Over the next few months we are going to look back over some of the key events, people and developments which have contributed to the company we are today.
No business can succeed without the support of its staff, customers and suppliers and we appreciate the important role each has to play. In this short foreword to our corporate history we would like to thank the many hundreds of people who have contributed, and are still contributing, to our success.
We hope you enjoy our journey down memory lane and thank you for your continued support.
The humble knitted dishcloth has hardly changed at all during the seventy years since the Ramon Knitting Company was formed. Like other everyday items which we take for granted, such as soap, candles and matches, the dishcloth still sells in its millions every year in spite of dramatically changing lifestyles and the introduction of new alternative products. The cloth manufacturing industry however has changed radically. In the 1950s and 1960s Ramon was only one among a sea of small dishcloth manufacturers. Today Ramon is among only a handful of businesses with manufacturing capabilities in an industry whose numbers have fallen substantially through closure, rationalisation and consolidation.
Ramon has remained consistently successful over nearly three quarters of a century because it has remained true to the principles set down by its founders, Hans Rappolt and Peter Simon, whose surnames gave the company its name. They and their successors have practised a strict control over costs, enabling a company producing a basic product in a mature market to generate cash and make profits. In turn this has allowed the company not only to expand but also to adopt the modern production, marketing and management techniques needed to keep it at the forefront of an increasingly competitive industry. All this has been achieved without sacrificing the intimate family atmosphere within the business which has been such a powerful attraction for the many members of staff who have spent most of their working lives with the firm.
Born in Germany, Peter Simon came to England with his family before the Second World War. As a young man, he had worked as a knitter in a German factory and took up a similar position in Leicester. He spent the war in the army, seeing service from the Normandy beaches to Berlin and leaving with the rank of captain at the age of 25. He returned to the knitting industry, eventually taking up a post as the manager of the United Red Turkey Co’s warp-knitting department in Scotland.
But he wanted to come back to Leicester with his young family and at the beginning of 1951 his mind began to turn to the idea of starting up his own business. His initial idea was to make jersey fabrics which were in very short supply. His brother-in-law, Hans Rappolt, was unhappy in his own job with the Midland Hosiery Mills and agreed to join Peter in his new venture. Both men soon came to the conclusion that their very limited capital would be insufficient. Yarn had to be bought for cash while the fashion trade, for which the goods were destined, was notorious for late payment. Even then the importance of a positive cash flow was at the forefront of their minds.
The two men did not abandon the idea & of producing dress fabrics but they decided that initially they needed a product which did not need a dyeing and finishing process and so consumed less of their working capital.
The founders of the business: (left to right) Peter & Lisa Simon and Hans & Lore Rappolt
Once the factory was up and running and had made sufficient profits, they would be able to revert to their original plan. The question was what were they going to produce in the meantime?
The answer to this question came from a visit to a warp-knitter in Long Eaton in Nottinghamshire who had been making dishcloths from bits and pieces of yarn left over from war-time production. There was no difficulty in selling the cloths to hardware and drapery wholesalers who snapped up any they could lay their hands on at a time when many goods were still rationed.
But just as manufactured goods were scarce, so were all the other items which a new business needed to get started such as decent premises, machinery, raw materials and skilled labour. Eventually the two warp knitting machines needed were bought from a manufacturer near Paris, a purchase made even more difficult by the strict controls on foreign exchange then in force. Other machinery and fittings were all bought second-hand. Premises to rent were impossible to find in Leicester so in June 1951 Peter and his brother-in-law had to buy a property at 3, Brighton Road, where they occupied the ground floor and let the first floor.
The Ramon Knitting Company was formed on 20 July 1951 with Hans and Lore Rappolt and Peter and Lisa Simon as directors. When production began in September 1951 Ramon’s staff consisted of the founders and their wives, one skilled warp-knitter, one overlocker and the redoubtable Mrs Bertha Jolly as a cutter, folder and general help. (Overlocking is the process of sewing the cut edges of knitted fabric with a double chain stitch which covers the raw edge to prevent fraying.) Peter Simon looked after production while Hans Rappolt concentrated on commercial operations. They shared packing, despatch, general labouring and sales. They took turns every other week to visit their wholesaler customers. All the firm’s clerical work was shared by their wives.
It was hard work getting the new venture off the ground and the firm recorded a loss of £2,671 on sales of £7,138 during its first year. The directors seriously considered closing the business there and then before they lost the rest of their meagre capital. Then along came the Korean War which gave the firm a huge boost when it was awarded a profitable contract to make camouflage netting for the Ministry of Supply. This was the beginning of a remarkable record of unbroken profits.