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Living Linen Interview LL2_R01/39 2 of 2


Sound Recording on Reel: Franklins and Fergusons. Library Transcript: Transcript. Summary: The Bauer family came from Wupetal a textile-producing region in Germany). Mr Bauer Sr joined narrow fabric company in Bedfordshire. Ralph Bauer studied textiles at Leicester and worked for Wesley & Co who specialised in hat ribbons. Franklins originated in Coventry and relocated to NI in the late 1950s - taking advantage of attractive packages designed to encourage new industry in the province. The firm was in major difficulty when Mr Bauer joined as Chief Executive in 1966. In 1975 he led a Management Buyout and assumed effective control of Franklins. Franklins buy in coloured yarn and weave badges and labels on jacquard looms. Each badge can contain up to 12 colours. Their major customers include organisations such as the Boy Scouts, sports clubs and the large oil companies. Mr Bauer has always kept abreast of technological advances and installed computerised design systems in 1979. This was followed with the introduction of electronic jacquards. Most of the yarns used today are Polyester and, depending upon their use, have flame retardant finishes. Mr Bauer worked for LEDU from 1976 - 1985. Mr Bauer had been asked to join the Board of Ferguson's by the IDB in 1983/4. He refused to do so unless he was permitted to acquire an interest in the firm. This request was denied. Within l 8 months Mr Bauer was invited back to Fergusons to discuss the sale of the firm. Mr Bauer had been looking to widen the base of Franklins and the purchase of Fergusons suited perfectly as it represented a diversification rather than an expansion of his business interests. The firm was bought entirely on existing assets - Franklins did not require the assistance of the banks! The real cost came two years later when the firms were amalgamated on the Franklins site. Fergusons had been running on outdated equipment and Mr Bauer was quick to introduce modern working practices. It was an advantage, coming from outside NI and not having any family links with the firm, when it came to altering production techniques. The trade unions were very co-operative; realising that Franklins were not so much cutting employment as saving jobs. It was not inevitable that the Ferguson site would close, but whenever the calculations (based on modern loom outputs) had been made it was obvious that the Scarva Rd site was large enough to accommodate the production capacity of both companies. Although Mr Bauer streamlined the Ferguson product line up, by upping the quality and concentrating on linen, he was able to weave on 8 computer aided rapiers what had taken Fergusons 115 shuttle looms to produce. Given the high speed of modern looms and the level of automation in the factory, yarn quality and consistency is of vital importance. The average lea used today is 44. For the Imperial Double Damask (of which they are the only manufacturers) this rises to 88s. When Franklins bought Fergusons they inherited a stake in Ballievey Bleach works. Although this share was soon sold, Ballievey continues to process Fergusons cloth. Fergusons can quote in a range of currencies, are prepared for the introduction of the Euro and have a web site. They deal principally with up-market hotels and shipping companies, supplying special orders to Buckingham palace and the White House. Fergusons produce a traditional product in a thoroughly modern way. Tradition is important in so far as it establishes a brand. The Ferguson name is respected in the market and with ongoing investment and attention to quality should remain so.