Rugby Fitted Kitchens boss, Trevor Scott, fondly recalls some of the larger-than-life characters he’s met in the industry
I learnt a lot from one of my first bosses, Malcolm Finney. He was the sales manager for the fledgling Eurodesign 2000 contracts division of A&H Factors – the Birmingham-based Rational agents who, along with Leicester-based Aspen Interiors, pretty much had the lion’s share of the imported German kitchen market to themselves in the late Seventies and early Eighties.
Malcolm was one of a kind – sharp-suited and could sell ice to the eskimos. I learnt as much from him about how not to sell as I did about how to sell.
His bosses, Alan Turland and Howard Fenny, had built up a thriving chain of kitchen showrooms across greater Birmingham that traded as Princess Kitchens. The week after I started, Alan took delivery of his new Bentley and parked it next to Howard’s Porsche 928. “If I want to make some serious dosh,” I thought, “this is the industry to be in.”
I learnt even more from my next boss, Alf Norris, owner of Ambassador Kitchens in Leicester. He, along with Michael ‘Foggy’ Dewhirst (father of current owner Damian), Dave Leate and another whose name I now forget opened four of the first independent German-based kitchen studios in Leicester in the Seventies.
Alf was also founding chair of the KSA – the forerunner to the KBSA. Sadly, he died a few months into retirement, which taught me a valuable lesson – you can’t take it with you, so enjoy it while you can.
We supplied Alno kitchens back then. Its export director was none other than Field Marshal Rommel’s nephew. You can just imagine the jokes…
This was the first time I met Angela Ash, who repped for Alno, but went on to represent many companies, including Maurice Lay. Whoever she worked for, I would buy from them, because of her – she’s one of the greats.
It was around this time I first visited Interbuild at the NEC, the event that preceded the current kbb Birmingham exhibition. I’ll never forget Neville Johnson dressed up as Churchill with a two-tier stand – opposite Rational’s – that was built to resemble a sandbagged Downing Street, emblazoned with Union Jacks and ‘dolly birds’ dressed up as bikini-clad Tommies, with the famous ‘We’ll fight them on the beaches’ speech blasting out of the PA.
Then there was Derek Rixon of the eponymous DR Cooker Hoods, my first boss when I went on the road as a rep. He was a larger-than-life character, as so many of the leaders in our industry were, and still are. I was lucky enough to meet Francesco Casoli, son of Ermanno Casoli, who created the domestic cooker hood. I am, of course, talking about Elica, whose products today are still at the cutting edge.
I can’t not mention David Burbidge, father of current Burbidge MD Ben, who was my boss from the mid-Eighties until the end of the decade. It was through his foresight that the whole sub-industry of component kitchens made locally gained access to a range of solid oak doors available ex-stock. A whole sector that simply didn’t exist prior to this light-bulb moment.
I met many people who influenced this industry during that period – Phil Player then of Homefit Furniture but, for the past 30 years, Pullman Kitchens. Simon Bolt of Programme Furniture in Hereford, Trevor Foster of System Six in Exeter and John Bruck of Woodfit – now both sadly passed.
After I started RFK in March 1993, life became a bit more insular and the people I met were those who visited us to do business.
Mike Lawrence of Waterline was very influential in those early days and his enthusiasm, drive and determination to make Waterline the biggest and the best distributor in the industry rubbed off on me in no small way.
Maurice Lay was another big supplier back then, and subsequently I count his son, Danny, as a good friend. Indeed, he recently made my stepdaughter feel very welcome and assisted her as she has made Bristol her home after leaving university. Thank you, Danny.
In more recent years, we’ve found ourselves using Swift Electrical Wholesalers for our Franke and other secondary products and I’ve built up a good personal friendship with sales director, Rob Griffin, as we both share a love of scuba diving and fast bikes. Indeed, we spent a week haring around the Isle of Man watching the TT some years back, and we’ve both slept on each other’s hotel bedroom floors. Sadly, Rob lost his wife very suddenly just before Christmas – all our thoughts are with you, pal.
Of course, it wasn’t long before RFK started using Neff appliances, which in those days were represented by an old-school character and charmer, Charlie McHugh – hope you’re keeping well, mate?
And it wasn’t many years before I got to know Mr Neff himself, Mike Jarrett. It was always business with Mike, but his word was his bond and he never let us down.
Although it’s not impossible to do business with people you don’t like, it helps if you do get on well with them.
I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends at kbb Birmingham next month. See you all there.