Newton Aycliffe-headquartered Harrison Flagpoles has been in business for 167 years.
Northern Insight spoke to managing director, Adrian Harrison, to discover the reasons for his family company’s continued success.
It is rare for a family-run business founded in 1854 to still be operating successfully nearly 170 years later, but that is exactly what Harrison Flagpoles has managed to achieve.
Thanks to a culture of tenacity and ingenuity, the company has evolved over six generations to become the UK’s leading independent manufacturer of flags and flagpoles.
Today, the business manufactures 15,000 flagpoles a year at its Newton Aycliffe facility and has firmly established itself as the UK’s leading flagpole authority. The company supplies and installs its products across the globe and has completed projects at iconic landmarks, including the Royal Albert Hall and Edinburgh Castle.
Adrian Harrison, who took over the reins of the business from his father more than 20 years ago, explained: “It is our heritage, and the ability of the business to adapt to changing times, that make me most proud of where we stand today. It was my great, great, great grandfather, Samuel Harrison, who founded Harrison Steeplejacks in 1854,
“The business earned early fame, and notoriety, not just because it was a perilous profession to undertake, but because Samuel’s son was the first man to ever scale Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square. He did so to decorate the monument in 1896 for the annual Trafalgar Day celebrations, recognising Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar over the French and Spanish fleet.”
The steeplejack profession remained the focus of the family business, then based in Sheffield, for the next three generations, with family members eventually launching their own off shoot, Harrison Brothers’ Steeplejacks in Darlington, shortly after World War Two.
Over the next fifty years, the business continued to expand, benefitting from the growth of the chemical and industrial plants in the north east of England.
The company eventually evolved to enter the flagpole business. Its expertise in scaling heights, instilled over years of operating in the steeplejack profession, was ideally suited to the growing demand for specialists capable of inspecting, repairing and replacing flagpoles.
Throughout the 1970s, the business sourced and imported flagpoles from Scandinavia and Canada to meet this demand, before taking the decision to begin manufacturing glassfibre flagpoles here in the UK in the 1980s.
Adrian continued: “When I took over the business, we focused in on the manufacture and installation of glassfibre, aluminium and stainless-steel flagpoles as the strategic direction for business.
“Concentrating our efforts on this allowed us to diversify our product range, move into new markets and provide custom, bespoke solutions to meet the needs of our clients, leading us to become the market leaders we are today.”
Harrison Flagpoles is now part of the wider Harrison Group and sits alongside Harrison EDS, which specialises in outdoor branding and signage, and Harrison Creative, which serves the outdoor events branding market.
The expertise the business has accrued over its 167-year existence has also enabled a new venture into manufacturing frangible aviation masts through sister company Pollite, offering a new avenue for further growth and job creation.
“To continue to thrive, we need to adapt to new challenges and foremost among these is protecting the environment,” said Adrian. “From a personal perspective, I feel a duty to think carefully about the impact of our operations and products on the environment.
“This mindset has led us to launching an eco-friendly range of branding products, including flags which are manufactured sustainably. We have also created the first upcycling scheme for flag materials and are preparing to launch a new collection and recycling service for our glassfibre flagpoles – helping our clients reduce their carbon footprints.”
There is no doubt that it is Harrison Flagpoles’ distinct culture of tenacity and ingenuity which has allowed the family business to thrive for nearly 170 years and this will underpin its future successes.
Adrian concluded: “We will continue to embrace change, seek out opportunities and deal with challenges whilst remaining committed to providing product expertise and manufacturing excellence from our Newton Aycliffe headquarters.”