In Focus: Matthew Barker

About Matthew Barker

Barker MD is Matthew Barker who joined the family business in 1990 and in 2000 bought the company from his father, re-branding to become Barker Group, which is now simply known as Barker, a specialist laundry and drycleaning business based in Dorset.

The Barker family has been involved in drycleaning for three generations. Matthew says: “We are dedicated and driven to building on and improving the skills and traditions that have been passed down through the family. We are incredibly proud of Barker for all that it has achieved and the respect that it has gained worldwide. It is steeped in history and has a heritage that dates back to 1861.” Barker might be a Dorset based business but it is managing to make a big impact across the sectors it serves in the UK and is fast establishing itself quite a formidable international reputation too. Now one of the largest domestic laundries in the UK, the family run high- quality fabric care and manufacturing business specialises in a range of products and services, from laundry to shirt making.

Under Matthew’s experienced and ambitious steer, the Barker brand has gone from strength to strength and now boasts Barker Laundry, Barker Collection and Barker Collars. Community has always been incredibly important to Matthew, who took it upon himself to set up MyTIME Young Carer’s Charity in 2014.

On his industry career …

Let’s face it, laundry and drycleaning is not the first thing that comes to mind to a child of any age when asked what they want to do when they grow up! Having grown up surrounded by it, my grandfather was a pioneer of the industry, my uncle and father were both drycleaners, it was the last thing I wanted to do.

Instead, the love of motorbikes and a knack of stringing words together, started me off as a trainee staff writer for a motorbike magazine then moving to a local freesheet newspaper. When that folded, and after a spell crewing yachts in the marine trade, the drive to enter business was too much and in 1998 I started my own advertising periodical – a success until interest rates went through the roof, recession hit and advertising dried up – so that had to end. But there was a glimmer of hope; my father needed a driver at the laundry to cover holidays and I needed the cash; the rest as they say…….

I started in the industry at 25. At 35, I bought the company from my parents, allowing them to retire. At 40, a fire and subsequent battle with insurers, nearly finished the business, and me! At 50+, we have fully recovered, built on all the lessons learnt, diversified into other areas and, despite a pandemic and slashed revenues, continue to thrive.

This is a tough industry, even in good times, but it is constantly evolving and full of opportunity. I believe Barker has moved well with the times.

I would love to see more cohesion and cooperation within the industry at all levels as well as a concentration on quality rather than quantity. It is the hospitality industry that is making the margin and they need to value laundries more.

On industry developments …

Fabric care is one of the oldest industries, it is just the way we deliver and present it that changes. Right now, we are experiencing fundamental change. Two decades of increasing disposable fashion, increasing high street property costs, and the continual march to undercut rivals with price. But what I see is a trend towards more expensive quality attire and a growth in the care market. I see a revolution on the high street where the old town centre will be a more residential hub with smarter apartments above artisans’ shops rather than department stores.

As with every aspect of this industry, it is all about people. If we are trying to attract customers who respect us and what we do, we need to be smarter, in thought and appearance. And we need to respect our customers, our staff and our suppliers. Of all the training that we provide to our staff, it is the ‘Care for our customer, colleague and ourselves’ piece, that I feel is the most important… that, and how not to iron your hand by concentrating!!

In our industry, personal laundry is the biggest growing segment. This is a great opportunity for retailers not already engaged. Service washes and fully finished laundry now account for over 50 per cent of our retail revenue. Of that, 20 per cent of retail revenue is from collection and delivery around the branches.

We have some 3,500 domestic delivery and collection laundry clients and cover Greater London and Central Southern England. We are extremely proud to hold a Royal Warrant and our clients include royalty, landed estates and many other notable clients. The pandemic has actually stimulated growth on this side of the business and referrals from our loyal clients have been strong. It has helped reinforce our understanding of the strength of our brand and how our outstanding customer service is valued.

On sustainability …

There was a time when everyone was concerned about the use of perc. This is barely an issue nowadays, and nothing when compared to the amount of plastic that is used to cover drycleaning and laundry. I am pleased that there is a growing awareness within the industry to address this and we are working hard to do our bit. Over the last three years we have actively reduced our use of single use plastic by 90 per cent. We have converted almost 95 per cent of our domestic laundry customers to long lasting laundry boxes which, whilst still plastic, have a 20-year life span.

In our drycleaning division we have removed polythene packaging in our branches, and we have introduced re-useable garment covers in all our stores and these are proving very popular with our customers, as well as looking extremely smart and professional and doing a great job of protecting clothing items.

Whilst it’s recognised that we shall never lose plastic, as it’s probably one of the most effective wrappers ever invented, the way in which we use it and handle it will make all the difference to the future of our planet. I am confident that the industry is doing its bit to clean up the world, but we could always look better. I have worked hard on our brand image, tone of voice and clean look and will continue to do so. I hate to see an unwashed delivery van. It is the same with our shops, why would you not have a clean shop with a clean look? We are in the business of clean!

On industry collaboration …

I cross both sides of the industry – laundry and drycleaning. Having said that, I am apart from most other laundries, concentrating almost wholly on domestic laundry rather than industrial. Drycleaners are now without an association at all, but I am not surprised. The majority of independent drycleaners have operated autonomously for years, unwilling, it seems, to learn and develop.

Laundries are highly competitive and thrive in an environment of consolidation and rebirth. Billy Butlin once said, “If I get enough laundries to quote, they’ll be paying me to do my laundry”, nothing has changed in the last 60 years.

I would love to see more cohesion and cooperation within the industry at all levels as well as a concentration on quality rather than quantity. It is the hospitality industry that is making the margin and they need to value laundries more. With drycleaners, it will be the fittest that survive, the ones that are charging correctly, delivering quality from smart locations.

