Foreword by Liz Milnes, Managing Director
Liz MilnesWhen you create, manage and grow a business, the last thing you think about is your exit strategy, and this for me has been one of the most difficult challenges.
Almost 35 years on, both of my companies, Costumes with Character and Auscoz are considered to be two of the most successful mascot manufacturers in the world, providing mascots and characters for many of the most high-profile companies and character creators on the planet.
But the thing I am most proud about isn’t having founded and grown these two companies, it is having created jobs; interesting, creative and enjoyable work, in a great environment, for so many people, for so many years.
This is why succession planning to ensure the jobs were protected and company continued to grow was so important to me.
I am grateful to Postlethwaites Solicitors who introduced me to the concept of EOTS and created the Trust and structure for CWC.
Costumes With Character EOT Management team: Debbie Aylward, Alison Hilton, Marie Harrison, Amanda Pritchard, Michelle Barton and Clare Kinross
After 34 years of producing high quality, practical and affordable character costumes, founder and MD of Costumes With Character Ltd Liz Milnes has transferred 100% of her company shares in to the Costumes With Character Employee Ownership Trust, which will hold them on behalf of the company’s staff.
Under the guidance of Postlethwaite Solicitors, Costumes With Character became an employee-owned company. This move is a way of preparing the company for the future by ensuring Costumes With Character remains an independent company, and the job security of the loyal staff (who have invested so much time, talent and effort in to making Costumes With Character the world class brand it is today) is safeguarded.
The success of Costumes With Character is dependent upon the skills
and attitude of the team; selling the company would put it at risk but
transferring its ownership to the staff would secure the company
long-term and preserve its current working culture for the future.
Besides ensuring the company will continue to thrive beyond her
retirement, Liz wanted the staff to see real rewards for their hard
work. This company structure means that the staff can see the
benefits of their hard work by receiving a share of the company’s
profits each year, and also have a say in business decisions.
Costumes with Character EOT Trustees L-R: Alison Dermott, Liz Milnes, Emma Stanton
The senior management team will remain in their existing roles, with
Liz acting as the MD in the transitional period, business decisions
will be made by the management team as a whole, with the trustees (who
are a combination of directors, employees and others with no
commercial stake in the business) ensuring the management team are
acting in the company’s best interests.
Employee Owned Trusts are a fast-growing business structure option in
the UK. Recently there has been growth in employee ownership as a
succession option for small and medium sized businesses and family
“…The creation of an employee trust, is the best solution we have
found for keeping Aardman doing what it does best, keeping the teams
in place and providing continuity for our highly creative culture. And
of course, those that create value in the company will continue to
benefit directly from the value they create”.
Peter Lord and David Sproxton – Aardman
“To me, the decision to sell the company to my colleagues was an
obvious one. Nobody knew my business better than the people in it and
we’d created a culture together”
Julian Richer – Richer Sounds
Liz Milnes founded and created “Costumes With Character”, Initially called “Situation Clothing”, in 1986. Her background as a costume designer for screen and stage led her to identify a need for high quality, practical, comfortable character costumes. Liz wanted to produce costumes, which not only looked great but also carefully considered the wearer’s requirements and the practicalities needed for costume maintenance, such as ensuring the costumes were washable and individual parts were easily replaceable.
Liz relocated to Australia a number of years ago, after receiving orders from several Australian companies and seizing the opportunity to grow the business in another hemisphere. She set up Costumes With Character’s sister company “Aus Coz” in Currumbin, Queensland and has experienced great success there too, working with Dream World, The Wiggles, The Commonwealth Games 2018, The Invictus Games and The Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary among many others.
The move provided CWC staff with the opportunity to work in Australia and increased our understanding of the construction materials and methods required to produce costumes that are suitable for warmer climates.
The challenges faced in warmer countries included heat, UV fading and costume elements requiring glues more resilient to temperature than UK costumes. A base in Australia also opened up the possibility of sourcing different materials and technologies that weren’t yet commonplace in the UK.
Liz was actively involved in both businesses on a daily basis and returned to the UK for 3 months every year.
Some of the staff have been with the company from the very beginning and have seen it go from strength to strength.
Costumes With Character now produce over 400 costumes and puppets every year for a range of industries and household names including:
Tui, Thomas Cook, Bourne Leisure, Parkdean Resorts, Away Resorts, Greenbank Holidays, Pontins
Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool FC, Chelsea FC, Leeds United
LEGO, Aardman, Nickelodeon, Dreamworks, Sealife, Nando’s, Hollywood Bowl, SPI leisure
BBC Children in Need, Macmillan, The Christie, Cancer Research
Early Learning Centre, Marks and Spencer, Silent Night, Unilever, Slush Puppie, Kellogg’s
See full commentary by Liz Milnes
Read more about employee ownership at Postlethwaits Solicitors: https://postlethwaiteco.comwww.employeeownership.co.uk