trip to Mersea Island in Essex to visit Evo Supplies, one of Britain’s leading manufacturers of furniture skates.



When I phoned Evo Supplies’ Managing Director Juliet Dunn to arrange a time for our meeting, I was a little surprised when she said, “I’ll just check the tide tables to make sure you can get across.” The company is based on Mersea Island (it’s pronounced Mersey by the way, if like me you didn’t know) and you have to cross a causeway to reach it by road. Around full moon it can be up to a metre deep in water for up to two hours, so you need to check first.

The Romans, based at the nearby garrison town of Camulodunum (Colchester), used to holiday here and developed a taste for Mersea’s oysters, even exporting them the thousand-odd miles back to Rome, in barrels filled with seawater. Oysters and other seafood delights are still enjoyed on Mersea today, by locals and tourists alike. Visit the Company Shed fishmongers/restaurant on the waterfront if you ever go there.

Having safely dodged the Blackwater tide, I arrived at Evo Supplies’ factory on a small industrial estate in West Mersea and was greeted at the door by a beaming Juliet. Over tea and chocolate biscuits she told me their story.

Juliet and her husband Greg started Evo Supplies in 2013. “It happened almost by accident,” explained Juliet. “We were renting warehouse space near here for one of our other businesses. Our landlord ran a removals supplies business from the same premises and one day he announced that he was planning to sell up. He offered to sell the business to us and, having investigated the market, and being slightly irrepressible entrepreneurs, we said yes!”

The original business had sold blankets, packaging and all the usual paraphernalia that removals companies use. They also manufactured and sold high-quality skates, or dollies if you prefer, for a wide range of customers. The Dunns incorporated a new company, Evo Supplies Ltd, quickly dropped the general products, and concentrated Evo’s efforts on making strong, long-lasting skates.

“Our predecessor had specialised in personalised skates”, said Juliet, “so we decided to continue the tradition. Corporate branding makes skates less likely to be stolen, as well as reinforcing removal companies’ identities, and presenting a professional appearance to their customers.”

The skate business is extremely competitive and Evo’s skates are not necessarily the cheapest on the market, so I asked Juliet how they have managed to grow the business.



“The personalisation of the skates is one reason, but quality is what really sets us apart,” said Juliet. “Not just of the skates themselves but the customer service that comes with them. We sell thousands of skates a year, but if anyone has a problem with one of our products, which is rare, we replace it without question or quibble. We had a few customers go elsewhere in the early years because of price, but nearly all have come back because they believe our quality and personal service is worth paying a little bit extra for.”

"Since taking on the leadership of Evo full-time in 2016, I’ve been focussing on raising both our game and our profile. The annual Movers & Storers Show gives us a fantastic opportunity to showcase not just our products but our ethos to removals industry professionals, and we’re really looking forward to this year’s show in Manchester. We’re constantly adding new products to our range and improving our production processes, we’ll make pretty much any bespoke item to our customers’ specifications, and we can offer really competitive discounts on bulk orders.”

About 50% of Evo’s business is with the removals industry, with furniture retailers, office fit-out/refurb, facilities management companies, museums and art galleries making up much of the rest. Interestingly, since the Brexit vote Juliet has noticed an increase in companies specifically interested in buying British-made products.

Notwithstanding the above, at the end of 2017 Evo introduced an imported economy range, ‘Hello Dollies’. “Not every customer needs or can afford a dolly that can carry a tonne and withstand years of heavy-duty professional use, so we designed an economy range and visited China to find a manufacturer to make them exclusively for us,” said Juliet. “We’re delighted with the quality of the new products, and the sub-brand allows us to compete in the budget-priced market. However, our home-grown Evo dollies will always be at the core of our business and we are very proud to be one of the few British manufacturers producing high-quality skates for the professional removals industry.”

Juliet and Greg are keen sailors and often take part in races on the Blackwater in their boat Black Diamond. The Evo factory, offices and products are equally ship-shape and a credit to them and the enthusiastic people who work there.

Photos:  Top: Juliet Dunn; top right: Juliet and Greg Dunn with a specially branded
skate; Middle (from left to right) Ben Withrington, Jessica Lappage, Jamie Lappage,Production Manager and Maria Chapman, Office Manager.

 

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