As I previously mentioned in the last about me post, Going Solo, I walked straight from school into a four-year plumbing & heating apprenticeship merrily picking up the skills I would need to take me down a road of house renovations and interior design. I did my time, learned my lessons and practised as much as I could while under the watchful gaze of my employer.
We did bathrooms, we did heating, we laid drains, fixed gutters, did tiling and fitted the occasional kitchen too. So there I was, a fully trained plumber, fully indentured to City and Guilds Advanced Crafts level.
It wasn’t all good news though. Allen (my boss) had developed a serious heart condition and was forced into early retirement which meant I was now on my own.
It was 1980 and I’d set up as a sole trader pretty much specialising in what I had previously learned. Who would have known? I was a plumber doing all the great things that plumbers did.
I was reliable. affordable and gave good advice and value for money. And within only a few months, I found I was soon inundated with more work than I could handle.
So that’s how it all began. I was A.R. Robinson, plumber to the rich and famous, working with a minimum of tools, capital and experience but getting by like a pro.
There really isn’t a lot to learn with respect to plumbing, other than the skills needed to join pipes, knowing what pipes to use, keeping up with current regulations and best practices, so it wasn’t long before I had fully honed my skills and began looking beyond the realms of everyday plumbing.
So by 1982, I was making moves into the relatively new area of modularly built fitted kitchens. Other than the fully fitted and tiled bathrooms I was completing, a lot of my work went unseen as that is what is wanted from a plumber.
Kitchens on the other hand, were highly visible. To be fully displayed in all their glorious splendour.
And when working the tools it is easy to pick up the skills needed to complete other trades and working on sites also meant a helping hand or advice was always readily available to those who had the gall to ask for it. And needless to say, I asked. And I learned too. And that’s what I did for the next few years. I stuck my head down and got on with it, learning as I went with the help of friends, contacts and colleagues.
1994 saw me leaving my home-town of Manchester, moving further down south to a quiet place called Bury St Edmunds.
This meant a fresh start with no contacts to draw upon and no regular customers to rely on. So what needed to be done was to widen the playing field as much as possible to quickly find a sustainable level of income.
It also meant finding temporary cards in work and with it a new field of friends, contacts and acquaintances to draw upon, which did the trick and got me quickly on my feet again.
As time went by, more and more strings were added to the proverbial bow and I could now be seen tackling joinery, electrics, glazing, roofing, extensions and even the building of new houses (with others) on housing estates throughout Suffolk. I was up for anything that included the chance to build and even create things, which brought me to this…
Yes, one of those previously found contacts was setting up shop as a horse box builder and I was invited along to perform some alterations on the factory unit he was to operate his business from. Well to cut a long story short, we did the factory and subsequently stayed on to build horse boxes.
That meant metalwork, angle grinders, plasma cutters and welding equipment. Working in plywoods, fibreglass and rubber solutions. Upholstery (because these beasts had living quarters built into them) and even auto electricals. There was also the paint finishes and decals to be addressed.
As the company grew, it needed more staff to perform the above operations and it was my job to teach the new boys what had to be done, the order in which to do it and the way it was to be done. It was funny watching these fresh young interns rocking up with their limited tool kits, trying to use a spirit level on a vehicle that rocks about everytime you move on it. Everything had to be done by eye.
And because we were using so many different materials in the construction of the horse boxes, new bonds were also being forged with suppliers. So much so that in 1997, I formed a partnership with a wood supplier and made my first move into manufacturing kitchen units and wardrobes to be supplied off the shelf to builders and the general public.
It was from those humble beginnings, the company grew to a production of 20 full blown, fully installed, all singing and dancing, complete with appliances, kitchens a week. Quite a nice little earner for all involved.
Then, in 2001, my children had grown up some and my parents were entering into their twilight years so I took the decision to move back to Manchester to be nearer to them all. And that brought on another new episode in my career…
Having worked now in fitted furniture for some time, an opportunity came along whereby I was asked if it would be possible to install a few flat packed desk solutions in an empty office.
That lead to me servicing contracts throughout the whole of the North West of England doing more of the same. I was fitting desks to all of the region’s job centres, tax offices and a few hospitals too.
Some of the more international travellers amongst you may recognise those purple seats in the above picture. They are just a handful of the 7,200 we had to install at the newly opening Terminal 2 of Manchester International Airport. See the arms? The ones on the seating? Well it just so happened that there was a major design flaw on those that meant children were often getting trapped in them. Needless to say, after a few costly flight delays costing bazillions of pounds, we were called in again to return and remove nearly 80% of them. Yes, that stuff really does happen, even in this day and age.
I have never really given up on my roots because if the truth were told, I still like getting my hands dirty and I love being able to create. So there’s little wonder that I was and still am in the market for any opportunity to help turn people’s properties into the houses they are proud to call homes.
And in order to do this, I had allied myself to some of the local showrooms, offering my fitting services to them. They would source the customers, plan and sell the room settings, and take care of all the finances and all I had to do was turn up and install the products for them. And because we were fitting some pretty high-end gear, we could command high prices to boot. So we did and everyone was happy. Or were we?
More and more of my time was given up towards the installation of bathrooms while my real passion was for kitchens. So a fix was in order, And that fix was to be another development, PadPimpers. My take on the MTV Pimp my Ride television programme for customising cars. Only I was pimping houses not cars and that meant Kitchens, Bedrooms, Bathrooms, Home offices and Home Cinemas. Anything in fact, that would profit through the addition of a little TLC, good interior design and a few pretty cupboards. Because like a man once said to me many many years ago… “kitchens? They’re just wooden boxes with pretty lids on them”.
And that for now is where the story ends because 2008 was to bring me a whole new set of challenges.
To be continued…