Florence Roby

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Florence Roby's best practice article

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Florence Roby is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles


Our sewing facility
A family business
Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2018, the future
looks bright for family-owned business Florence Roby.
Specialising in high-quality design and manufacture
of uniforms for the beauty, hotel and spa sector, Florence
Roby offers a unique service to businesses looking to improve
their profile and image. Directors Steven Roby and Janet
Roby have shaped Florence Roby’s legacy for more than
two decades, transforming the business from its humble
beginnings to the peak of uniform design. Steven and Janet tell
how they achieved such success.
Florence Roby was founded in 1968 by its namesake, Steven’s mother. As a
bespoke tailoress, the business started from her dining room table, cutting gowns
and smocks and having them sewn up by a team of outworkers in St Helens.
Following in her footsteps, Steven learned to cut on the dining room table after
returning from school. By 1976, Steven’s parents had opened a small factory
warehouse built on the Knowsley Business Park, employing four people.
Rapid growth
By 1980, we employed ten people and constructed a large self-build extension
to minimise costs. Florence’s tailoring skills and ambition allowed the business to
branch out into ecclesiastical wear, culminating in manufacturing chasubles and
stoles for the Pope’s visit to Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral in 1982. Steven
began heading up sales during this period and acquired the Clarins UK contract for
bespoke uniforms. We are proud that this partnership stills exists over 35 years later.
»Managing Director: Steven Roby
»Sales Director: Janet Roby
»Founded in 1968
»Based in Prescot, Merseyside
»No. of employees: 25
»Services: High-quality design
and manufacture of uniforms
for the beauty, hotel and spa
Florence Roby
Highlighting best practice
We capitalised on the business’s
sustained growth throughout the
1990s, supplying new markets such
as hospitals, local authorities and
pharmaceutical companies. Despite
the prestige of the new clients, they
would often stretch payment deadlines
to such an extent that it would affect
our ability to pay suppliers. At the
same time an emerging beauty market
was developing. Unlike hairdressers,
beauticians were all required to wear a
uniform and although desiring a medical
look, they also wanted the styles to be
fashionable; at the time uniforms were
dull and purely functional. We were
the first uniform company to pioneer a
range of stylish uniforms for the beauty
market as a mail-order business.
This change was advantageous for
our cash flow, as the customer pays
with order. During the 1980s, with
confidence from growth in the beauty
uniform trade and government help
in the form of Regional Development
Grants and Regional Selective
Assistance, we were able to invest
in new plant and machinery, employ
more staff and set up a sewing training
school. Unlike most sewing facilities
at the time, we trained students to
manufacture the entire garment, rather
than piece sewing where students make
a part of a garment on a production
line. One of our greatest strengths
is that we still sew in this way today,
allowing for greater flexibility. Growth
continued into the millennium with
turnover reaching £1.8 million. This
encouraged further expansion in 2004
with the acquisition of a new 35,000 sq
ft purpose-built factory and warehouse.
Facing the recession
In 2008, the global recession put us
into crisis and we lost 30 per cent of
turnover. We were already struggling
with mounting year-on-year minimum
wage increases, which drove up labour
costs by 25 per cent over a five-year
period. Furthermore, we were hit by
the “Primark effect”, with low-price
disposable clothing flooding into
the UK from the Far East, drastically
reducing customer price expectations.
In our experience, a minimum wage
increase drives all wages up the wage
rate scale, because employees want
to retain parity and our experience
demonstrates the negative fallout
that can occur. When minimum
wage increases are unsustainable,
and we cannot raise prices or reduce
other operating costs due to market
conditions, the only option is to lay
off staff. Essentially, running the
business as a large-scale production
company became unsustainable and
we had to lay off 75 per cent of our
manufacturing workforce.
After a fact-finding tour, we started
outsourcing quality manufacturing to
new EU member countries in Eastern
Europe, who are subject to EU ethical
practices and give shorter lead times
than the less-regulated and cheaper
Far East. Nevertheless, it was important
to retain a smaller manufacturing
capability in the UK that today enables
us to continue to design, innovate
and support customer requirements.
Therestructuring was difficult, because
Latest in spa style
We were the
first uniform
company to
pioneer a
range of
uniforms for
the beauty
our employees have always been part
of the family, with many staff having
been with us for over 20 years.
With reduced costs, we were able to
overcome falling sales by concentrating
on developing the college student
uniform market. During the recession,
the student uniform market was
expanding at a rapid rate as colleges,
in receipt of large amounts of funding,
were enrolling more students on
hairdressing and beauty courses. It took
four years to replace the turnover lost
in 2009, but since 2013 turnover has
steadily grown and reached £3 million in
2018. Throughout this period, we have
continued to plough profits back into
the business, in the form of website and
IT systems, CAD and cutting, sewing
and pressing machinery and training.
Going forward
Our aim is to retain our core market in
beauty and develop aligned markets
in the spa and hotel business. We
have identified that many hotels are
now developing a thriving and more
profitable spa business to replace
or supplement the corporate events
market. After transforming its core
designer range, we have been acquiring
new customers with our trademark
quality and design such as Champneys,
Centre Parcs, Viking Cruises and
Hilton Hotels, to name a few. Due to
customer demand we now provide a
comprehensive service for all uniform
requirements in both hotels and spas.
New sales have also appeared in
unexpected directions and we have
been asked to design and manufacture
Everton’s branded hospitality uniform.
Being a Merseyside business, this created
an interesting atmosphere during
production, as half the company staff are
“Blue” and the other half are “Red”. In
addition, digital commerce has exciting
growth potential and currently accounts
for approximately 50 per cent of the
business’s turnover. It also gives us a
global reach, with customers already in
the USA, Australia, UAE and Europe.
We are now onto the third generation,
as our son Ben joined the business in
2009. We see the family nature of the
business as a strength: even today,
we employ two and three generations
of the same family in our workforce.
As a market leader, we have placed
ourselves at the high end of the uniform
market, offering a unique combination
of design, quality and UK fabrics. Like
many UK manufacturers, we see an
increasing demand from customers
looking for quality, service and flexibility.
As a market
leader, we
have placed
ourselves at
the high end
of the uniform
Our dedicated team


