With 70 years of experience, Percy Doughty & Co continues to grow in new and existing markets 

Founded in 1952, Percy Doughty is the UK’s largest wholesale supplier of high-quality fires, stoves, fireplaces, solid fuel spares, flue systems, and associated products to the heating industry. With over seven decades of expertise, the business is renowned for its innovative products, superior quality, and detailed craftsmanship. 

Despite the cost-of-living crisis taking hold across the UK, Percy Doughty experienced a record year in 2023, reporting revenue growth of more than one third when compared to the previous financial year, which took turnover to more than £23 million. We sit down with Managing Director, Andrew Mulligan, and Marketing Manager, Clair Plant, to discuss how the business is navigating the current market while preparing for further growth. Percy Doughty staff

“Back in 1952, the business started with just three employees in a tiny shop in Middleton, Manchester,” begins Andrew. “As most houses in the region relied on coal-fired heating appliances, the company grew by supplying local hardware merchants and councils, now known as local authorities, with solid fuel fires, as well as regular servicing and repairs. 

“In 1970, our current Chairman’s father, Ron Rickett Senior, purchased the business and it has been in the family ever since. While solid fuel remained a key area of focus, Ron recognized that to sustainably grow the business, it needed to diversify into fireplace manufacturing and distribution. The company subsequently grew at a rapid pace, making its first acquisition in 1990 with the purchase of Fires & Parts in Scotland, which expanded its distribution network into Scotland.  

Expanding export market 

“A series of acquisitions followed, but a significant factor came in 1994 when we partnered with Focus in China,” he continues. “We were previously supplied by foundries in the UK, but they simply couldn’t keep up with our demand, so we made the strategic decision to import from a Chinese factory, Focus, with whom we still maintain a longstanding relationship even today. 

“While many of our competitors buy an ‘off the shelf’ product from China and simply resell it in the UK market, we work in collaboration with the factory and our internal designers to create unique products that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Having worked together since 1994, we have a relationship of utmost respect and trust for one another, and we’re proud that the factory provides 750 jobs in the local area.” 

Turning to more recent events, Andrew modestly reflects: “Although 2023 was a record year for us, the market conditions were in our favor. Gas prices were on the rise and with the cost-of-living crisis impacting people across the UK, many people moved towards woodburning stoves, but as we sell gas and electric appliances, as well as wood burning stoves, we were strategically positioned to serve the entire market. When it comes to woodburning stoves, we’re a one-stop shop, selling stoves, beams, hearths, chambers, spares, flues and associated products. 

“Where our competitors struggled to keep up with demand, we were fortunate because we have multiple successful businesses under our umbrella and have the ability to invest heavily in stock; we carry around 11,000 stock items worth over £7 million. We were also able to mitigate the issues associated with long lead times from East Asia due to our distribution agreements with suppliers. On top of distributing in the UK, we recently partnered with a Dutch company to distribute our range of electric fires across 21 countries. Over the last two years, we’ve extended our export market to include Australia and New Zealand and will be announcing a distribution agreement in North America shortly.  

Cosy modernist fireplaceComprehensive customer service 

“It’s fair to say that export has been a huge factor in our growth, but we excel in other areas too,” he continues. “In particular, our customer service and technical support teams are leaders within our sector. We place a lot of emphasis on customer satisfaction and ensure that we maintain sufficient internal and external training that aligns with our high standards. We see our technical support team as an extension of our customer service team, as customer retention and an enjoyable customer experience are as important as technical acumen.” 

Clair adds: “Our technical helpline is manned during office hours and our customers know that they can call to ask questions, and one of our technical experts will be on hand to help, whether it’s a question regarding gas, electric, or woodburning appliances.”  

Staff satisfaction 

With a range of high-quality products, combined with superior levels of service, it comes as no surprise that Percy Doughty is experiencing tremendous success. However, even its leaders couldn’t have foreseen the impressive growth that has characterized the last couple of years. “Over the last few years, business has increased significantly, and we’ve expanded by around 70 percent,” Andrew reveals. 

