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Not an Ordinary Joe

Way back in time when the world was young and innocence reigned I had the wacky idea of turning my hobby into a business. In the circumstances I was in at the time anyone else would have had voices screaming at them not to embark on such a foolish path but I was an innocent, a complete innocent. Years later, when I looked back on the enormity of that decision, I would shudder. It had been a moment of madness.

I worked as a senior clerk for a chartered accountant before this abrupt change in my life and I remember an advert regularly seen on the back of beer mats at the time which stated "Accountancy was my life until I discovered Smirnoff, the effect is shattering". I had embarked on something that could have shattered my life without the aid of Smirnoff, now there's talent for you!

It was a printing business that I started and painfully slowly I attracted enough customers to enable me to eke out a modest living and that is when I first met Joe. He had been a milkman but he started a business manufacturing window blinds, I supplied his stationery. I was operating from a small lock-up shop in Kidderminster, an old tram shelter in years gone by as I was often told by elderly couples who would come in to reminisce about their younger years. What on earth they used it for I could not possibly imagine! Joe, I think, operated from home.

Our businesses grew at a similar pace and my tram shelter was soon too small for me and anyway Sainsburys wanted to buy me out, well they wanted more than my little patch of earth of course. I found some premises in an old carpet factory, took on some staff and a business partner, Harry, and together we started growing at a faster pace. Renting premises is never ideal but for us there was no option. We did look at the possibility of buying premises once but it was out of our range financially and we were surprised to find that Joe eventually bought it. Time went on and we were in our third premises on an ex RAF supply site, it was cold and damp, water actually ran down the walls when it rained heavily and we were determined that it would be the last time that we rented although where the money was going to come from was a mystery.

I found I had some sort of talent with words and we started pushing ourselves as a business card provider and every Wednesday evening the two of us would be off pushing leaflets through doors in town centres and industrial estates. It didn't have a huge effect but we desperately needed new business and we felt that if our business was doomed to fail at least we would be comfortable in the knowledge that we had tried everything we could. Then suddenly we struck a seam of pure gold. We had a response from a major insurance company who, amazingly no longer wanted to supply their vast sales force with business cards, they were to use their local printers. We collected the addresses of each office in the country and mailed them regularly with our offer. We did well. We then mailed other large companies and did even better so that when our lease expired we had bought a plot of land on an industrial estate and had our own factory built.

And who do you think built his factory next to us? Yes, Joe did! So we showed him round our premises and he showed us how to manufacture venetian blinds.

We were printing for many small local businesses by this time and we were always amused by some of the lines they would include on their stationery, things like 'Open seven days a week, including Sundays.' and 'You've tried the rest, now try the best.' Now Joe was much better than that, he had real style. Television played a great part in his publicity campaign, he avoided the BBC and stuck steadfastly to ITV, I'm not sure he was that interested in the programmes themselves, he was more interested in what came in between. He was interested in the adverts. Sipping his brandy and flicking the ash off his cigar into an ashtray bearing the words 'My milk round was my life until I discovered Smirnoff, the effect is shattering' he would mull over the punchy lines and try and apply them to his own business.

He had many bright ideas but by far his best was 'Olympic, the name on the world's finest blinds!' He got away with this for a fair time but one day he walked in through our door much affronted having just received a strong letter from the legal advisers to Wilkinson Sword bearing a strong offer of taking legal proceedings against him were he not to remove the offending bit of plagiarism from his stationery. He did of course.

He sold his business eventually and moved to Spain where no doubt he is doing a roaring trade with ex-pats and we have since lost touch. He was a real character and I'm sure that when he was born some clumsy oaf dropped the mould. We probably won't see his like again.

But wait! I was driving through Swansea yesterday behind a van which bore the slogan 'A carpet fitter is for life, not just for Christmas.' It is not quite as relevant to the product as Joe's but with a bit of nurture that particular seed of genius could flourish and could even produce - Joe, the sequel!

We can only hope!




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