Postman | Ofrex | Mattel | Changing jobs | Plaintalk | Revell | Retirement


Once again, I realised that I was soon going to be out of work at an even more terrible age, than last time. The perfect trade with the golden future was no longer there. There wasn’t the easy money of the 80s. Paying & running a home to looking after your family was number one priority.

No one needed traditional salesmen anymore, except one outfit and I was desperate! I still had years to run on the mortgage. Life had been good up to now and as it was the only thing I was good at, what I did was take the offer! Little did I know that this next company was going to see me out until retirement! I would be with Revell, originally an American kit company, longer even than the 12 years I spent serving Betty Windsor in the RAF.

On the plus side there were a few advantages.

1. The company needed old fashioned, regular call-cycle reps that could get shops to buy & sell to a very restricted market. (This wasn’t cut price toys. This wasn’t a purchase made on a whim, it was sort after by a small band of enthusiasts.)

2. The pay, car & expenses were Ok.

3. The product could be interesting (if you had never grown up & done it as a child).

4. The English manager was a personal friend and I had fond memories of Germany

5. It was a job!

Unfortunately my friend was sacked after 3 months of me joining and my new boss became a Dutchman, who lived in German, selling American kits to the English market ... what you might call a mixed bag!

Once again I was in the position of a company changing over from sales agents to sales representatives, just the same as Brock Fireworks. Revell was an American plastic kit company that was run from, and on behalf of, the Europeans. ("The Europeans" really means Germany!) The choice of kits was mostly either American or German. That narrowed my market down even more. Luckily, my area had very little turnover for me to improve on, so my first year I made a tremendous effort in opening new accounts & making the turnover shoot through the roof. I looked really good!

But every flag was up, indicating to me that I was walking towards the end of the pier. It was a dying trade even then! They were selling a product that very few people actually wanted. It was a business that was looked upon as a job of selling to “Anoraks”! Customers that were seen in the same light as train spotters & bus ticket collectors. If anyone on television needed a slightly suspect character who, on the surface, appeared quite normal but was probably a child murderer, then they usually portrayed their flaw as an obsessive model maker, with bits of an Airfix kit around them. In the Clint Eastwood film "In the line of fire" the assassin is a model maker. At least in "Ronin" and "The day of the Condor" the model makers were just illustrated at perfectionists.

I had to be able to sell to people who, in the main, lacked social skills. Their customers were obsessed with minutia & were noted for their tendency to have a high likelihood of having body odour. As it was a hobby, many had no real business sense but at least they tried to make a profit out of people who were generally worse than them.

In my first year, I tried to get a handle on what sold. So I used my computer to analyse the sales out of my top accounts. The Manchester Model shop, on Deansgate had a single item, that was one of a range of plastic soldiers that was their fastest turnover item in my range. They sold an average of one and a half models … a month! Admittedly, they stocked lots of other items, but their best selling line was pathetically small in actual numbers! So much for product turn around & the magic of cash flow! It soon became obvious that we sold very wide range of products selling in no depth whatsoever. Although model makers seemed to have a particular interest, it could be cars, aircraft or galleons, they seldom seemed to make more than one. So a person may stick to 1:72 scale fighter aircraft, after a Spitfire he'd build a Hurricane followed by a Me 109. This was not always the case. You often came across an obsessive modeller that on built Apache helicopters or Formula One cars. What you needed as a rep was a catalogue full of a bit of everything!

Nevertheless, we were a good team. I made a lifelong friend of Ian Doak, the world most tight fisted salesman with the best sense of humour in the company. We laughed a lot, got in plenty of business and managed to stay in touch, even after I retired. I still recall us having a meal in London after a toy show, it was Ian's turn to pay for it on his company card. It costs a small fortune & we had to nearly pull out his fingernails, to get him to add a tip. He left £2! I bet he’s still a legend in the Indian restaurant in Kensington! Ian is now happily retired in Greece seeing his money go a lot further than 2008 in England but he still watches the Pound against the Euro exchange rate.

But this is where the story really comes to an end.

