Lawcris has an enviable reputation as one of the most successful independent companies supplying panels and panel services to the UK market – Furniture & Joinery Production editor John Legg visited the Leeds business to find out how the company continues to define itself, 35 years on.

Lawcris’ independent strength still the key after 35 years Since the 1960s chipboard and MDF in myriad forms have become the go-to materials for furniture manufacturers. In the decades that followed, the growth in sheet material popularity fuelled by lower prices made conditions ideal for independent panel distributors to flourish – Lawcris was one such business.

Across the UK, in practically every house and every workplace, furniture and fixtures made from wood-based panels are ubiquitous. In almost every room or space, panel-based furniture has become the norm. But in the 1940s and 1950s, a particle-board kitchen was something only the very wealthy could dream of owning – in the same way that some of the high-end solid surfacing options were a few years ago.

Roll forward to the 1980s, and as chipboard manufacturing output grew, market prices fell and a realistic mass-market option had become a reality. Against that backdrop, companies such as Lawcris established themselves to supply panels to manufacturers.

Lawcris has published a useful Egger matching guide

The flexibility and diversity of chipboard and other wood-based panels – when shaped, edged and formed – is undeniable, making it today one of the most popular and efficient ways of creating a vast array of furniture types.

Wood-based panels really are the unsung heroes of our industry and an incredible success story – and companies such as Lawcris are pivotal as a bridge between furniture manufacturers and the board producers.

Where it all started

Back in March this year, Lawcris celebrated its 35th year. The company we know today started in a modest manner by Chris Hopton and Simon Hall in a small house and 3000 sq ft rented warehouse in Burrell Street, Wakefield.

Chris Hopton, Lawcris chairman, says: “When we first started the business, my biggest dream was to expand the company to ten staff members and two delivery lorries, with the ultimate goal of turning over £1m. 35 years on and Lawcris is a successful, strong and growing business, uniquely placed to meet the diverse, ever-changing needs of the market. Today we have 215 staff, over 40 delivery wagons and last year the company turned over £72m.

“I think if someone had said 35 years ago that Lawcris would someday become one of the UK’s largest panel product suppliers, we would have laughed out loud! When starting out back in 1982, where we operated out of a two-up, two-down house on Peterson Street in Wakefield and a small rented warehouse – we just wanted to make ends meet.”

By 1992, Lawcris had outgrown three premises and in the same year, decided to make a move to Leeds. In the late 1990s, Leeds was fast becoming a key economic hub of UK industry. Thecompany’s growth reflected the economic inflation of the time and in 2001, Lawcris moved to Cross Green Industrial Estate. This logistically lucrative location, with close access to the M62 and M1 proved a wise decision.

In 2014, the company made its latest move to its current location, a 156,000 sq ft premises within another area of the Cross Green Industrial Estate.

Customer-oriented business

Today, Lawcris stands as one of the most respected and trusted businesses supplying a broad range of panel products, accessories and services with over 215 employees, operating out of four facilities which combine to more than 200,000 sq ft. The main facility holds around £4m-worth of stock.

One of the key strengths of the business over that last 35 years has been their positive, customer-oriented stance – the business runs an effective 24-hour site, with a sales team which operates from 7.30am until 6pm throughout the week. There is also a next day delivery promise for orders placed before 6pm to an area covering a large part of the UK mainland.

The company’s forty-plus fleet of trucks travels to around 500 customers per day all across the UK, and all vehicles are fitted with a TOMTOM system which enables the company to track vehicles in real time keeping customers accurately informed about deliveries.

Lawcris services

From an early stage, Lawcris realised that just providing raw boards was only going to take the business so far – and by providing a range of in-house services was a huge gain for its customers.

Known as Creative CNC, Lawcris’ cut and edge department has been a key asset for more than 30 years providing a precise cutting, machining and edging service for a wide range of customers. This area of the business has undergone a £750,000 investment with brand new, state-of-the-art machinery including two new beam saws and a new edgeband slitting machine.

“Whether its single panels or large production runs, Lawcris’ highly experienced team allied with the most up-to-date technology provides a highly efficient resource for designers and manufacturers, whatever the application.

The company’s Bonded Boards service offer rapid turnaround of bonded laminate panels from its impressively stocked and beautifully clean warehouse environment. Panel sizes of up to 3660 x 1525mm can be pressed onto boards of up to 60mm in thickness and the company works hand-in-hand with the world’s leading laminate suppliers including Egger, Kronospan, Resopal and Pfleiderer.

While some suppliers may have ordinary trade counters, Lawcris, as one might hope, has a singularly impressive option to help fulfil customers’ requirements for accessories and complementary products – essentially providing a one-stop-shop for designers, manufacturers, local tradesmen and DIYers – a superb facility.

The Panel Depot is a relatively recent introduction – it’s a grand showroom which houses the biggest range of decorative surface samples in the area in a really clear and easy-to visualize manner.

The extensive range of products in store at the Panel Depot includes worktops, flooring, doors, slatwall boards, wetwall panels, fixtures, fittings, adhesives and a really full variety of products on special offer plus invaluable trade advice from Lawcris professionals.

Independent thinking

One of Lawcris’ strengths is its independent stance which allows the company to react quickly to market requirements and update its products and services to benefit its customers.

Lawcris' range of panel services include Creative CNC, Bonded Boards, Roll & Go and an impressive showroom

“We pride ourselves on our independent strength. We have the opportunity to make quick decisions to revise our product offering and change our services to benefit our customers instantaneously, which in turn, really gives us the edge,” explains Chris. “Our unique ability to stand on our own two feet is paramount to our survival and thoroughly secures the future of Lawcris.”

The company’s success has been commended in the annual Timber Trades Journal awards, winning Panel Trader of the Year, not once, but twice in recent years. Furthermore, after the release of their new website, Lawcris was awarded the accolade of Website of the Year in 2016 – an acknowledgment of the company’s endeavor to keep up with a changing technological landscape.

Over the last 35 years, Lawcris has successfully developed its business to remain not just relevant, but as an indispensable resource for the our country’s many furniture manufacturers. Spend an hour visiting the Leeds business and it is clear to see that the spirit which began the business and drove its formative years, is very much in evidence all across the company. Lawcris today is a strong, independent, dynamic and customer-oriented business whose sole aim is to provide an exceptional range of products to its customers in a highly efficient manner – something it does with aplomb.

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