The catalogue would understandably be among the first things to spring to the mind of long-standing Canford customers. Sometimes known fondly as the ‘industry bible’ the Canford catalogue grew from a mere 24 pages in 1981 to a 2kg, 1500-page encyclopaedia of broadcast and pro audio must-have essentials by 2010.
Fast forward to July 2021 and Canford is celebrating its 45th anniversary. A ‘Sapphire’ achievement which ‘the big blue book’ played a critical part in helping the North East business to reach.
After graduating from Durham University with a degree in engineering, and several vacations spent in various BBC local radio stations, Iain Elliott was in at the start of commercial radio at Newcastle based Metro Radio in 1974. At the time, Metro was one of only six commercial radio stations in the UK
All pioneering stuff, an exciting time to be working in the industry.
There was no specialist source for the ‘bits and pieces’ of equipment a radio station would need, and therefore a market to explore and a business to create. Never for one moment did Iain anticipate that Canford would evolve into a £17m turnover business employing 140 people.
Talking to KitPlus in a recent video interview, Iain explained some of the early principals behind Canford:
We wouldn't be just a box shifter. Canford would contribute 'original thought and innovation' and we have remained that way to this day. About 40% of what we do is our own manufactured product.
Manufacturing has always been at the core of Canford. The very first product was born out of frustrations with badly labelled news cuts on NAB carts leading to on-air gaffes – so the printed NAB cartridge labels emerged. Other very early products were the On-Air Illuminated Signs and Acoustic Tables. At Canford’s 20th birthday in 1996 came the most complex products, the iconic NEAL range of interview recorders. The company continues to invest in all three of its production sites - fibre termination and the electronic assembly units in the Washington, Tyne and Wear headquarters, and the metalwork manufacturing located in Portland, Dorset.
In recent years Canford has enhanced its reputation as the supplier of choice for custom metalwork in the broadcast, live events and touring markets. Canford is architect-specified for audio and video connection points in many of the highest profile sports stadiums in both Europe and the Middle East, as well as theatres and conference facilities. This sustained growth supports continued investment in Canford’s manufacturing capabilities.
Speaking about the staff Iain said:
The team behind Canford is crucial. I have always had a belief in the talents of young people and right from the beginning we have employed straight from school or college. We still do that today through apprenticeships and similar schemes.
A recent count found that Canford has almost 2000 person years currently in the company. Iain explains:
That really helps the business as we have so much knowledge there and experience that is relevant. Our team is able to have sensible conversations with customers whenever they want something which isn’t quite off-the-shelf, or they’ve got a specialist application and need advice on how to do things. We’ve got the skills to design solutions.
During 2019 Canford was transferred to an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT), to be run for the long-term benefit of the present and future employees. The founding principles of the trust were of great importance to Iain:
The Trust Deed ensures that Canford cannot be touched for 125 years - it cannot be moved away from the North East or sold. This was so important to me because of the team and all the families we have in the business who have been with us for so long. They absolutely know how to run the company, retain the unique character, look after customers and how to continue developing it.Iain Elliott, Canford Founder and CEO