The 100 year history behind
Gibbons International, a third-generation ship supplier based in Seaham, County Durham, is celebrating 100 years of trading.
Ian Gibbons, Director and grandson of the man who established Gibbons International, says: “Over the last 100 years we have enjoyed fantastic success for a small, family-run business and have built up a loyal clientele including major offshore, renewable, oil and gas, bulk, container passenger ferry and cruise line operators. We also send goods to the Falkland Islands.”
The story of how Gibbons International was formed and grew to become one of the country’s leading ship suppliers is an interesting one. Once a corner shop business in Sunderland, its now an International Company supplying vessels throughout the UK, Europe and beyond.
The business was set up by Ian’s grandfather, Albert George Gibbons, after he returned to Sunderland from WW1 in 1921. Born in Sunderland in 1895, Albert enlisted as a soldier in the first world war where he was lucky to survive after being shot at Aveluy Wood, during the battle of the Somme. Ian picks up the story: “Grandad served in the East Yorkshire regiment and as well as being shot, through the stomach into his back, he was also gassed. It’s a small miracle he made it home.”
But when he did, Albert spent several years working at Glebe pit before deciding to set up a business on his own, which is when he opened his first butcher’s shop in Coronation Street later moving to 70 High Street East both in Sunderland’s East End. Ian continues: “Due to the busy nature of the port, butchers would also supply meat for the ships’ crew, and many became known as ‘shipping butchers’. This is where the marine connection began for Gibbons International. My father was born in 1922. He went to sea as a galley boy at the age of 15, first joining the vessel “Reynolds” in Sunderland bound for Australia in the late 1930s.”
“As the second world war began, my father, also named Albert George, but better-known to his customers as Albie, was planning to join the RAF as a rear gunner on a Lancaster bomber and was about to travel to Scotland for training. He sought the advice of my grandfather who told him that with his experience he’d be better joining the merchant navy, so he took that advice and became a cook serving on various vessels, including those supplying the war effort on the Atlantic convoys.”
Albert’s involvement in the business picked up again at the end of the war, by which time the new shop at 138 High Street West, had opened. By 1945 he was more interested in expanding the marine element of the business to cover all aspects of ship supply food, cabin stores, engine stores and duty-free goods. Over the next 35 years, he concentrated on building a great reputation for service as in the 1940s and 50s, there were a couple of dozen ‘shipping butchers’ and ‘ship chandlers’ plying their trade in Sunderland, so competition was fierce.
“My father recounted some nights he would wait all night long at the docks, with other competitors, to be the first to meet the captain of the vessel early in the morning when he awoke,” says Ian. “This determination would pay off as by the end of the 1970s the competition on a local level, at least, had all but gone.”
Meanwhile, Ian’s grandfather had become a prominent councillor in Sunderland and was deputy mayor for a time in the 1960s. When he closed the 70 High Street East shop to concentrate on 138 High Street West, he arranged a treat for his loyal customers and their families by chartering several coaches for a daytrip to Redcar, reported to acclaim in the local press.
Fast-track to 1984 and Ian had left school and joined the business, working there whilst still studying part-time for a degree in business management. “In 1992 we moved the marine supply and catering butcher side of the operation from the central city location to a brownfield site in Southwick,” continues Ian. “In 2000, Lisa, my wife, joined the business and is now director, running the marine supply business. I assist and run the financial side while Ian Trotter, our sales and logistics manager who has spent all his working life in ship supply, joined us in 2000.”
In 2017, the business moved to a modern unit at Spectrum Business Park, Seaham overlooking the sea from which they still operate today.
As members of the International Association of Ship Suppliers (ISSA), International Marine Purchasing Association (IMPA) and British Association of Ship Suppliers (BASS), Gibbons International is well respected in the industry, not least because of the personal touch customers receive, which Ian says is mainly down to the business staying in the same family for three generations.
Ian concludes: “Over the past 100 years our values have remained the same – offering a high level of customer service and building relationships to provide a reliable and cost-effective solution in the marine supply chain. This ethos has been at the heart of our success over the years, and we look forward to many more successful decades of operation.”
We offer a wide range of services
You only need to deal with one supplier as we deliver provisions, deck, engine, cabin and bonded stores. We offer full transport solutions to the UK and European continental ports coupled with a worldwide logistics service.
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