A work bench and hand tools maker based in the county for nearly 50 years has given all its staff redundancy notices after a downturn in fortunes.
Emmerich (Berlon) Ltd, which trades under the brand name Emir, told its 13 staff they face an uncertain future as it undergoes a financial restructure.
The company makes all its wooden hand-crafted products from its factory in Ashford, where it has been based since 1966, but has suffered as schools and colleges have turned to different suppliers.
Owner director Samantha Emmerich, who is the third generation of her family to run the firm, said the changes in demand mean less manufacturing space is required and has “altered the balance of skills needed in our workforce”.
She has been looking to sell a large part of the site on the Kingsnorth Industrial Estate for several months – but still hopes to retain a large number of staff when the restructure has been finalised.
Ms Emmerich said: “After discussions with employees and noting their concerns about the financial implications for them of short-time working, the decision was made to issue redundancy notices to give employees the opportunity to plan their future.
“The employees have been made aware of our ongoing efforts to secure the future of their jobs and have their redundancy withdrawn, as our marketing strategy and manufacturing is still in progress along with the restructuring of the business and its premises.”
Emmerich (Berlon) Ltd was set up in Bermondsey, south London, by Ms Emmerich’s grandfather Friedrich Wilhelm Emmerich in 1932 and was an off-shoot of the family’s German business.
Its long list of clients include London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and the Emanuel fashion house – designer of Princess Diana’s wedding dress.
Only in June last year, it revealed a dramatic overhaul of its premises to “move into the future”.
Ms Emmerich wants to take the company in a new direction, making benches for restoration workshops in museums and cutting tables for fashion designers amid declining demand from schools.
She said: “The education market, for a long time the core demand for our work furniture, has transformed.
“Budgetary constraints and the dominance of IT skills in design and technology departments favour lighter-weight imported benches and tables to furnish their classrooms.
“Perhaps Emir is a victim of its own excellence, and of today’s throwaway culture: if we were to build redundancy into our work furniture, then it would need replacing after a few years like many of our competitors’.”
She added: “My concern for both the company and its employees is at the heart of the current restructuring process. I intend to be the proud owner of the Emir brand and my family business for many years to come.”