From ice to creams at Dunkelman & Son
How a British company evolved from making ice hockey equipment to become a specialist in the international shoe care sector.
Dunkelman & Son began its journey in June 1946 when 26-year-old professional ice hockey player Freddie Dunkelman started to manufacture hockey sticks in a small workshop in Battersea, London. His fledgling company was soon supplying a complete range of ice hockey equipment to the professional league in Britain and even exporting to European markets and Canada. After representing Great Britain in the 1948 Winter Olympic Games, Freddie decided to create a business based on his passion for woodworking. He identified an opportunity in the market and began handcrafting a range of shoe care products.
During the 1950s, the firm flourished as it began to develop and patent a number of products, including wooden shoe trees, shoe polishes and creams. In 1957, expansion led to Dunkelman – also trading as ‘Dasco’ – moving to new premises and, by the end of the decade, making shoe care products had become its core business.
As the company grew and acquired a worldwide reputation for shoe care products and accessories, Freddie realised that the majority of his direct customers manufactured shoes within Northamptonshire – the heart of England’s shoemaking industry. So, in 1965, Dunkelman moved out of London and started production in a factory in the Northamptonshire town of Desborough. Three years later, a patent was taken out on the ‘Dascomatic’ boot shaper for women’s boots, which sold successfully around the world. This was quickly followed by the launch of the first two-way shoe stretcher. Around the same time, the ‘Dasco’ brand name was registered and began to appear on all the firm’s products. In 1969, a new purpose-built factory and warehouse was opened nearby to provide the manufacturing and distribution facilities needed to house the growing business.
By the seventies, a true shoe care brand had been developed and established, and this led to engagement with a number of the world’s most highly-respected footwear manufacturers. The range of shoe and boot trees continued to expand and, by the end of the decade, the company had also introduced insoles and laces to its range. During the 1980s, Dunkelman focused on developing a product range to provide everything required by the shoe retailer. In 1994, Dasco had another market first with a waxed leather cream, which proved to be a best seller.
In 2002, the ‘Dasco Kid’s’ range was launched to provide products designed specifically for the problems most commonly associated with children’s shoe care, and two years later a new range of Dasco insoles featuring advanced polymer gel cushioning technology was marketed.
A new chapter
Freddie Dunkelman retired in 2007, leaving his sons and daughter to run the company. Eight years later, it was acquired by Alma FRC Group, a family-owned French business with a three generation-long history of supplying leather care and shoe accessories to both retailers and repairers. Alma FRC has a turnover of more than EUR 40 million (GBP 33.3 million), with 80 per cent of this amount being generated outside of France. Dunkelman & Son (Dasco) now sits under the Alma FRC Group umbrella alongside Saphir Medaille, Saphir Beaute Du Cuir, Avel and Tarrago, in addition to recently-purchased specialist insole manufacturer Tacco and Australian shoe care producer Waproo. This is said to have provided Dunkelman with the ability to offer the most comprehensive range of shoe care products and accessories in the world.
The firm’s declared ethos is to keep evolving, while bringing exciting, new and innovative products to its customers and their consumers, and ensuring the quality and traditions with which the company is associated. As well as obtaining Dunkelman’s Dasco range, customers can receive a tailored service specific to their individual needs. Trade customers can be supplied with their own branded products, from shoe creams and accessories to shoe trees.
In 2018, Alma FRC was instrumental in sourcing a new purpose-built facility and head office. This self-funded investment is situated on a 3.3-acre site in Desborough and includes 41,000 square feet of offices, warehouse and production facilities, as well as a dedicated showroom for Dunkelman’s range of shoe care products.
The company is continuing to manufacture a selection of traditional shoe care products at the new location and supply directly to trade customers in the footwear and clothing industries. The firm is proud of its heritage and boasts that is has a very skilled team of woodworkers on site. With this major investment, Dunkelman says that it is looking forward to the future, as well as keeping alive traditional crafting methods.
While developing products to suit new trends and attract customers in emerging markets, the company is also said to be making considerable effort to meet its environmental responsibility.
This includes investing heavily on making all chemical ingredients more environmentally-friendly while maintaining high product standards. In addition, the firm’s packaging is reportedly becoming more sustainable, with compostable and recyclable alternatives being used
across its ranges. According to Dunkelman, the new premises achieve its sustainability objectives by meeting a number of green low-energy goals, and by incorporating a rain/surface water attenuation system to serve the facility which utilises a central estate lagoon to enhance local biodiversity.
The photograph at the start of this article shows Dunkelman & Son's purpose-built facility and head office in Desborough, Northamptonshire, to which it moved in 2018.
This article was originally published on page 34 of the March 2022 issue of SATRA Bulletin.