A North Yorkshire couple who ditched careers in IT and switched to selling fly-fishing supplies to established retailers and distributors around the world now employ 25 staff and sell to America, Canada, South Africa, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and across Europe.
Ann and Andy Kitchener oversee the Selby-based Semperfli, which now has a global market to provide more than 1,400 products including threads, ties, wires and chenilles to create flies to catch species including salmon, trout, sea bass, zander and tarpon.
The success of the company, which carved out a reputation in the sector after developing Nano-Silk, billed as the world’s strongest fly-tying thread, saw it receive a Queen’s Award for Enterprise for International Trade.
The Kitcheners have been aided by Heidi Green, a senior business advisor at Selby District Council, who helped the couple secure funding for new equipment and advice from consultants to develop the firm. That support has been even more important amid the dramatic rise in inflation that has seen Semperfli experience significant increases in running costs of up to 20 per cent.
Ann, the company’s chief exec and herself a keen angler, is one of the Government’s Northern Powerhouse export champions. She said: “We have managed to develop our business around the globe and we now supply to some of the leading fly-tiers in the world – but we wouldn’t have been able to do that without the support we have received from Heidi, who has been absolutely brilliant in providing that valuable insight we have needed.
“The launch of the new North Yorkshire Council is a really welcome development, as it will mean that businesses in the county will be able to access advice from one single organisation.
“It can be confusing for people to know where to turn, but the new council will still have the local knowledge and expertise that is currently available while looking towards a county-wide plan to drive forward business and the economy.
“We have had to contend with rising costs like all businesses have, and we have had to look at the way we operate to take into account increasing prices for shipping, energy and wages. Without the help and advice we have received, the situation would have been a great deal more challenging.”
While working alongside Selby District Council, Mr and Mrs Kitchener have identified organisations that have provided funding, including a five-figure grant through the University of York that helped purchase spooling and labelling machinery.
The expertise of management consultants has also been used to develop the business, which sells products that are environmentally-friendly to take into account the often sensitive natural habitats where the flies are used, while funding has also been secured from the Department for International Trade. The company now has a 90-strong team of ambassadors across the world including some of the biggest names in fly-fishing and fly-tying.
Andy Kitchener said: “One of the biggest challenges we faced when we were setting up was to find suitable premises, because there simply aren’t enough units for businesses locally.
“We ended up building the initial premises ourselves close to our home in Selby, but we soon outgrew that. With the growth of our company, we needed to find bigger premises and ultimately found our ideal new base making sure we could stay in the town.
“We have some hugely talented and experienced staff, and we didn’t want to lose them if we had decided to move elsewhere. The new premises are fit for purpose to help the business develop, and there is low-energy lighting and insulation and we are looking to install solar panels which will help keep running costs down as well as lessen the impact on the environment.
“We have developed a real reputation globally, which is of benefit to not just Selby, but also the economy in North Yorkshire and nationally. North Yorkshire is home to such a varied and diverse mix of businesses, and that is what makes the county so special. We are indebted to the help we have received, and to know that expertise will be available in the future is vital to ensure we can continue to grow the business.”