County Durham leather restorers have launched their first Handbag Clinic in the heart of London as part of expansion plans that have seen more than £140,000 invested into the business.
Burnopfield-based Furniture Clinic, a leather cleaning and repair business, first began life more than 12 years ago when Keith Staerck travelled around the UK, showcasing his products and services at home exhibitions.
A major step change took place in 2004 when his son, Ben Staerck, then a 17-year-old sixth former, designed and built a company website which transformed the business and triggered huge growth.
Now managing director, Ben Staerck noticed the firm was being sent a huge volume of designer bags requiring care, prompting him to set up a complementary company devoted exclusively to handbag repair, for customers who owned high value pieces demanding the greatest levels of care and dedication.
As a result, the firm is now known as Furniture and Handbag Clinic and, until recently, the bags division has built up a long list of customers who use its mail order services.
The Handbag Clinic has now opened its first boutique on the Kings Road in Chelsea, and celebrities including TV reality star Imogen Thomas and the Daily Mail columnist Liz Jones and other designer handbag owners have already descended on the new clinic, which has been set up to restore their couture accessories to pristine condition.
The firm has invested £100,000 into the London venture, which employs three members of staff, which covered staff training, interior design costs and renovation of the premier address unit.
Mr Staerck said: “I am delighted to open the first Handbag Clinic on the high street.
“It will perform a vital service transforming handbags to their former glory. Working people in the North East can help the fashion budgets of those in London go further. We have no shortage of style and flair in the North East and we are delighted to be exporting our skills to fashionable Chelsea.”
Since the firm was established it has maintained a base at Burnopfield and boasts 11 branches around the UK, employing more than 60 people.
Annual turnover in 2013 was £1.7m, a figure which has risen to £2.2m following the opening of its first office in New York, US, a move made in 2012 in response to demand for the firm’s services and products across the States. The company also exports its cleaning products to other overseas markets including Russia and Hong Kong.
Branching into other areas has also triggered expansion in County Durham, where £40,000 has been spent on upgrading the facilities and equipment, and two new employees have also been recruited.
By the end of this year the firm plans to employ an additional two people at head office to carry out handbag repairs and, if sales in London continue to go as they are, they will need a third full time member of staff within the next three months.
Mr Staerck added: “We have already had so many people wishing us luck with the venture, which is based solidly on our existing reputation for providing a quick and efficient service to hundreds of people who have had their handbags restored to former glory.