A new digital lease of life for Hallwood Hats

In common with many businesses, Andrew Hall, an expert in woodturning and owner of Hallwood Hats, found his business’ survival threatened by the coronavirus lockdown. Forced to re-evaluate his business model, the County Durham-based entrepreneur says financial support and business advice from Digital Drive has given him and his business a new lease of life.

“If someone said that as a 59-year-old, I would be learning all this tech, I would never have believed them,” said Andrew. To get his plans to deliver international remote demonstrations (IRDs) off the ground, Andrew has invested in high-quality equipment to turn his woodturning workshop into a working studio.

With over 40 years’ experience in woodworking, when the lockdown started and put a stop to his small group workshops, Andrew thought his business journey was over.

“I had never given digital delivery a single thought until this”, said Andrew. “I thought it was all over and I should retire, but then I wondered about going online. It was either do it or do nothing.”

When speaking to Durham County Council to get advice about his business rates, the advisor suggested Andrew contact Digital Drive to explore the opportunity further and see if he was eligible for a grant towards his equipment.

“An advisor called the same day and the momentum started to build. I started to feel more positive and motivated – it cheered me right up”, Andrew said.

The Digital Drive grant of up to 40% of costs towards digital technology projects has enabled Andrew to invest in better quality equipment than he would otherwise have been able to afford. Together with the proceeds of selling unused woodworking equipment, Andrew has invested £6,000 into his new studio.

The new studio set-up includes a powerful laptop for processing the video files, four new cameras that allow learners to see different angles of the woodturning process, and a streaming deck that synchronises the audio with the picture. The deck will also allow Andrew to set macros to show safety tips, equipment lists and stockist information within the video.

This is especially important to Andrew because he hopes to break into the American market. “You need to do something different or better than everyone else”, Andrew explained.

“I’m well-known in the UK and Europe, having delivered 750 demos in the last 15 years”, he said. “I have always done two-camera views, which set me apart and won me more work in Europe. But this is a bit different to what’s already out there – this ability to show multiple-angle views will be the wow factor”.

With his 55-year-old and over target customer demographic, Andrew sees the investment in his business will be important for the long-term success of his business. “People won’t want to be doing in-person small workshops for some time”, he explained.

“The remote demonstrations will allow my customers to learn in the comfort of their own homes and because the videos are downloadable, they will be able to follow along in their own time and see it as many times as they want.”

Digital Drive County Durham’s Digital Advisor, Helen Watson, said: “It has been so rewarding supporting Andrew in his journey to adapt his business model to enable digital delivery. Andrew has demonstrated his true entrepreneurial nature, showing amazing resilience and the willingness to harness digital technologies to adapt to the changing needs of his customers. We’re excited to see Hallwood Hats enter a new chapter and wish Andrew every success.”

Sarah Slaven, Interim Managing Director at Business Durham, said: “It’s fantastic to have been able to support Hallwood Hats through Digital Drive County Durham. The programme was in place before the coronavirus crisis hit but it fitted the moment perfectly, with businesses like Andrew’s having to concentrate much more on what they can do online.

“We recently announced we have secured an additional £2.34m of funding for the programme, which will enable us to support more businesses from across the county to develop their digital capabilities in order to grow and remain competitive. This is particularly important as the economy moves into a recovery phase as it is vital we continue to support businesses to grow, thrive and create jobs and to build a stronger, more resilient economy.”

Andrew is planning to launch his online demonstrations in mid-September. In the meantime, he has been recording a second series for Record Power, following on from a successful first season of six 15-minute videos demonstrating the brand’s power tools.

Specialising in making wood hats, Corinthian helmets and musical instruments called Bluesbowls, Andrew also turns conventional bowls, natural edged vessels, platters boxes, and coloured sculptural work.

Digital Drive County Durham is a programme being delivered on behalf of Business Durham, the economic development arm for Durham County Council, to help small businesses make the most of digital technology. The project can help businesses access grant funding support of up to 40% towards the cost of:

  • Digital consultancy projects
  • Equipment that will help to improve your business through the use of digital technology
  • Website, app or software build
  • Broadband infrastructure and installation

In addition, the programme offers webinars and events in a range of digital topics with the support of advisors to make the most of the digital opportunities available to business.

Digital Drive County Durham is funded by the European Regional Development Fund, Business Durham, which works on behalf of Durham County Council and private investment and forms part of the wider Digital Durham initiative to transform broadband speeds for residents and businesses across the North East.