Previously in A Chequered Career….. The Deli was an instant success…… I decided to take on an assistant….. I envisioned a young lady, ‘une femme élégante’ in keeping with the image I wished the shop to portray……. an elderly lady waddled in asking about the position. Short and stout with her arms folded beneath her ample bosoms. I took her on……. The Deli was never going to make me my fortune so I reluctantly decided to throw in the towel. But what to do next? ....... I found myself working for Eastbourne Citroen but there was something singularly uninspiring about that job……. And so it was I became a partner in the Kitchen Design Studio situated in the up-market area of Eastbourne known as The Meads.
CHAPTER 10 - GERMANY, USA, FRANCE...WHEREVER NEXT?
George Orwell warned us that in 1984 we would be ruled a totalitarian party headed by Big Brother. He was wrong. Instead we had the late Maggie Thatcher. It was the year of the miners’ strike, the violent industrial dispute that changed the face of Britain and its industrial landscape forever. There was also the attempt on her life by the IRA when they blew up the Grand Hotel in Brighton where she was staying.
But there were winners as well as losers and just twenty five miles along the coast, the Kitchen Design Studio was under way, a product of the new entrepreneurial era fostered by her party.
Competition in the fitted kitchen business was fierce at that time. As well as fending off national companies such as Moben and Kitchens Direct, we endured fierce rivalry with several other local suppliers. It occurred to us however that ‘the rest’ were fighting on exactly the same battleground, and in order to succeed we had to have a totally different offering. Being in The Meads we were surrounded by the moneyed few, so we decided to aim ourselves at the posh sector! I suppose it was a gamble, but we took it all the same. We displayed kitchens from the very top manufacturers such as Poggenphol, Cuisine Schmitt, Siematic and of course Miele. Instead of giving our potential clients a crudely drawn plan we went a stage further and provided an ink and colour-wash artist’s impression of how the finished room would look. I spent hours at the drawing board creating each and every presentation, but it worked. Several of our clients even framed their pictures! After a while it became fashionable for kitchen retailers to construct a 3D plastic impression of a kitchen using something which looked like a Lego kit, but that was not for us! Also those new-fangled computers were beginning to creep into all areas of business, and CAD, computer aided design was being used increasingly in our industry. We ignored it and carried on the way we and our clients liked best. My partner-in-crime Chris having worked for one of the best oven manufacturers in the business came up with the idea of holding regular cookery events where chefs produced fabulous food right there in our showroom. They were a huge success.
Generally speaking things went according to plan, but there was one event which could have put us out of business had our insurance company not played ball. We were working on a kitchen in the prestigious skyscraper block on Eastbourne promenade known as South Cliff Tower - Roger Moore once lived in the penthouse. When we were due to start pounding on shared walls we normally recommended that the person who lived on the other side moved valuable items such as pictures and 0rnaments in case the vibration sent them crashing to the floor. On the one occasion we forgot, and a virtually priceless and irreplaceable Chinese bowl ended up as a pile of little pieces on the parquet. I was the one who delivered the apology. Not a nice experience!
We were selling opulent and extravagant kitchens at the very top of the market at prices often three times that of our competitors. Our suppliers loved us! My son Timothy loved it when he came to say with me – imagine playing hide and seek in a massive room with hundreds of cupboards! Our customers loved us! The Ship Inn loved us, especially at lunch times and when we entertained our suppliers’ representatives there! That really paid off because we were regularly taken away on trips to their showrooms at home and abroad.
My ultimate jaunt was to the InSinkErator factory in Wisconsin USA. Just one day of business was followed by several at the legendary Drake Hotel in Chicago with its view across Lake Michigan. From there I travelled to New York where I stayed at the Vista. It was the sumptuous hotel, later renamed The Marriott , which linked the bases of the north and south towers at the ill-fated World Trade Centre. I ate several times in the Windows on the World restaurant at the top of the north tower and even managed to sneak out a menu which I have to this day.
Working with friends often goes wrong, and our partnership was no exception. We had different ideas about the direction the company should take, but it was successful so we told ourselves the show must go on. But after just four years we decided it was time to call it a day. In 1988 we put the business on the market and it was snapped up by a multi-outlet operation which worked all over the county of Sussex. I’ve not seen Chris from that day to this. I’m pleased to say however that it is as successful today as it was when we sold it.
One of the companies that had supplied us was Espalux, a French manufacturer of heavy handmade wooden kitchen units. They wanted to expand their presence in the South of England and they offered me a job with a team of salesmen which entailed identifying and setting up new outlets for their products. I was in my element. I was still designing although it was studios rather than individual rooms and I was still selling,
something which comes naturally to me. I was also still travelling, but now it was to Dieppe to their distribution centre or right down in the South of France to the factory. I fell head over heels in love with France, so much so that in 1998 Denyse, Penelope and I decided to make the move across the water and set up home in a tiny village in rural Normandy. It meant being away from home several days a week and lots of commuting with my company's white Citroen BX Estate on car ferries, but it was well worth it. Four year old Penelope joined a school where not even the teachers had much of a command of the English language, but in months she was fluent without trace of an English accent and became out interpreter! Life was good.
To be continued