As I had previously mentioned in the last of my about me posts, Going Solo…
I walked straight from school into a four-year plumbing & heating apprenticeship. Merrily picking up all of the skills I would need to take me down a road of house renovations and to some degree, interior design. I did my time, learned my lessons well 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 eventually here I was, finally a fully trained plumbing and heating engineer. Fully indentured to City and Guilds Advanced Crafts level.
It wasn’t all good news though. Allen (my boss) had by that time, developed a serious heart condition. And was forced into early retirement. Which meant I was now on my own.
And so it all began…
It was 1980 and I’d set up as a sole trader pretty much specialising in what I had previously learned. And who would have guessed? I was a fully fledged plumber by now, doing all the great things that plumbers did.
Things were good for me. I was reliable. affordable and gave great advice along with pretty good value for money. And within only a few months, I found I was soon inundated with more work than I could possibly 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 still getting by like a pro.
Now 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, and keeping up with current regulations and best practices. So it wasn’t too long before I had fully honed my skills. And it wasn’t too long before I began looking beyond the realms of everyday plumbing.
Starting to grow…
By 1982, I was already making moves into the relatively new area of modularly built fitted kitchens.
Other than the fully plumbed and tiled bathrooms I was regularly completing now, a lot of my work went unseen. That is what is expected from a plumber doing his best to hide unsightly piping.
Kitchens on the other hand, were more highly visible beasts. Things to be fully displayed in all their glorious splendour.
And when working the tools it is easy to pick up the skills needed to tackle and complete other trades.
Working on the odd site too, also meant a having a helping hand to guide me. Advice was always readily available to those who had the gall to ask for it. Needless to say, I asked. Thus I quickly learned new skills too.
And that’s basically all I did for the next few years. I simply stuck my head down and got on with things. Learning as I went with the help of many friends, contacts and colleagues.
Time to make a move…
1994 saw me leaving my home-town of Manchester, moving further down south to a quiet little place called Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk.
This meant making a fresh start with no contacts to draw upon. And having no regular customers to rely on for an income. So what needed to be done was to widen the playing field as much as possible to quickly find a sustainable level of income.
Realistically, this was my first ever handyman gig. Finding work of all nature to simply make ends meet.
It also meant finding some temporary cards in work too. And along with that, I found myself a completely new field of friends, contacts and acquaintances to draw upon. Which did the trick and got me quickly on my feet again.
And as time went by, more and more strings were being added to the proverbial bow. I could now be seen tackling all kinds of 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 having the opportunity to build and even create things.
Which soon, brought me to making these monster truck horsebox thingies…
Yes, one of my previously found contacts was setting up shop as a horse box (transporter) builder and I was invited along to perform some alterations on the factory unit he was to operate his proposed business from. Well to cut a long story short, I did the factory work for him and subsequently stayed on to build horse boxes.
That now meant working with metals, angle grinders, plasma cutters and welding equipment. Working with ply-woods, fibreglass and rubber solutions. There was also upholstery (because these beasts had living quarters built into them) and even a dabbling into auto-electrics. There was also the automotive paint finishes and decals to be addressed.
Anyway, as the company grew, it soon needed more staff to successfully perform the above operations. It was now my job to teach the new boys what had to be done. That meant showing them the order in which to do stuff and the way it was to be done.
It was quite 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 every time you move on it. Everything here had to be done by eye.
YAY, Fitted Kitchens!
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 throughout the Suffolk area.
And it was from those humble beginnings, that the company grew to a manufacturing production line of 20 full blown, fully installed, all singing and dancing, complete with appliances, kitchens a week. It was quite a nice little earner for all involved.
By 2001 though, 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…
Office Furniture Fitting?
Having worked in fitted furniture for some time now, 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 space.
From that tiny acorn. I was soon to be found servicing contracts throughout the whole of the North West of England doing more of the same.
I was now installing 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 adjoining 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 happened that there was a major design flaw on those that meant children were often getting trapped in them. And needless to say, after a few costly flight delays costing bazillions of pounds, we got called in again to return and remove nearly 80% of them.
Yes, this 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 installation 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 some nice 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 still for kitchens.
So another fix was in order. And that fix was to be another business development, PadPimpers. This was my take on the MTV Pimp my Ride television programme for customising cars.
Only I was pimping houses not cars. And that meant fitted 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 slapped onto 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…