This article was sponsored by Florence Roby. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it. The publication in which this article originally appeared contained the following foreword from The Rt Hon Theresa May MP.

The Rt Hon Theresa May MP's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By The Rt Hon Theresa May MP

This foreword from the then Prime Minister appeared in the 2018/19 Parliamentary Review.

British politics provides ample material for analysis in the pages of The Parliamentary Review. For Her Majesty’s Government, our task in the year ahead is clear: to achieve the best Brexit deal for Britain and to carry on our work to build a more prosperous and united country – one that truly works for everyone. 

The right Brexit deal will not be sufficient on its own to secure a more prosperous future for Britain. We also need to ensure that our economy is ready for what tomorrow will bring. Our Modern Industrial Strategy is our plan to do that. It means Government stepping up to secure the foundations of our productivity: providing an education system that delivers the skills our economy needs, improving school standards and transforming technical education; delivering infrastructure for growth; ensuring people have the homes they need in the places they want to live. It is all about taking action for the long-term that will pay dividends in the future.

But it also goes beyond that. Government, the private sector and academia working together as strategic partners achieve far more than we could separately. That is why we have set an ambitious goal of lifting UK public and private research and development investment to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027. It is why we are developing four Grand Challenges, the big drivers of social and economic change in the world today: harnessing artificial intelligence and the data revolution; leading in changes to the future of mobility; meeting the challenges of our ageing society; and driving ahead the revolution in clean growth. By focusing our efforts on making the most of these areas of enormous potential, we can develop new exports, grow new industries and create more good jobs in every part of our country.

Years of hard work and sacrifice from the British people have got our deficit down by over three quarters. We are building on this success by taking a balanced approach to public spending. We are continuing to deal with our debts, so that our economy can remain strong and we can protect people’s jobs, and at the same time we are investing in vital public services, like our NHS. We have set out plans to increase NHS funding annually by an average by 3.4 percent in real terms: that is £394 million a week more. In return, the NHS will produce a ten-year plan, led by doctors and nurses, to eliminate waste and improve patient care.

I believe that Britain can look to the future with confidence. We are leaving the EU and setting a new course for prosperity as a global trading nation. We have a Modern Industrial Strategy that is strengthening the foundations of our economy and helping us to seize the opportunities of the future. We are investing in the public services we all rely on and helping them to grow and improve. Building on our country’s great strengths – our world-class universities and researchers, our excellent services sector, our cutting edge manufacturers, our vibrant creative industries, our dedicated public servants – we can look towards a new decade that is ripe with possibility. The government I lead is doing all it can to make that brighter future a reality for everyone in our country. 

British politics provides ample material for analysis in the pages of The Parliamentary Review 
The Rt Hon Theresa May MP
Prime Minister