Protrade celebrates 50 years in business

Protrade, the Derby-based company, has celebrated hitting 50 years in business.

Protrade, which has had a hand in the development of the original Eagle Centre, Royal Derby Hospital, and Pride Park Stadium - the latter in which every seat in the stadium was anchored down by Protrade anchor bolts - has grown to become one of the UK’s leading suppliers of premium power tools and accessories.

The business has opened five depots across the East Midlands and has grown to a head count of over 60 people. Protrade operates under the DIPT Group umbrella, which also incorporates the specialist Metal Fabrication Supplies division, and has a committed board of directors with over 170 years of collective service to the group.

Founded in the garage of their family’s Draycott home by Rob and Isobel Sanders in 1973, when they were in their twenties, Protrade is now being run by Craig Sanders and Des Duddy, who are joint managing directors, but the third generation of the Sanders family has also recently joined the company as it progresses into the future.

Looking back, Rob Sanders, who’s 78 years old and remains a group director, said: “I've always been confident in my ability to grow it, but I didn't know how far it would go.”

“I knew within my own mind that if I did what I set out to do and I was consistent with it, adding value and constantly delivering benefits over and above just being a supplier, that I would be able to sustain a living for myself and my family and grow into something I could eventually pass on to my children and then their children.”

And that’s exactly what happened. The company has been jointly run by his son, Craig Sanders, as well as Des Duddy who shares managing director responsibilities following the merger of Protrade and Joinery Fit Out Supplies in 2019.

Craig has been part of the business from a very young age. He and his two sisters, Alison and Samantha, used to accompany their mother, Isobel, as she completed deliveries in a Volkswagen estate. At weekends and during school holidays, Craig and his sisters, when they were as young as five years old, delivered leaflets around the local village in a bid to continually drum up business and interest.

From there, he’s developed into someone who knows the business inside and out. He said: “As I got older and after I completed an Industrial Management degree in Nottingham, I started working on the trade counter. I worked in the warehouse cleaning down shelf racks, unpacking inventory, and labelling. From there, I moved into production marketing and then purchasing. Then it was sales. I wanted to make sure I had exposure to everything about the business. I wanted to know it all inside out.”

So, after 50 years, what’s next for Protrade? After a decade of doubling in size and turnover, growth remains the top priority. In order to achieve that, a big investment is being made into a long-term digital transformation project, which will overhaul the company’s website and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems.

Craig said: “The market is becoming increasingly challenging. With the growth of technology, the internet, and social media, we have to move quicker than we have ever before. But what’s not changed is the person wanting to place an order or buy a product. Our biggest task is making sure we’re evolving to make sure they continue to see us, our products, and our people as much as they have done over the years.”

Meanwhile, Rob will continue to operate in the background, offering an opinion but very much letting his son and the people working for the business on a daily basis continue to take Protrade on an upward trajectory.

Concluding, he said: “It's been a great company but it's been an even greater ride.”