I was going to be one of the last shop-to-shop salesmen. It became updated & modernised, we eventually got mobile telephones & computers. Communication was now by email and H.O. could monitor your every move, but it was an old fashioned trade with new fangled things in it.  I continued for years & years, doing a six-week call cycle. Fewer & fewer salesmen were needed; they had to cover larger & larger areas. In one year alone, I remember giving my end of year speech, explaining that after 12 months of real hard graft, I had opened 41 new accounts & 40 had closed down. The company tried hard to change its image, find new product to take it into another world but it was never going to happen. They tried toys but this trade is shrinking all the time.

We thought our time had come when Hallmark cards in America, bought out the Revell & Monogram companies. Their British arm, Binney & Smith in Bedford, manufactures of high quality Crayola crayons, handled us. It couldn’t have been made plainer that they hated this. It besmirched their art world image. (Crayons! Art world?) For Binney & Smith to own and run this outfit of train spotters was a hard pill for them to swallow. They hated it. They did their best to break the close bond the team had, trying to turn us into their way of doing things. They dealt with Asda, Boots, Woolworth & other million dollar accounts. Anyone from Binneys, that was forced to be connected with Revell, must have thought it was punishment for past misdemeanours! Either that or they saw it as a way up the greasy pole of B & S. I can remember the first Christmas do where they did their best to belittle us & break us up and used their weasel words about joining a great team. I still do not trust men in positions of authority, who comb their hair from underneath their armpits to disguise they are bald. To be fair to him, I can see I didn’t endear myself, as he announced “You’ll be alright here, if you can sell, drink & like football”. I think he heard my stage whisper of “Well, one out of three, can’t be all bad”.

I have to admit some joy, when later, B&S had troubles & Revell was still surviving! They worked on the kudos principle, any knowledge was power and sharing it weakened you. We shared all knowledge for the team good. It seemed to make sense but maybe we were just old fashioned & not suited to a modern world.

They tried to sell us off to some American company but it fell through. Then there was a management buyout in Germany. At least we were in the hands of people we knew & could at least face them, as they weren’t men in grey suits that you never saw. We communicated directly with them. There was an unfortunate tendency for criticism & very little praise. Large elements of put down & very little build up. Any praise given out was thought to make you rest on your laurels, not make you feel good & want to do even better. Maybe this was a link back to B & S or was sometime I had experienced all my life?

During these final years before retirement our parents died.

Mary was the first to go in ‘89. A strong woman who had worked hard all her life, she succumbed very quickly to a brain tumour.

Percy had a harder death from emphysema in ‘93, a dreadful wasting lung complaint that takes away your ability to breath. Emphysema all started in the days when everyone smoked. In the family, in 2008, we are lucky very few people now smoke. I was daft enough to have my cigars earlier, what a wonderfully pointless way of enjoying burning money, it brought to an end by a dreadful bad chest illness around the time Emma married & a drastic shortage of money after retirement! Three years before I retired my financial advisor said I'd be OK. Guess what, politicians & banks got together & ruined things. It ended up a lot worse than I thought but I'll survive.

Florence was always overweight and finally died very quickly in 1995. Over a few hours all her organs couldn’t cope any longer & she drifted off never to recover. I doubt she knew what was happening.

Arthur went on until he was 94 in 2002. He cycled most of his life, which kept him very fit. He lived alone looking after himself in Whalley Ave. He coped with life without double glazing or central heating. He was sprightly enough to travelled to see our cousin Marlene in Australia when he was 90. On his way to bed, one night, he had an embolism & must have gone very quickly. It was very lucky that we saw him the day before he died.

We had our own tragedy when Andrew came off a motorbike & ended up in traction for 6 months. That put a tremendous strain on us all, but we found our way through it with Kathleen taking the strain of constant visiting.

During the Revell years, I advised Ian to get on the property ladder … just before it collapsed and got him in all kinds of financial worries. I also recommended Emma should go with Northern Rock Building Society!

So much for fathers knowing everything.

Ian found religion as a born again Christian. He married, but sadly it couldn’t last. He had a relationship with Claire & we got our next surprise, Amy, our second grand child in 1995.

In 1993 Emma had begun work in the Little Chef, where she met Mick Butler and they became a couple. Luckily, with Mick & Emma we continued to be blessed with grand children. Jake came in 2001. So before I retired, my great kids had given us one each.

Remember, whenever you become grandparents, its legal to spoil them & a joy to give them back!

Next, lets retire from it all.