Matt Hornblower, CEO Reflects on 30 Years’ Service

Matt Hornblower - Reflection - March 10 2022.

Matt Hornblower, our CEO has just clocked up a whopping 30 years’ service in the business. We catch up with Matt to get his perspectives on how the business has changed during his time with us and continues to transform to become match-fit for the future.

‘I was 19 years old when in the early hours of a Sunday morning I returned from a friend’s party. My mom was sitting with a cup of tea in the kitchen, she asked if I had seen a job advert for a Junior Draughtsman in the local paper on the previous Thursday. I had missed it and she had already thrown the paper in the bin! I immediately headed to retrieve it, found the advert, and – after catching up on some sleep – wrote my application. With the offer of a lift from my dad, I attempted to hand-deliver it to try and make up on the lost time.

It was late Sunday evening; the production facility was closed and in complete darkness. So, struggling to find an obvious letterbox, I had to resort to buying a stamp and using the local post box. A week or so later, I hadn’t heard anything, so I picked up the phone and spoke to Geoff Stokes, the Drawing Office Manager. He told me later that my application had been in his ‘Maybe’ pile due to my location. But thanks to me showing a bit of initiative, I got transferred over to the ‘Yes’ pile and ultimately landed the job. My start date was the 9th of March 1992.

Back then the business was a lot less high-tech. As a Junior Draughtsman, I worked at an old-fashioned drawing board with ink pens and a set square. However, most of my time was spent photocopying drawings and work-to lists then distributing them across the shopfloor for production. It was a great and quick way to meet most of the people in the business. Amazingly, eight of the work force that were here on the day I started, are still in the business today!

The place was exactly as you would imagine an “old-skool” factory to be. Big, noisy, lots of machines and lots of activity. Back in the day, the Dudley facility was well-known for making metal shelving, mainly for Safeway, Somerfield and The Co-op. That began to change when we started working for Dixons Stores Group (Dixons, Curry’s and PC World), and we diversified from standard metal shelving to bespoke display equipment.

Retail was changing. Out-of-town shopping was on the up – and Nuttall changed with it. As we grew the business with more focus on bespoke displays, my role grew and evolved too. I worked on-site, project managing installations and handovers to customers. I soon learned commercial skills and became an Account Manager, responsible for specific accounts. A few years later I became Operations Manager, responsible for multiple accounts and managing a number of Account Managers.

Next, I was hands-on in setting up our global supply chains. In 2007, to stay relevant and competitive, we needed to add low-cost options to our offer. So, with my bags packed, I was off on the first of many trips to China. I soon realised that I was calling upon all the skillsets I had gained over the years to ensure we chose the right partners, from reading drawings, understanding manufacturing and the quality needed; to negotiating the commercials and ensuring we could be competitive for our customers.

Having worked in China – a country I never thought I would visit – my next challenge was to go to the US. I applied the same skillsets, once again, to deliver rollouts for a number of UK brands across the States, using US supply partners and co-ordinating Far East supply, direct to the US.

I have also travelled to most of Europe in a similar role, so I have been lucky to globe-trot extensively thanks to the opportunities the business has provided over the years.

I recall that in my early days, most of our installations were geared up for Sundays – in line with the Sunday trading laws to minimise impact and act whilst stores were closed. These days we don’t get that luxury. Retailers want projects delivered with low or no disruption to trading, despite many being open 24/7. These days, the pressure is on for fast, overnight implementations. But being swift and organised, we’re in and out quickly and effectively. This has always been one of our core strengths – plus we live and breathe our customers’ challenges and that gives us an edge.

There’s no point denying that we had a couple of years’ of really tough trading in the run up to my appointment to the Nuttall CEO role in 2018. The High Street was changing faster than ever and we had struggled to adapt at the same pace. We had to make very difficult choices, change our operating model and significantly reduce our overheads, all while ensuring that we kept our agility, ability to react and the competitiveness that our customers need.

We were lucky to have great people in the team and also great customers who were loyal and supportive as we made the step-change to become the business we are today. We’ve changed our mindset and approach to look outward and evolve with the market. We’ve challenged ourselves to innovate and to refresh our thinking. But all the while, we’ve remained true to our core values that pull us together – like a tight knit family – for the journey we’re on.

We’re a genuinely close team. We’ve got shared purpose and goals, and now we’ve got a brand that’s been refreshed to face the market with confidence and commitment. In many ways we feel like a new company, but we’ve also managed to retain some of the legacy and magic that was there at the start and sets us apart.

Honestly, 30 years has flown by and I’m more excited for the future of Nuttall right now, than I’ve ever been before. Nuttall really has given me all I need for an amazing career, so it feels absolutely fitting that the strapline, ‘All you need’, is right at the heart of our promise to customers too.

As a final word, I’d also like to say a personal thank you to Alan Nuttall himself – for all the opportunities, loyalty and trust he’s shown to me over the last 30 years. With his support and working shoulder-to-shoulder with our sister brand Flexeserve has enabled me to play my part in building the business to the position of strength we enjoy today.’

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