John White was the largest shoemaking company in Britain.
John White enters the shoe trade
John White (1885 – 1974) was born into a strict Calvinist Baptist family. His ancestors had been engaged in the shoemaking trade since the mid-eighteenth century.
White was trained as a clicker, one who cuts the uppers of shoes and boots from leather. He cut the uppers of 650,000 pairs of shoes and boots before 1918.
White went into business for himself from 1918. He bought a small workshop in Rushden, Northamptonshire using savings of £200. He acquired a shoe press in 1919, and by the end of the year he had three employees.
White acquired small local factories during a trade slump. His business produced 100,000 pairs of boots and shoes by 1921.
The John White brand is introduced
John White launched his own brand of shoes in 1930. He promoted the new brand with national advertising.
John White was the largest shoemaking business in Britain by 1935. The Rushden factories employed 1,200 people, and 1.75 million pairs of shoes were manufactured each year.
White acquired a factory at Higham Ferrers, Northamptonshire, from Owen Parker in 1936. Adjacent offices were constructed.
John White supplied both armies during the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939). Each side placed orders for 100,000 pairs of shoes.
White undercut his competitors by efficiently cutting costs and accepting low margins. He avoided trade union disruption by paying for piecework; payment for work completed, rather than basic wages.
White built a new factory on Lime Street, Rushden in 1939. It was designed by Albert Richardson (1880 -1964), a leading architect whose work included the Manchester Opera House.
John White had nine factories, a staff of nearly 2,000 and production of three million pairs of boots and shoes a year by 1941.
During the Second World War the business sold over eight million pairs of boots to the armed forces; one ninth of all footwear supplied to the troops.
White sells directly to retailers
Wholesalers were not marketing his product as effectively, so White began to sell directly to retailers after the Second World War. Profits mounted rapidly. The company employed 2,600 people by 1951.
John White was exporting 400,000 pairs of shoes a year to America by the 1950s, and the company accounted for 90 percent of British footwear exports. John White shoes were exported to 56 territories.
Expansion saw a factory opened in Corby, Northamptonshire in 1954.
White was a dynamic man, and had an obsession for efficiency. He invested heavily to ensure that he used the most modern shoe manufacturing equipment available.
John White retires; later history
John White retired in 1962. The company initially struggled in his absence, but had regained profitability by 1968.
George Ward of Leicester was acquired for £4 million in 1972. The name of the company was changed to Ward White Group.
G B Britton, a large footwear manufacturer, was acquired in 1973.
Ward White was the third largest footwear manufacturer in Britain in 1974. The company had 9,000 employees across nine countries.
The Ward White footwear business was subject to a management buyout, called UK Safety, in 1988.