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Black’s of Brechin: Sixth-generation Angus family firm looks to the future

Bobby Black and wife Ann Marie run the family firm.
Bobby Black and wife Ann Marie run the family firm.

An Angus family firm is now less than two decades away from celebrating its 200th anniversary.

Black’s of Brechin has played a very prominent role in the town’s business community since starting out in 1837.

The company – officially known as William Black & Son – has undergone numerous changes over the years since it began trading as a timber merchant.

Today’s operations include a furniture store in Clerk Street, while Brechin Business Park is home to other parts of the operation involved in removals and storage, commercial vehicle maintenance services and coach hire.

The Brechin firm, which has 12 staff, is now run by the sixth generation of the Black family.

The managing director is Bobby Black, while his wife, Ann-Marie, is company secretary.

Making ‘significant sacrifices’ for the firm

Ann-Marie spoke about the secret of the firm’s long-running success.

She said: “There are very few long-established, family-owned firms left in our area.

“We would like to think that we have been able to keep the firm going mainly because of our reputation for providing a high-quality service and products.

Black’s of Brechin has diversified over the years.

“We haven’t been afraid to change and diversity when circumstances have required and where new opportunities have been presented.

“We have a brilliant team of staff – most of whom have been with us for many years. Our staff are very much part of the family.

“Bobby and I have been committed wholeheartedly to the running of the business and to ensuring success.

“Bobby in particular has made significant sacrifices over his life for the benefit of the company.”

Opportunities for Black’s of Brechin

Asked about the biggest opportunities ahead for Black’s, Ann-Marie said it was apparent that customer attitudes were changing.

People are, she said, now looking at the history of a company more before making their selections.

“This presents us with an opportunity to put more of a focus on our background story and the ways in which we run our business.”

Ann-Marie said in the early life of the company it had been hugely successful as a timber merchant.

This had allowed an expansion into cabinet-making following the First World War.

“The many joiners employed by the firm hand-crafted pieces including bedroom and living-room furniture and bespoke commissions for buildings, such as the library fittings and furniture at the Inglis Hall in Edzell. ┬áThere are still pieces in circulation.”

Ventures into house removals and house building followed.

Expanding the business

The late 1970s saw Black’s acquire two furniture shops in Brechin.

Around this time, the firm also expanded into other business areas in the town – a funeral director and Collie’s garage and petrol station.

Black’s of Brechin managing director Bobby Black.

But in the mid-1990s the house-building side was struggling and closed a few years later.

Bobby became a director at Black’s in 2001. He started in the early 1980s delivering the office mail around Brechin on his bike.

Thereafter, he helped out on removals, shop deliveries and the funeral side.

He worked in the building office quantity surveying in the mid-1990s, then headed up the removal side through tremendous expansion for several years into the early 2000s.

Ann-Marie said many changes had been needed to shore up the foundations of the Black’s business.

She added: “The first of the major changes was the sale of the funeral director to the Co-op.

“This allowed Bobby to invest in the fleet of removal vehicles. The removals and storage was Bobby’s main focus and passion. He worked hard to build up the brand and develop the offering.

“In the early 2000s, it became apparent that the removals and storage side had significantly outgrown its site on Clerk Street. A new, much-bigger site was required.

“The firm decided to sell off Collie’s garage and petrol station and one of the furniture shops, and built a bespoke office and storage complex at Brechin Business Park.”

A ‘very difficult 18 months’ for Black’s of Brechin

In 2004, Ann-Marie joined the firm to assist Bobby with the day-to-day running of the business.

About a decade ago, the couple decided to add a coach venture to the company’s portfolio, as well as a commercial mechanic business.

In more recent times, Ann-Marie said Covid-19 has had a massive impact on the company.

She added: “Without Government help in the way of furlough and rates decreases, the firm would have struggled much more.”

‘We are grateful to still be here’

So how is Black’s currently doing?

Ann-Marie said: “We are faring better than some others. We are grateful to still be here after a very difficult 18 months.

“Bobby and I continue to maintain the quality ethos. We hope that this shines through in all aspects of the business.

“Our focus is sustaining the business. Our three children may or may not take over. This is open for them to decide for themselves.

“We would rather be making a small profit and have a happy work-life balance and happy staff, as opposed to focusing on big profits and losing more of ourselves personally.”