More than 10 million Christmas crackers made by a Black Country company will be pulled around the world this year – as the firm increases its turnover to its biggest ever.
West Bromwich-based Robin Reed, which is the only privately owned British cracker company, has seen sales surge by 10 per cent to £2.5 million with the US as its biggest export market.
But it’s not the bumper year which is keeping staff busy this festive season – the company founded by Julian Reed from Halesowen 37 years ago is preparing to start production for Christmas next year.
The company, which hand-makes its crackers in China, is finalising its product range, before heading to Atlanta for its first major trade show of the year.
Mr Reed, now 48, began making the crackers in his bedroom when he was child. He said: “We make 500 different types of crackers – all the basic cracker shape but different sizes and configurations.
"You may get six or eight or ten in a box, we have different gifts and finishes, for example paper or foil, ribbon, or the more luxury ones with fabric and glitter. And we have to come up with the jokes for them. We usually get lots sent in after Christmas because people they think can do better.
“We have a meeting with senior management where we sit down and review the jokes – we have got to be careful we don’t offend anyone. We test the gifts and hats, we have some bizarre meetings.”
Robin Reed sells its crackers through a number of specialist retailers such as Lakeland, Scotts, Paperchase and upmarket department store Selfridges but recently it is supplying more garden centres.
Mr Reed said: “ Garden centres have taken over from department stores because they have all that space and are full of gifts.
‘‘There has been a shift away from the high street to the internet, mail order and garden centres.”
The business began as a hobby for Mr Reed and evolved into a company which sells crackers all over the world.
To survive he had to shift production to China.
He said: “It all started as something I wanted to do at home – make something for fun at Christmas – there was a piece in a newspaper magazine with a survey of crackers and it said the best thing to do was make your own. This was in 1973.
“I remember nagging my dad so I made a few boxes at home and had a naive idea that perhaps I could sell them so I went to a small independent supermarket – AB Jones in Halesowen and was amazed when the owner agreed to buy some.
He probably never thought I would do it but I did. He paid me and that’s where it all started.
“I made them at home for a few years until I opened a factory in 1981.
‘‘We moved several times and are now in West Brom but we don’t make them here anymore. We were the first company to make crackers in China in 1995 and moved our entire production in 2003 and that’s how you survive.
The ones that didn’t move are no longer in business. Our products are made by hand – 10 million crackers this year, so it’s labour intensive.
“That’s what makes them special, they are not cardboard dye coloured you can get in every shop. Ours are made the same way they were 150 years ago.”
Robin Reed employs nine people to carry out head office functions in the UK and 250 people when the factory is open in China. Orders are placed by Easter and made ready for shipping in July.
The company’s main market is the US with exports accounting for two thirds of sales. Australia and Canada are also important markets.
Mr Reed said: “It’s been tough but most people ringfence Christmas – they may put off getting a new car, washing machine, but they want a nice Christmas with all the trimmings.”