Black’s of Brechin Stays Close to Its RootsNeil Hardie
An Angus family firm is now less than two decades away from celebrating its 200th anniversary.
Black’s of Brechin has played a very prominent role in the town’s business community since starting out in 1837.
The company – officially known as William Black & Son – has undergone numerous changes over the years since it began trading as a timber merchant.
There are currently 12 staff, and operations include a furniture store in Clerk Street, while Brechin Business Park is home to other parts of the operation involved in removals and storage, commercial vehicle maintenance services and coach hire.
The firm is now run by the sixth generation of the Black family. The managing director is Bobby Black, while his wife, Anne-Marie, is company secretary.
Anne-Marie spoke to The Courier about the secret of the firm’s long-running success.
She said: “There are very few long established family-owned firms left in our area.
“We would like to think that we have been able to keep the firm going mainly because of our reputation for providing a high-quality service and products, but also because we haven’t been afraid to change and diversify when circumstances have required and where new opportunities have presented.
“Additionally, we have a brilliant team of staff – most of whom have been with us for many years. Our staff are very much part of the family.
It’s also worth noting Bobby and I have been committed wholeheartedly to the running of the business and to ensuring success.
“Bobby in particular has made significant sacrifices over his life for the benefit of the company.”
Asked about the biggest opportunities ahead for Blacks, Anne-Marie said it was apparent customer attitudes were changing and people were now looking at the history of a company more before making their selections.
“This presents us with an opportunity to put more of a focus on our background story and the ways in which we run our business,” she added.
Anne-Marie said that, in the early life of the company, it had been hugely successful as a timber merchant and this had allowed an expansion into cabinet-making following the First World War.
She said: “The many joiners employed by the firm hand-crafted pieces including bedroom and living-room furniture and bespoke commissions for buildings, such as the library fittings and furniture at the Inglis Hall in Edzell. There are still pieces in circulation.”
Ventures into house removals and house building followed.
The late 1970’s saw Black’s acquire two furniture shops in Brechin, and around this time the firm also expanded into other business areas in the town – a funeral director and Collie’s garage and petrol station.
However, in the mid 1990s the house-building side was struggling and closed a few years later.
Bobby became a director at Black’s in 2001, having started in the early 1980s delivering the office mail around Brechin on his bike then helping out on removals, shop deliveries and the funeral side, working in the building office quantity surveying in the mid-1990s, then heading up the removal side through tremendous expansion for several years into the early 2000s.
Anne-Marie said many changes had been needed to shore up the foundations of the Black’s business.
She added: “The first of the major changes was the sale of the funeral director to the Co-op – this allowed Bobby to invest in the fleet of removal vehicles. The removals and storage was Bobby’s main focus and passion, and he worked hard to build up the brand and develop the offering.
In the early 2000s, it became apparent that the removals and storage side had significantly outgrown its site on Clerk Street. A new, much-bigger site was required.
“The firm decided to sell off Collie’s garage and petrol station and one of the furniture shops, and built a bespoke office and storage complex at Brechin Business Park.”
In 2004, Anne-Marie joined the firm to assist Bobby with the day-to-day running of the business.
About a decade ago, the couple decided to add a coach venture to the company’s portfolio, as well as a commercial mechanic business.
In more recent times, Anne-Marie said Covid-19 has had a massive impact on the company.
She added: “Without government help in the way of furlough and rates decreases, the firm would have struggled much more.
“We are faring better than some others and are grateful to still be here, after a very difficult 18 months. Bobby and I continue to maintain the quality ethos and hope that this shines through in all aspects of the business.
“Our focus is sustaining the business and getting it to a point where it’s easily managed. Our three children may or may not take over. This is open for them to decide themselves.
“We would rather be making a small profit and have a happy home-life balance and happy staff, as opposed to focusing on big profits and losing more of ourselves personally.”