John Cotton Group was founded in 1933 as a supplier of processed jute to carpet underlay makers. It has since become the UK’s largest supplier of pillows and duvets to clients such as Marks & Spencer and John Lewis. The family-run company moved into the manufacture of pillows and quilts in 1980. It has worked closely with unions and the 700 staff at its three UK factories to ensure high productivity. Profits at the Yorkshire-based company have grown by 55% pa, from £1.7m in 1996 to £6.4m in 1999. Turnover rose 12% pa in the same period to reach £56.1m last year. Chairman and managing director John Cotton attributes the profit growth to a focus on research and development and the £2-3m invested annually in new equipment to ensure that productivity remains high. He says that his main business challenge is keeping his client base intact during the current wave of European industrial mergers, which can lead to the overnight disappearance of key retail clients.
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