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 Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng.

Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng

This year’s Parliamentary Review reflects on a tumultuous and extraordinary year, globally and nationally. As well as being an MP, I am a keen student of history, and I am conscious that 2020 would mark the end of an era. It will be remembered as the year in which we concluded Brexit negotiations and finally left the European Union. Above all, it will be remembered as the year of Covid-19.

In our fight against the pandemic, I am delighted that our vaccination programme is beginning to turn the tide – and I pay tribute to the British businesses, scientists and all those who have helped us to achieve this. But the virus has dealt enormous damage, and we now have a duty to rebuild our economy.

We must ensure that businesses are protected. We have made more than £350 billion available to that end, with grants, business rates relief and our furlough scheme supporting more than 11 million people and jobs in every corner of the country, maintaining livelihoods while easing the pressure on employers. The next step is to work with business to build back better and greener, putting the net zero carbon challenge at the heart of our recovery. This is a complex undertaking, but one which I hope will be recognised as a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Through the prime minister’s ten point plan for a green industrial revolution, we can level up every region of the UK, supporting 250,000 green jobs while we accelerate our progress towards net zero carbon emissions.

With our commitment to raise R&D spending to 2.4% of GDP and the creation of the Advanced Research & Invention Agency, we are empowering our fantastic researchers to take on groundbreaking research, delivering funding with flexibility and speed. With this approach, innovators will be able to work with our traditional industrial heartlands to explore new technologies, and design and manufacture the products on which the future will be built – ready for export around the globe.

And I believe trade will flourish. We are a leading nation in the fight against climate change. As the host of COP26 this year, we have an incredible opportunity to market our low-carbon products and expertise. Our departure from the EU gives us the chance to be a champion of truly global free trade; we have already signed trade deals with more than 60 countries around the world.

As we turn the page and leave 2020 behind, I am excited about the new chapter which Britain is now writing for itself, and for the opportunities which lie ahead of us.
Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng
Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy