Alan Halsall: The surprising potential in old prams

Once an icon of British industry, pram maker Silver Cross fell foul of the changing times. So, Alan Halsall resurrected and modernised the business that hasn't stopped growing since.

Not every budding entrepreneur would jump on a failed old-fashioned pram business. But when Alan Halsall, 58, who held the licence to sell toy versions of the real thing, saw Silver Cross go bust in 2002, he spotted an opportunity.

"It had been a great business but it got into trouble because it didn't move with the times. Its competitors were making products in the Orient while it still had all its production in Britain." Halsall bought Silver Cross's intellectual property, branding and some plant equipment for £500,000. "It was a good price."

His first move was to update the product range and bring in a designer to work on a new pram. He also wanted new products made in China, where he had built up good manufacturing contacts through his experience in the toy industry. However, Halsall also used the equipment he had bought to set up a small production facility in Yorkshire to make Silver Cross's "heritage product", the Balmoral Pram.

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While the new products were being readied, Halsall dashed around visiting independent retailers to persuade them to keep faith in Silver Cross. "The business had experienced a volatile couple of years and many retailers were sceptical when they heard that it had been sold." Yet independent retailers were a key part of Halsall's strategy because "our customers wouldn't expect to find our products in a supermarket".

By 2003, Silver Cross's first new product, the Sleepover, hit the shops. "In the early years we didn't have the money for big advertising campaigns so we used word-of-mouth PR as it was more cost-effective." Sales received a boost when celebrities, such as Liverpudlian actress Jennifer Ellison, were spotted using it. With sales rising, Halsall felt confident enough to launch an advertising campaign in British baby magazines.

He also established a quality control office in China. "By 2006 we were producing so much that it made sense to have a full-time Chinese office."

As business picked up Halsall felt ready to risk a break into other markets. "Silver Cross was trusted by parents to make prams, so I thought they'd trust us to provide other parts of the nursery." The first new product range in 2008 was child car seats. The range was a success and was followed by a selection of gifts and nursery furniture. The diversification has paid off: non-wheeled products now account for 20% of overall sales.

Part of Halsall's ability to grow sales was down to remaining selective about retailers. "It is important to build up a brand carefully. Some shops are a good fit for our products, some aren't." Once Harrods and John Lewis agreed to stock his products, he knew he was on a roll.

In the last two years, Halsall has looked to build Silver Cross's international business. In 2010 he opened a sales office in Hong Kong. "Our team there manage relationships with our distributors in various countries throughout the region." Last year, sales hit £15m, but Halsall still has "some new deals in the pipeline", which should add a lot of growth. "I can't reveal what they are at the moment, but Silver Cross is definitely not sitting still."

James graduated from Keele University with a BA (Hons) in English literature and history, and has a NCTJ certificate in journalism.


After working as a freelance journalist in various Latin American countries, and a spell at ITV, James wrote for Television Business International and covered the European equity markets for the London bureau. 


James has travelled extensively in emerging markets, reporting for international energy magazines such as Oil and Gas Investor, and institutional publications such as the Commonwealth Business Environment Report. 


He is currently the managing editor of LatAm INVESTOR, the UK's only Latin American finance magazine.