Keeping it in the family

Cooplands (Doncaster) Ltd has found success in staying close to its roots

Cooplands (Doncaster) Ltd is a company that began in Doncaster, and has thrived through a combination of establishing links with local suppliers, and opening stores within a close radius of its main factory. Cooplands remains one of the oldest established family-run bakers in the country, being first founded in 1932, at 33, Hallgate in Doncaster town centre. It was opened by Mrs Alice Jenkinson, and initially sold homemade cakes and chocolate. Word of mouth spread, and soon Alice had to employ a full time baker to cope with demands for her products. With this demand established, the shop expanded its range, starting an ethos that would progress throughout the history of the company.

Nowadays, Cooplands still operates a factory in Doncaster, but has also expanded to have 70 shops in the surrounding regions. These are based in Yorkshire, North Lincolnshire, North Nottinghamshire, and Humberside, with the furthest store being located in Newark. Managing director David Jenkinson explains his role in the company: “I am actually the son of the founder of Cooplands. Coming out of the army in 1948, I initially came to help out at the business – and I’m still helping out! I started out by ordering goods and supplies into the company; I didn’t have any training in the baking side of the business. I became managing director in 1954, and after 50 years at the helm, I can say that the company has become a lot larger, and the operation of the business has become increasingly technical.”

The company expanded the range of products it sold in the 1980s to include cooked meats, a delicatessen line and an in-store butchery, as well as the bakery line. Following the competition and new trading environment provided by the rise of supermarkets, the 1990s saw Cooplands re-focus upon its bakery line. The original shop was closed as Doncaster town centre was restructured, and the company turned it into The Hallcross Public House, which had its own brewery. Cooplands also invested in the Turnpike pub at Bawtry, as well as the 45 bedroomed Lion Hotel in Worksop. Facing competition from companies like Gregg’s and Baker’s Oven has meant that Cooplands has concentrated on maintaining its high levels of service.

Today, the company is focusing on the development of its website which caters for made-to-order celebration cakes. David outlines the company’s hopes: “I would like to see steady, careful expansion in the future. We would like to maintain the regional basis of the company, but also look into the possibility of opening up new shops. We run a successful delivery service that is very efficient, a service that begins at 2.30am every day, and ends around 10am. All the shops are in a relatively close proximity to each other, easing the delivery system.”

In regards to opening new stores, David continues: “Operating regionally as this company does, there is always going to be a saturation point in regards to how many new stores the company can open, and it is approaching that. In the near future, I can see a possible five to ten per cent increase in stores without increasing the amount of regions the company operates in.”

The emphasis of Cooplands is to maintain the product service that has continued over the past decades, which has established the company’s traditional, family-run image. Alongside this image is the reliance upon local suppliers in the making of its products, as David explains: “Some of Cooplands’ suppliers have been working with the company since 1932. The business has formed a comfortable relationship with some suppliers, which is important and shows reliability. Wherever we can, Cooplands buys regional produce – however, that isn’t always possible, so occasionally it will have to import supplies from other regions and countries. Every so often, the company has to go abroad to buy special items, like chocolate from Belgium.” Cooplands also believes in only dealing with honest suppliers which remain upfront about the prices of their products and delivery costs: “The company relies on their honesty, meaning that it only deals with suppliers that keep their word and don’t add on hidden charges. Those suppliers that Cooplands has been associated with for longest have been upfront about their charges.”

The family-run environment of the factory is something that Cooplands prides itself upon, as David comments: “I would say the key to our success has been the freshness of our products, coupled with the reliability of our delivery service. Having the personal touch of being family run is also a key part of our business. Primarily, the company bakes bread and cakes, but it also has a meat department, which cures ham and bacon, as well as a pasta production facility – resources a normal bakery wouldn’t have. Cooplands employs almost 800 people, and every morning I like to personally tour the factory, and chat with the employees – I enjoy getting along and joking with everyone, it encourages the family feel of the environment. It is vitally important to maintain this close-knit relationship between management and workers, to make them feel like they belong.” It is not uncommon for some employees to have worked for Cooplands for 35 years or more. David is very keen to inculcate this ethos throughout the running of the company, and his hope for the future is focused on one goal: continuity.

Having worked at Cooplands for over 50 years, David is devoted to keeping the same working routine: “I’ll be 78 years oldthis year, so I work shorter days. I start  at 7.30am and finish around midday, unless there is an emergency, and then I stay on longer.” The company has come a significant distance since Mrs Jenkinson opened the baker’s shop in 1932, but Coopland’s spirit has remained the same: using the same local, honest suppliers; focusing on producing the same quality products that the public enjoy; and guaranteeing delivery of products on time.