AFTER selling her kitchenware business to a global giant, Valda Goodfellow was soon hungry for more. Having negotiated a substantial sum for the company she owned with her husband Paul, and seen it through the handover period, she was keen to get started on a new venture.
“I couldn’t retire, it didn’t feel like the end of the story,” said Goodfellow, 55. This time, though, she and her husband decided to concentrate on the top end of the market.
They used £400,000 from the sale to launch Goodfellow & Goodfellow, a luxury tableware and kitchen equipment supplier, in Peterlee, Co Durham, in 2012. They now also have a showroom in central London and 20 staff. Their big-name corporate clients include Gordon Ramsay, the Ritz and Royal Ascot.
Last year the company reported sales of £3.1m and profits of £290,000. Sales are expected to pass £3.5m this year.
Goodfellow grew up in Bishop Auckland, Co Durham, the second youngest of five children. Her mother was a housewife and her Latvian father was unable to work because of injuries suffered while he was held as a prisoner of war at nearby Windlestone Hall.
“We were very poor but it made me determined from a young age to make something of myself,” she said. “I wasn’t academically brilliant but I worked hard.” Her efforts gained her a place at King James I Grammar School and later at Leeds University, where she planned to study industrial psychology.
Within 24 hours of arriving, however, Goodfellow decided to quit. “I instinctively knew it wasn’t for me,” she said. “I wanted to work in manufacturing. I loved the idea that you could make something that wasn’t there before.”
She set herself the target of becoming the managing director of a manufacturing business by the age of 35, and talked her way into a job as a trainee production controller at the television manufacturer Rediffusion. It was a baptism of fire: just 18, she found the almost entirely female workforce fiercely intimidating.
“I spent most of the first year in tears but it was the best education. I quickly realised it was sink or swim,” she said. At the end of the year she was sent on a management training course, and then set about introducing a computer system to improve efficiency.
“There wasn’t a computer in sight when I started. Everything was done by hand,” Goodfellow said. “They took a real gamble on me but the system was a great success.”
After some years Goodfellow took a technical position at MTM Chemicals, an offshoot of ICI. She resigned in 1990 to work as a freelance consultant and later as an adviser with Business Link, supporting struggling companies on Teesside.
In 1995 she was headhunted by one of her clients, sausage manufacturer Mr Laz–enby’s, which was looking for an operations manager. “Running my first factory was daunting,” said Goodfellow. “But on the first day I got kitted out in wellies, hair net and hard hat and told the 100 staff on the factory floor that if they didn’t screw me, I wouldn’t screw them.”
Within five months she had returned the business to profitability and was rewarded with the managing director’s job — shortly after her 36th birthday. She then faced the challenge of steering the company through the crisis caused by CJD, the brain condition linked to eating beef.
Mr Lazenby’s produced pork sausages. “The industry went into meltdown, but I felt we needed to lead the way,” she said. “If people weren’t eating beef, their next choice would be pork.” To boost business, she fired off a fax to supermarket buyers titled “Do you practise safe sex?”, which emphasised the beef-free credentials of Mr Lazenby’s products.
The company was bought by a rival manufacturer in 1998 and Goodfellow returned to consultancy, where she met her husband. Paul’s business, Continental Chef Supplies (CCS), was struggling. The former chef was selling kitchen equipment to hotels and restaurants. Seeing its potential, Goodfellow agreed to join the company in return for a 50% share.
One of the first challenges they faced together came in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Many of the American-owned hotels in London which they supplied simply stopped spending. To weather the storm they focused on growing their customer base outside the capital, while Goodfellow put her house up as security to refinance the business.
By 2008, CCS had sales of £6.8m and it attracted a buyout offer from the global catering supplies company Bunzl.
The couple saw the business through the handover years and began making plans to re-enter the industry, having kept a keen eye on changing trends, particularly the rise of social media. “Chefs were communicating through Twitter like never before,” said Goodfellow.
They decided to woo the catering elite, and so sourced top brands from across Europe. They also bought a sizeable unit in Peterlee, as they believed they could achieve faster growth if they had a large capacity from the outset. “It sounded like lunacy, especially when we first saw this huge empty space, but in reality it was the right thing to do,” she said.
Sales in the first year were nearly £1m, and the company went into profit six months later. The couple own 100% of the business, and are focused on maintaining growth and increasing the number of British-made products they offer.
Goodfellow, who lives in Windlestone, advises start-up bosses to trust their instincts. “At the start of my career I was told that women shouldn’t start their own businesses,” she said. “Believe in yourself. If you think it’s right, try to make it right.”