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Masons Moving Group – four generations of success

Dec 14, 2017
There are very few family businesses that survive into a fourth generation; Masons Moving is one of them. Deputy Editor David Jordan travelled to Barry in South Wales to find out how.



In 1905 - the same year Cardiff was first proclaimed a city by King Edward VII - Sidney Mason started a business selling second-hand furniture in the nearby town of Barry. As Sidney made his deliveries by horse-drawn cart to the community in, and around Barry, he could not have dreamed that 112 years later the business would still be thriving and still be under the control of the Mason family. 

As I drove onto Priority Enterprise Park industrial estate in Barry, Masons Moving Group Ltd, as the business is now called, was not hard to find. Either side of the road the company name was emblazoned across the large warehouses used to house Masons’ moving and self storage operations. Things had clearly moved on since Sidney’s day. 

I was met in reception by Managing Director Gordon Mason who now runs the company with his two brothers, Brett and Richard.  “It’s quite an empire you have here,” I said as I shook his hand. “Yes, but it’s taken us over 100 years to build it,” said Gordon with a smile.  In the boardroom overlooking the storage warehouses, I was introduced to Sarah Mason, Gordon’s sister, who handles the firm’s marketing campaigns and websites. Over the next hour-and-a-half they told me their story.     

Gordon told me that his father Eric Mason worked in the business with his grandfather Sidney until the Second World War when he joined the RAF and trained as a fighter pilot, later serving in Burma.  After being de-mobbed he came back to Wales and took over the running of the family business. 

Right from the start Sidney had carried out removals alongside the furniture business. This was to prove vital for the company’s future because in 1958 the second-hand furniture business ‘fell off a cliff’. “Hire Purchase came on stream and that spelt the end for the second-hand business,” said Gordon.  “Dad decided to expand the removals side of the company and bought an ex-army Bedford Pantechnicon, the first Masons removal van.  My mother Esme worked in the office and there’s a picture of her holding me as a baby with the Bedford parked behind us.”

 

Esme remained with the company until she retired after 53 years’ service. “Mum was, I suppose, a typical 1950s wife,” said Sarah. “She seldom complained and was happy to support her husband and later Gordon and the boys, to make the business a success.  We all owe her a great deal.” 

In the 1950s self storage as we know it today had not been invented, but Eric was actually providing self storage for the people of Barry long before the idea crossed the Atlantic. “We had rooms and lock-ups that people could store things in and access them more or less whenever they wanted to,” said Gordon. “We didn’t call it self storage, but to all intents and purposes that’s what it was.”  

The moving business prospered domestically and there were also contracts with the military for storage of personal effects, alongside work from the government to ship emigrants to Australia and New Zealand during the era of the ‘Ten Pound Poms’. 

Eric died in 1983 at the age of 63 from a rare tropical disease he’d contracted while in Burma that had laid dormant in his system for all those years. At that time the business was at a low ebb, partly because of the depressed trading conditions and also Eric’s failure to invest in containerised storage, which was being widely adopted at that time. Gordon was 23 years old and having taken the reins of the company from his father, followed by his two brothers, decided to take a chance and raise the capital needed to secure the company’s future. 

At that time the brothers worked weekends and holidays to build up the commercial moving side of the business, especially with Cardiff and Vale NHS. Masons is still their main supplier 30 years on. 



“We’d been trying to convince Dad that we needed to get into containerised storage for years, but he didn’t have the money to do it and refused to borrow from the bank; people of his generation tended to be like that, if you couldn’t afford it you didn’t do it,” said Gordon. “It took us five years to build the business up and save enough money to buy the land and put a deposit down to build a new office and warehouse.” 

In 1989 Masons built and opened its 500-container warehouse - the first in the Vale of Glamorgan - and in 1993 it opened the first self storage facility in the area on the opposite side of the road in Priority Enterprise Park.  

In 2015 the Group added another 170 rooms to the original 70-room self storage complex and by the end of 2017 another 220 will be added. Some of the space originally used for containerised storage will be converted into self storage, reflecting changes in demand and optimising the return on available space. 

Despite the Group’s diversification, removals is still at the core of the business, both within the UK and internationally.  An important landmark came in 2002 when the company became a Bishop’s Move franchisee.  “We’d been a Bishop’s agent for many years, but becoming a franchisee opened up the European market for us and gave us lots of opportunities,” said Gordon.  “We also do corporate work on their behalf and handle military moves through the Agility contract.”  About forty people are employed on the removals side of the business, with Brett Mason managing the international moves and Richard the UK. 

Brett’s son Warren currently works in the removals office and Richard’s son Daniel is on the vans: it really is a family business.   

Next door to the Masons’ warehouses is another family enterprise, The Business Centre (Cardiff) Ltd, now in its tenth year of operation.  The centre offers serviced offices, meeting rooms, conference facilities and even has its own gym. “At the time there was nothing outside the city like it, so when the building became available we decided to invest in its conversion,” said Gordon.  The centre is run by Gordon’s son James and daughter Emma. 

The Masons are clearly entrepreneurs, although Gordon and the rest of the family are far too modest to admit it.  For a family business to survive and prosper for four generations is a remarkable achievement and one that Sidney would doubtless have been proud. 

Photos:  Top: Gordon Mason and his sister Sarah; Middle (Left to right) Diane Leatham, Move Coordinator, Lucy Dodgson, Accounts, Brothers Brett, Gordon and Richard Mason.


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