Inside the Royal Warrant holders – Blossom & Browne’s Sycamore
May 10th, 2016
In the first in a series, businesses holding coveted Royal Warrants reveal what they’ve learnt over the years. Daniel Browne is the Managing Director of Blossom & Browne’s Sycamore, a family-run dry cleaning and laundering firm established in 1888.
We have an eclectic client base
We work for blue-chip corporate clients such as Morgan Stanley. We have four retail shops around London, as well as an old-fashioned door-to-door laundry service for the great and good. We also work for some of London’s top hotels, theatres, football clubs, Wimbledon’s All-England Club, as well as fashion houses including Victoria Beckham and Versace.
We cherry pick the business at the top end of the market where we perceive there to be a need for what we do, and then we do it better than any of our rivals.
Some people say our name is poetic
Others say it renders them tongue-tied. Blossom & Browne was our original company, which acquired Sycamore, a slightly longer-established firm, so it was decided to keep all of the names. It’s a part of our heritage.
I never intended to join the family business
My family founded the Sunlight Laundry many, many years ago. So you could say my family’s been doing laundry for as long as anyone can remember.
I’m the fourth generation of my family working in the business. I arrived here as a rather petulant teenager who had deigned to work here to raise money for a holiday. After a while, I realised that I had begun to enjoy it. Then, as I got older and got my feet further and further under the table here, I got married, got responsibilities, and a career became more important.
I have four children, but although handing over the business is at the back of my mind, we’ve not discussed it. They’re still quite young, so there’s a long way to go yet. I tell them: “Go and do something you enjoy, because you’ll be working for a long time.”
Infighting can destroy a family business
My brother and I are quite close but we decided that we needed to have our own kingdoms. We have a number of family businesses, so I run this one and he runs another. There are a lot of family businesses that, by the time they get to the fourth or fifth generation, have dissolved, disintegrated or gone bust because there are too many family members at the top and therefore too much squabbling.
Our firm has always had to adapt to survive
When I started here, the bulk of our business was our door-to-door laundry service. Now, it’s only a minority, as we’ve increasingly turned towards commercial clients.
We’ve invested a lot of time and money into our customer service. We won’t wait for the phone to ring. We will ring our customers to ask if they’re happy with us.
I’ve learnt to sleep on a problem
I’m more reflective now. When I was young I was probably a little brash and impulsive. But that served me well back in the 1990s and early 2000s – that was the age in which we lived then. When I was setting up a string of shops in investment banks I had to be cocky. If they asked me could we clean 2000 shirts a day, I’d reply: “no problem.” But then Lehmans collapsed and the world changed. So did we – we couldn’t close those shops quickly enough.
My people skills now are much better than when I first started running this business
I regret how I behaved towards my own staff in the beginning. Back then I was quite ruthless and pushy. Perhaps that’s part of taking over a family business, as many people assume you got the job because you’re the boss’s son, so you try hard to assert yourself.
But I began to relax. And I also gradually brought in people who see things the same way as I do. In a family business, each generation brings in their own team of people whom they like and want to work with.
You need to stick your neck out
There have been times when I’ve taken on a new contract even though I haven’t known how we will do it. But I’ve learnt over the years that nothing is impossible. I would say I had courage in the early days, in that I was always looking to grab a new deal if it was offered to me. Now, I’m looking to find a solution to a client’s problem. You’ve got to believe in yourself, as well as the people around you. But to have that trust, you need to have the right people around you. Your company is only as good as the people you employ.
I’m like the conductor of an orchestra
Ours is a people business, in which you need to build relationships and trust, both with your workers and your clients. I see my role as trying to keep everyone working together in rhythm and in harmony. That won’t always happen, in which case you need to work out a solution.
Don’t be frightened of change
All too often people are worried by the consequences of change.
I’d tell anybody who takes over running a family business that you have to lead. Don’t follow what other people tell you to do. You need to challenge people, particularly those who have been working in the business for a long time. Although they might be very good, frankly they probably also want a quiet life. So you have to try to make them see the benefits of changing. Sometimes, however, you just need to tell them: “this is how I want you to do it from now on”.
We try to kill our customers with kindness
We send them little gifts each month, just so they know we’re always thinking about them.
We’ve been looking after the Royal Households for more than 25 years
When the Queen Mother was alive we were the only private company to have warrants from each of the royal households [the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, and the Prince of Wales].
It can be challenging being asked to clean items of historical importance. I was at Windsor just the other day and they showed me a tablecloth that was dated 1912. They asked me if we could clean it. Of course, I said yes. We’re not daunted by such requests. Our customer service is what sets us apart from the competition.
Daniel Browne is the Managing Director of family-run dry cleaning and laundering firm, Blossom & Browne’s Sycamore. (external link)