A business launched by two cousins which has grown to become one of the decade’s most remarkable growth stories has been named the North East’s company of the year.
Bowburn-based kitchen and home appliance specialists Andrew James UK won the top prize at the North East Business Awards, beating Cramlington-based AAF Ltd and Visualsoft, from Stockton.
The awards proved a double celebration for Andrew James - started by cousins Andrew Tomlinson and James Buckle - as the firm also won the digital and social media award for its cutting-edge online work.
The company was formed in 2005 by cousins Andrew Tomlinson and James Buckle after the pair saw the potential in a table top grill being used at a dinner party, which was available in Europe but not in the UK.
They sourced the gadget – a raclette – to sell to UK customers, initially using their garages, attics and front rooms to store products.
Since then, they have gradually expanded the gadget range to the point where they now sell more than 600 niche kitchen and home products, through their own website, Amazon and eBay, to customers in the UK and all over the world, including Singapore, India, the Seychelles, Hong Kong, Spain, Germany and France.
The firm now employs nearly 100 people, with sales around the UK and Europe and a turnover of £17.4m in 2014, and it has continually reinvested profits to provide year-on-year growth since its formation.
On collecting the Digital and Social Media Award, Andrew James creative director Phil Rostron said: "We've worked so hard on our digital offering, and it's a big part of the business so it's great to have outside recognition of that in this award. We're a family company and that is part of everything we do."
Andrew James’ triumph provided an exciting climax to the grand final of the North East Business Awards at Hardwick Hall, Sedgefield, which has itself grown to become a highlight in the business community’s calendar.
The night, which brought together more than 550 business people, was hosted by Stuart Birkett and Bob Cuffe, Trinity Mirror’s managing directors in Newcastle and Teesside.
Mr Birkett said: “These awards are still the biggest of their type in the country and are a celebration of our brilliant area and the great businesses that underpin it. It’s an absolute pleasure to recognise great companies, and also the people who make them stand out in fiercely competitive marketplaces.
“The North East is used to challenging times, but tonight is about celebration and optimism.
“There are clear signs of an upturn in the regional economy, with jobs being created, development happening across the region, and businesses investing in their future, and therefore the future of the people of the North East.”
Organised by The Journal and its sister paper on Teesside, The Gazette, the annual competition is held in association with the North East Chamber of Commerce and turns the spotlight for the last 12 months on businesses large and small from across the region.
Last night’s events brought together the winners in each category from heats that took place earlier in the year in Tyneside and Northumberland, Durham and Wearside, and Teesside.
As well as Andrew James, other winners on the night included Ringtons, Egger UK, the Centre for Process Innovation, ElringKlinger (GB) Ltd and Atomhawk.
Simon Musgrave, head of Doorstep Delivery at Ringtons, said: "This is a great win for us, but not unexpected - out team does a fantastic job working for our customers everyday. I'm delighted to be accepting the award on behalf of the Ringtons team."
Tom Taylor, director of business at CPI, said: "This is recognition of the work of CPI's 250 staff. We always try to show that innovation is crucial to creating strong business and we're beginning to get national recognition for that. This couldn't have been done without the backing of the North East business community, and I'd like to pay thanks to them for their support of CPI."
Ian Malcolm, managing director of Elringklinger, said: "We've been part of the North East Business Awards for a number of years, but always in the 'bridesmaid' capacity - so it's great to win this time."
Andrew Simpson, managing director of PGA Distribution, said: "I'm totally shocked at this win because the of the calibre of other companies in our category. It's fantastic."
James Ritchie, CEO of Tekmar, said: "For us this award is about recognition of our work in a tough market. The oil and gas industry has gone through a turbulent time lately, but we've been innovative enough with our products to navigate that and continue growth. I'm very grateful to the team for their hard work, this is for them."
Apprenticeship Award, sponsored by CIPD: Hodgson Sayers Ltd
Best Creative Company, sponsored by DigitalCity Business, Atomhawk
Company of the Year, sponsored by Sunderland City Council: Andrew James
Digital & Social Media Award, sponsored by Accenture: Andrew James
Export Award, sponsored by Port of Sunderland: Tekmar Energy Ltd
Green Award, sponsored by Middlesbrough College: ElringKlinger (GB) Ltd
Heart of the Community Award, sponsored by Derwentside Homes: Gus Robinson Developments Ltd
Innovation Award, sponsored by Newcastle University Business School: Hart Innovations
Let’s Grow Award, sponsored by Newcastle Airport: PJA Distribution
Manufacturing Award, sponsored by Business Durham: Egger UK
Newcomer of the Year, sponsored by Virgin Money: Teesside Industrial Solutions Ltd
Not-for-Profit Organisation of the Year, sponsored by Gentoo: the Centre for Process Innovation
Services Award, sponsored by Npower: Ringtons Ltd
Small Business Award, sponsored by University of Sunderland: Tomlinson Hall & Co Ltd