I got to be a star with this company only because I knew Phil McCue from my Burbank days.
I didn’t know it, but my good friend to be, Ken Dyball, was setting up a new company of his own, selling gifts to the card trade. He and a few others had been with the American company Russ Berrie and were looking to go on their own. I resisted to begin with, as I thought it was just the toy trade under another name. Phil was doing really well! For the first time, I was told that this gift trade I could join, was on the up & up! It was a miracle! Brilliant product that moved out of shops, a buoyant trade & for once I was in my element! It was just a range of impulse gifts, from gold plated key rings via Mr. Ruffles to large fluffy pink ducks. There was money around & boys had enough spare money to buy gifts, for their girlfriends, with their card purchase. The card & gift trade was ready for them. All bright & new. The items were so good to demonstrate, hard to resist and for once in my life, I created a turnover to match the Southern guys. This is what I had been waiting for! I had worked hard in the past to get nowhere. Now the hard work suited me, I couldn’t wait to get out & sell the stuff & at long last it was paying off.
I loved the people, the product and the structure. You earned money until your costs had been covered & then you were on 10% commission. My god, it was manna from heaven! Plus I got to choose my own car! I was in salesman’s heaven!
Life was sweet. Emma was a lovely little girl, Ian was up to his neck at collage studying computers & about to join Grantham’s as an Apple computer technician, Andrew was settled in Liverpool working in the bathroom trade and happily married to Andrea with a lovely & fit baby Joanne. Kath had gone to work for Auldene garden centre for “just 12 weeks” … ya right!In the beginning, there was a boss with Ken that was very strange. Motivated by his own self-belief and not exactly integrated into the team, he was the only pimple on this perfect face. We all seemed to get on really well, everyone was a team player and we exchanged information by mail & phone. I elected to have a strange car by rep’s standards, so as a compromise, it was suggested I should run my three months probation & then I could chose. It was a pleasure, orders built up, the customer base expanded & we were going from strength to strength. I was soon driving a stunning Mitsubishi Gallant. One of the smoothest, quietest & most comfortable cars I had ever owned.
This would be around 1985/6. The live aid concert, led by Bob Geldof was big news. Chernobyl had its nuclear accident. We all watched the Challenger shuttle explode as it launched from Cape Canaveral.
I was getting into my stride with an Apple Mac computer & Ian was teaching me how to use it too! At long last, I was as organised as only computers can allow. They were like modern magic wands. I could never spell & I suddenly had no mistakes. Everything was organised, listed and arranged how I wanted it, my facts & figures were to hand instantly. I could use my artistic side to present my sales blad. (A book of words & pictures, all salesmen had, to present their information). I was able to keep track easier, change the order of anything. I wasn’t into email & the web yet but these were early days. The hard disks were small, the programs were compact, the memory was small & graphics cards were not necessary. A wonderful integrated Apple program was ClarisWorks. The whole thing was only took up 1k of hard disk space & was brilliantly simple, easy & effective. On one small program, I could word process, use spreadsheets, database all my records & create artwork! Beautifully written, it all integrated seamlessly. I could even tweak it to my personal requirements. For the first time in my life, I was a smart arse! The mobile phone was yet to become common but fax machines were getting to be fairly standard.
For my 50th birthday, Kath spent a fortune on a Panasonic VHS video camera. It was the enormous sum of £1500! It was so huge and heavy that it was designed to be used on the shoulder. So became the change over from Cine film to video. We had hired a camera on a caravan holiday in Saudersfoot. I was obviously that taken, that Kath thought it would make a perfect special birthday present.
Things got so good, I was confident enough to buy a canal boat. It was a 22’ Dawncraft. It had a dreadful two-stroke engine that smoked like wildfire. No one else really enjoyed it and it was a bad choice nevertheless I re-christened it, Ruffles because I knew where the money was coming from! Things seemed to be getting better & better. Ken thought I was good enough to be on his management team, I remember being in an airport with him & he was talking about the future. He saw me becoming his National Sales Manager; he must have seen something no one else had spotted.
One day Ken rang and said he knew I was into television & film. A man was making a TV program about all aspects of the heart & how it was central to the human culture. He had spotted our product that was covered in hearts and wondered if we would send down a salesman to be filmed about why hearts were so widely used in cards & gifts. Oh Ken knew just the man! It was to be shown on Channel four I think. Part of my spiel was shown in the trailer and I got my 30 seconds of fame. It was a con job & I got slightly stitched up by the producer, but nothing more than I deserved! The only other time I was on TV, had been for the local people going round the Laurel & Hardy Museum in Ulverston. That was just fun! No messages were being concocted on that kind of magazine clip. It was the late Bill Cubin that founded the museum. I was on of the founder members of his “Sons of the desert” fan club.Although my computer had picked up errors in the figures supplied (which I had put down to a guy in the warehouse, who had less computer knowledge than his confidence allowed) I didn’t see the fall coming. To this day, I don’t honestly know what caused it all to crash around my ears. I didn’t trust one of the early bosses, the warehouse was certainly less accurate than he needed to be but I think the magic of cash flow came into play! There was not one thing that did it, I’m sure. We all did our best but obviously our best wasn’t enough. Ken had to submit to a takeover by a Bradford firm of card manufacturers, Fine Art Graphics. They were not going to run with this failing maverick outfit. The thumbscrews were tightened, the flair was lost, and it accumulated in the sacking of all except three of us. A guy even older than me, another fabulous salesman with a real problem & me for the north. Ken probably thought that, us guys would never get another job & we stayed to run the crippled ship. Poor old Phil McCue took it really badly. (Who can blame him? He was there from the start. Plaintalk was his baby)