About Matthew Barker

Barker MD is Matthew Barker who joined the family business in 1990 and in 2000 bought the company from his father, re-branding to become Barker Group, which is now simply known as Barker, a specialist laundry and drycleaning business based in Dorset.

The Barker family has been involved in drycleaning for three generations. Matthew says: “We are dedicated and driven to building on and improving the skills and traditions that have been passed down through the family. We are incredibly proud of Barker for all that it has achieved and the respect that it has gained worldwide. It is steeped in history and has a heritage that dates back to 1861.” Barker might be a Dorset based business but it is managing to make a big impact across the sectors it serves in the UK and is fast establishing itself quite a formidable international reputation too. Now one of the largest domestic laundries in the UK, the family run high- quality fabric care and manufacturing business specialises in a range of products and services, from laundry to shirt making.

Under Matthew’s experienced and ambitious steer, the Barker brand has gone from strength to strength and now boasts Barker Laundry, Barker Collection and Barker Collars. Community has always been incredibly important to Matthew, who took it upon himself to set up MyTIME Young Carer’s Charity in 2014.

On his industry career …

Let’s face it, laundry and drycleaning is not the first thing that comes to mind to a child of any age when asked what they want to do when they grow up! Having grown up surrounded by it, my grandfather was a pioneer of the industry, my uncle and father were both drycleaners, it was the last thing I wanted to do.

Instead, the love of motorbikes and a knack of stringing words together, started me off as a trainee staff writer for a motorbike magazine then moving to a local freesheet newspaper. When that folded, and after a spell crewing yachts in the marine trade, the drive to enter business was too much and in 1998 I started my own advertising periodical – a success until interest rates went through the roof, recession hit and advertising dried up – so that had to end. But there was a glimmer of hope; my father needed a driver at the laundry to cover holidays and I needed the cash; the rest as they say…….

I started in the industry at 25. At 35, I bought the company from my parents, allowing them to retire. At 40, a fire and subsequent battle with insurers, nearly finished the business, and me! At 50+, we have fully recovered, built on all the lessons learnt, diversified into other areas and, despite a pandemic and slashed revenues, continue to thrive.

This is a tough industry, even in good times, but it is constantly evolving and full of opportunity. I believe Barker has moved well with the times.

I would love to see more cohesion and cooperation within the industry at all levels as well as a concentration on quality rather than quantity. It is the hospitality industry that is making the margin and they need to value laundries more.

On industry developments …

Fabric care is one of the oldest industries, it is just the way we deliver and present it that changes. Right now, we are experiencing fundamental change. Two decades of increasing disposable fashion, increasing high street property costs, and the continual march to undercut rivals with price. But what I see is a trend towards more expensive quality attire and a growth in the care market. I see a revolution on the high street where the old town centre will be a more residential hub with smarter apartments above artisans’ shops rather than department stores.

As with every aspect of this industry, it is all about people. If we are trying to attract customers who respect us and what we do, we need to be smarter, in thought and appearance. And we need to respect our customers, our staff and our suppliers. Of all the training that we provide to our staff, it is the ‘Care for our customer, colleague and ourselves’ piece, that I feel is the most important… that, and how not to iron your hand by concentrating!!

In our industry, personal laundry is the biggest growing segment. This is a great opportunity for retailers not already engaged. Service washes and fully finished laundry now account for over 50 per cent of our retail revenue. Of that, 20 per cent of retail revenue is from collection and delivery around the branches.

We have some 3,500 domestic delivery and collection laundry clients and cover Greater London and Central Southern England. We are extremely proud to hold a Royal Warrant and our clients include royalty, landed estates and many other notable clients. The pandemic has actually stimulated growth on this side of the business and referrals from our loyal clients have been strong. It has helped reinforce our understanding of the strength of our brand and how our outstanding customer service is valued.

On sustainability …

There was a time when everyone was concerned about the use of perc. This is barely an issue nowadays, and nothing when compared to the amount of plastic that is used to cover drycleaning and laundry. I am pleased that there is a growing awareness within the industry to address this and we are working hard to do our bit. Over the last three years we have actively reduced our use of single use plastic by 90 per cent. We have converted almost 95 per cent of our domestic laundry customers to long lasting laundry boxes which, whilst still plastic, have a 20-year life span.

In our drycleaning division we have removed polythene packaging in our branches, and we have introduced re-useable garment covers in all our stores and these are proving very popular with our customers, as well as looking extremely smart and professional and doing a great job of protecting clothing items.

Whilst it’s recognised that we shall never lose plastic, as it’s probably one of the most effective wrappers ever invented, the way in which we use it and handle it will make all the difference to the future of our planet. I am confident that the industry is doing its bit to clean up the world, but we could always look better. I have worked hard on our brand image, tone of voice and clean look and will continue to do so. I hate to see an unwashed delivery van. It is the same with our shops, why would you not have a clean shop with a clean look? We are in the business of clean!

On industry collaboration …

I cross both sides of the industry – laundry and drycleaning. Having said that, I am apart from most other laundries, concentrating almost wholly on domestic laundry rather than industrial. Drycleaners are now without an association at all, but I am not surprised. The majority of independent drycleaners have operated autonomously for years, unwilling, it seems, to learn and develop.

Laundries are highly competitive and thrive in an environment of consolidation and rebirth. Billy Butlin once said, “If I get enough laundries to quote, they’ll be paying me to do my laundry”, nothing has changed in the last 60 years.

I would love to see more cohesion and cooperation within the industry at all levels as well as a concentration on quality rather than quantity. It is the hospitality industry that is making the margin and they need to value laundries more. With drycleaners, it will be the fittest that survive, the ones that are charging correctly, delivering quality from smart locations.

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