Glasgow-based bathroom retailer, Derek Miller, reflects on the people who have influenced and inspired him over the years
“People, people who need people, are the luckiest people in the world”. So sang Barbra Streisand over 50 years ago, and the famous American songstress was spot on.
I have always believed that an industry is defined by its people. For all the fancy processes of the modern corporate world, I prefer to trade with people I like and trust. When the going gets tough, it’s strong business relationships, nurtured over many years, that will see you through the difficult times.
During my 20 years in the bathroom sector, I have tended to look outwards rather than inwards, which has meant that I’ve formed some wonderful relationships. KBB Land has some colourful characters with the full gamut of personality types. I’ve met entrepreneurs and wide boys, corporate types and mavericks, cursers and Christians, the useful and the useless, the humble and the blowhard.
This exposure has taught me that if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is – a valuable lesson in life for any budding KBB star of tomorrow.
Our sector has many capable people, most of whom have featured, to some level or another, on these pages over the months and years. These good folk know who they are and certainly don’t need endorsement from a Glaswegian bathroom salesman. However, when the editor advised that this month’s edition was to do with ‘people’, it got me thinking. Rather than concentrate on current industry movers and shakers however, my mind turned to the past, and to those individuals who played a role in my own nurturing as a bathroom operator.
When I became involved in the sector in 1998, my experience, after university, had been in two entirely different business areas – the licensed trade (Scottish and Newcastle brewery), and the rag trade (Jaeger ladieswear). I had been unofficially mentored by some great people in those businesses, so I tended, subconsciously, to seek out similar role models in the bathroom industry.
Looking back, there were some greatly experienced characters who ignored my obvious KBB naivety and seemed willing to take me under their wing. One such person was industry legend Geoffrey Pidgeon, scion of a successful KBB family and direct descendent of Victorian bathroom innovator, Frederick Humpherson. In our early days, Scope acted as Scottish sub-distributor for the family’s Original Bathrooms business and got access to an incredible array of designer products from Italy. We were ahead of our time as a result, and although we didn’t fully exploit the situation (Glasgow may not have been ready for Agape, Fantini and Flaminia in 1999), it certainly put our firm on the map as ‘one to watch’. Geoffrey treated me like an ‘honorary Pidgeon’ and taught me a lot about the high end of the market.
Another person of influence at that time was Ken Pedrick. Ken was another operator who saw the benefits of importing high-quality products from Europe, most notably Germany. His agency was fully responsible for Kaldewei in the UK and he did a wonderful job in establishing the brand here with the smallest of infrastructures. Ken was old-school and, like Geoffrey Pidgeon, an absolute gentleman.
Another early Scope champion was Ray Peedle. I met Ray when he was sales director at Kermi UK. Ray had held senior positions at Ideal Standard and Barrhead Sanitaryware and had a vast amount of knowledge of the sector. As a fellow Scot, Ray always took an interest in what was happening at Scope. Ray conducted himself in a most professional manner. He taught me the value of networking. I’ve lost touch with him since he retired, but would greatly welcome a catch-up.
Many current industry operators have also influenced and shaped my time in the sector. Russell Barnes, ex-Laufen, is one. Russell is hugely popular in the industry and is now launching a new brand, Brass and Clay, (along with Sean McGran), where his worldwide and UK connections will underpin growth. His knowledge of international sourcing and markets is second to none.
Crosswater founder, David Hance, has been another ever-present character in my KBB life, and I have known him since Crosswater was a small London-centric concern. David has always been a people person and combined this quality with a tremendous knowledge of product development. His sheer energy and enthusiasm is infectious.
None of us has a monopoly on wisdom and foolish is the person who doesn’t observe and learn from more experienced individuals.
Let’s hear it for all the great industry figures – and also for Barbra Streisand.