“Before the pandemic hit, we were scheduled to expand our facilities, but these plans went on hold for a couple of years, along with those of the rest of the country. As you can imagine, we outgrew our existing site very quickly, so we decided to proceed with the expansion in October 2023. Phase one saw a large excavation project to reclaim our unused areas and extend our storage areas. We quickly recognized the opportunity to extend the entire length of the building, which we hadn’t initially intended, as it would be difficult to access the area if we decided to extend it further in the future. 

“We’re currently in phase two, constructing three buildings on the reclaimed land, which will comprise external storage units and updated manufacturing facilities. To date the investment is around £1 million, there will also be further investment in new state-of-the-art machinery such as CNC machinery and improved facilities for staff. 

“Although the business has expanded, it has remained within the same family since 1970; in fact, I’m the only non-family shareholder. We’ll always be proud of our roots, and forever humble, yet deeply proud of where we are today. It’s almost unheard of these days for people to spend so long in the same job role, but some of our employees have been with us for in excess of 30 years! It’s safe to say that we’re extremely proud of our staff retention and our focus on internal progression.”  

Product development 

Amid conversations and debates over the environmental credentials of woodburning stoves, our conversation with Andrew and Clair inevitably turns to sustainability. “We’re very proactive in terms of technological advancements especially in regards to environmental legislation and policy,” Clair states. “We were already achieving and far exceeding the strict emission limits set out in the Environment Act 2021, for example. While we design and develop most of our products in-house, our test laboratory facility allows us to put the product through a rigorous testing schedule, thus allowing us to make the necessary improvements to its efficiency before our products are sent to the notifying body for compliance testing in order for it to be placed on the market.” 

Andrew agrees: “This industry comes under a lot of scrutiny, particularly in the face of the heavily debated discussions revolving around the energy transition to hydrogen and other sustainable renewable fuels and the ever-increasing demand for environmentally friendly practices. Although all our products meet or in most cases exceed the set standards, we do not stand still. Instead, we are constantly working towards the next initiative, and when it comes to woodburning stoves, we are always striving to find new innovative ways in which we can actively reduce the emissions they produce as we continually improve on our existing commitment to reducing the effects of climate change. 

However, Clair has a simple solution that could have a real positive impact on the environmental aspect of the woodburning stove market. “It’s all about educating people,” she states. “Ensuring our products are ahead of our competitors is only one aspect, and it’s of little advantage if they’re being used incorrectly. Our technical team speak to many consumers on a daily basis giving sound, practical advice on how to use their stoves correctly, and of course always in line with the Ready to Burn campaign. Burning the wrong fuels can lead to higher emissions, so for our products to achieve their correct efficiency levels and optimum performance in terms of output, we must educate end-users about the appropriate methods and correct operational use. The Ready to Burn scheme helps consumers to easily identify solid fuels that are legal to burn at home in compliance with the new Air Quality Regulations.” 

As our conversation draws to a close, Andrew is keen to tell us about some of the company’s latest developments. “We’re currently focused on product development, with an aim to create products that are unique to us in terms of both functionality and aesthetics, and will ensure our sustainability in the years ahead,” he iterates. “We have a new range of electric fires launching later this year, which we feel will revolutionize the electric fire market with unparalleled features and aesthetics. We’ve also designed our first balanced flue gas appliance; although we’ve sold these for several years, this is the first of its kind that we’ve designed, developed, and manufactured ourselves. 

“Although we’re always excited for a new year of business ahead, 2024 will be another year of expansion for us,” Andrew concludes. “Beyond that, we see a lot of scope for growth in overseas markets, so we’re preparing to focus most of our attention on the export market in the coming years. We’re particularly excited about launching our new electric fires, for instance, as we feel that this unique product will provide a gateway for our business into North America.” 

It’s clear that Percy Doughty has successfully weathered highs and lows over the last seven decades and has seen the UK market change dramatically. Despite the industry showing no signs of easing the pressure on manufacturers and distributors, the company’s expertise and determination will continue to fuel its growth, hopefully towards another seven decades of success.