A new generation is in charge at one of Gloucestershire’s most successful family firms...

In business for 90-plus years, family firm GR Lane Health Products (Lanes Health) has a new executive chairman and if anyone understands the weight of responsibility on his shoulders and the vision for the business it is Jonathan Groves – the great grandson of its founder.

By Andrew Merrell  |  Published

One of Gloucestershire’s longest running family businesses is in new hands as the great grandson of founder Gilbert Lane takes the reins of GR Lane Health Products as executive chairman.

Trading as Lanes Health, the purveyor of well-known brands across the UK and internationally counts Pro Plus, Olbas Oil and Kalms as some of its top selling products. The business also owns Jakemans, the Lincolnshire-based manufacturer of Jakemans Mentholated Lozenges.

The Sisson Road firm is positive about the future, proud of its heritage, and determined to put GR Lane Health Products in every household bathroom cabinet in the UK and beyond.

About the expert – Jonathan Groves, executive chairman of Lanes Health

Jonathan Groves and Janet Groves, of GR Lane Health Products

Jonathan Groves is the new executive chairman of Gloucestershire headquarters GR Lanes Health Products, known to many as Lanes Health - a producer of well-known brands to the health food and health supplements market in the UK and internationally.

He has never known a time when Lanes Health was not a part of his own or his family's life, but he nevertheless forged his early career elsewhere before joining the firm's sales department. This year he embraces his new role at the helm, as the business hands over to its fourth generation.

For more information, visit laneshealth.com.

What are your first memories of the family business?

Because it is a family business it has always been there. We have people who have been with the business for 40-odd years who remember me as a child coming in.

I was always aware my mum was working for a family business, although I did not really understand what that meant when I was younger.

My first real memory was coming in and working during the school holidays from when I was about 15 or 16 years old and working in different parts of the business. I recall working on the production line when I was very young – accidentally knocking over some of the bottles and the line having to be stopped! I was moved into the warehouse to count stock and move pallets where I could do less damage!

I joke, but each of the roles I did helped to teach me something about the business. The warehouse role was all about fulfilling export orders and making sure they went on time.

Now it is part of my life and something that goes with me everywhere.

You have just become the new executive chairman of Lanes Health. What has your journey been to this point?

I went to Churchdown School, on to sixth form to do a leisure and tourism course, Gloucestershire College to study business and marketing and retail communication and then to Southampton University. I ended up graduating at Winchester in the end with a business and marketing degree.

I have since found it really useful, but when I left university I did not know what I wanted to do – other than I did not want to go straight into the family business. I wanted to do something outside of Lanes Health and in no way take it for granted.

It is a family business, but it has always been a professional business and it leads by setting the right example. I wanted to make my own way – and if it happened that I went into the business eventually, it would happen.

In the end, my first job was working as a salesman for a business that sold diamond drill bits. I started on the road, visiting all the factories, getting to know the products and the customers, building relationships. It was an incredible learning curve and I learned a lot.

I came back into Lanes because we were struggling to find a salesman for the south.

I knew the importance of building relationships from my previous role, so made sure that whenever I visited a pharmacy or health food store I would try to chat with everyone about our products, what their customers thought and built relationships that helped me better understand the issues. It was an interesting time and I learned so much whilst I travelled the country.

After being on the road a couple of years I joined the marketing team and started using the knowledge I had gained from being on the road to help produce support items for the sales teams on the road.

I then moved into the planning and purchasing areas which gave me a great insight into the complexities of our business and the tremendous effort that is required from all departments just to manufacture our products.

So as you can see It really has been a great journey that I’ve been on within the business.

Lanes Health's brands are household names, but some may not know the firm is also a Gloucestershire family business. How important is the family business element?

I am the fourth generation, after my mother (Janet Groves), but I am not the only ‘next generation’ to be involved. I have three cousins and sister who are all involved to some extent and attend all the shareholders meetings.

But it is a family business in more ways than that. The family is also the staff who work here as well and the local community we live in. We are very proud of being part of that community and like to think that everyone who works here is part of an extended family. Everyone works so hard to make Lanes Health the success it is.

It is really important Lanes is recognised as a family business going forward too. It has been around for 90 years and we want it to be around for another 90 – as a family business.

My cousin’s children are already starting to get quite interested in the business and have their eyes on the top job so it important that we make sure the business is in a great place for the fifth, sixth and seventh generations.

You are taking up the reins of executive chairman. How has it changed since it was founded in 1930 by your great grandfather Gilbert Lane?

The business has changed massively since it was first conceived by my great grandfather in Newent.

He began by writing books about the relationship between health and the benefits of different foods and natural products, then started developing health food products and that became a mail order health food business. That was the very start.

It then took on a new focus when my grandfather (Roger, Gilbert’s son) took over. He was also a trained Pharmacist and began to influence the science behind what we did.

We created quite a niche area which was blending natural remedies and science to create products which benefited people’s health and the business has continued to grow and develop. Expanding from healthfood shops to pharmacies to supermarkets It has changed so much and just keeps adapting and moving.

Transition from one generation to another is easier said that done. How important is it that Janet Groves remains in the business and that it has such an able board of directors?

It is massive, not just for me personally and my own development but for the business and for its continuity. I am lucky to be able to question and draw on the experience of those who have been here and there are so many people who can help me and give me insight going forward.

Janet’s insight is invaluable. There are so many things that come up that she or the other directors will have seen and dealt with before and I can learn from how they have handled those decisions.

Lanes Health's products are already household names and highly respected, but what are your ambitions for the business?

We are looking at about a £40 million turnover across Lanes and Jakemans – and there are about 250 staff across our sites in Gloucestershire and Lincolnshire. Our aim now is to grow that past £60 million over the coming years.

To help us achieve that goal we released Pro-Plus Ultra last year and we have a new product ready for release next year too.

Projecting forward even further there are a number of other things in the pipeline that we are developing and are quite excited about although I’m afraid I can’t tell you about those just yet.

What are the big challenges the business is facing and how optimistic are you they are surmountable?

It is a changing market out there at the moment. Inflation is causing all sorts of challenges. The prices of all raw materials has gone up. The increases and supply issues are extraordinary.

But for me personally, you spend so much time at work you have to be positive about what you are doing. There will always be challenges. However, if you have a plan and can communicate the journey that we are about to embark on, we will be able to overcome any issue.

This is the dawn of a new era for the company. How excited are you by what lies ahead?

There is so much potential here at GR Lane Health Products and the team here is fantastic. Everyone is on board with what we are trying to achieve and that makes anything seem possible. Going forward together as a team is going to be brilliant.

It really is an exciting time.

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