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Book Excerpts

The Answer is Yes – Now What is the Question?

My amazing story of building the largest independent baby shop in the UK will take you on a journey spanning 4 decades. Despite having no money and no education, my determination to be the best is highlighted in all 392 pages.  It’s inspirational, motivational and funny.  Now it’s time to engage the mind with my reverse psychology.

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Page 15


Don’t Let Yourself Down

I used knowledge from one job to get the next job, and so on. Don’t be afraid to change jobs, because you will find something incredible that you would not have if you had just waited until the right job had come along. And what if it’s not the right job, then what? Don’t waste time by doing nothing. From the moment we started the business, there hasn’t been a wasted moment ever since.

SIDETRACKED

I believe that when people are young and full of energy, they must work every hour they can regardless of the amount of reward they get, not forgetting the amount of money they receive is going to be 100% more than nothing, for doing nothing. Also, the experience they get will be worth far more in the future than the amount of money they have just received and, if they have taken notice, they will be able to sell their experience to other employers later on in their lives.

There are lots of people who would dispute this; these people have an opportunity to work but prefer to sit on their backsides, saying “Why should I work for a pittance?” My answer is that a pittance is better than nothing and, if you think about it, every hour that you don’t work, when you could, is taking you further from your goals in life; well, that’s if your goals include being wealthy forever.

I hear stories from people about their children, or their friends’ children, who have never had a job; they want to get a job but can’t. In my eyes in a lot of cases it’s not a matter of can’t, it’s more of won’t. These people won’t go out of their comfort zone; they certainly won’t, or have not been taught to, think outside of the box. They have pigeonholed themselves and got into a rut and the only way to describe a rut is an open-ended grave. I say to people,

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Page 18


Dreams or Goals – What’s the Difference?
Another one of our dreams was to be financially independent and free of all debts, something that we really did not believe could happen to us. How could it? We had no right to even think like that. That kind of thinking is common in people telling themselves that they are not worthy to be successful.

Well, we had to force those thoughts out of our heads. We did this over time by telling ourselves that everyone, deep down, has the same opportunities as everyone else; we just have to believe in ourselves and not continually compare ourselves to everyone else. I did this until that deep-seated fear of not being as good as everyone around me had gone. Back then, apart from those things, I personally did not know what I liked; I had to figure that out over time. One thing I learned was to tell myself that the job that I was doing that day was the best job in the world; I had to do the job, so I might as well enjoy it – the day went quickly and it gave me a positive mind.

Falling Down Is an Inevitability in Life

Looking back, our dreams, wants, and ambitions were easy; the hard part was keeping focused, especially when things didn’t go to plan.

Maybe because there were no plans, as “You don’t know what you don’t know,” sometimes until it’s too late, and sometimes it’s a good thing in disguise that you don’t know what you don’t know because, if you did know, you probably wouldn’t step on that stone to get over the river. Falling down and getting wet is an inevitable part of life.

I say “dreams”, but I think they really turned into goals. When goals are achieved they complete the dream. I do know that, for us, having a dream was the catalyst to the journey of fulfilment, with the never-ending thought of not taking each other, or anyone else in this world for granted as, once you do, you become an arse and, I am ashamed to say, I’ve been one.

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Page 21 + 22


Mind Over Matter

“Or does it mean determination?”

I found out only after we became millionaires in the 80s that the only way we did it was because we got off our backsides and did something, anything that we were capable of, then some more,
“every hour of every day.”

Keeping our eyes and ears open for opportunities that just seemed to be everywhere if we looked for them, we have always had the passion and desire to look for and seek out deals where there didn’t appear to be any; we didn’t know or realise that, at the time, we were on a journey of highs and lows, and everybody knows that a journey of 1,000 miles starts with one small step. That’s where we all procrastinate so, very often, we will not make that first step until someone pushes us to do it.

“Working for yourself is like leaping into a very cold swimming pool – you are all right once you have got in.” Neville Wright

I think our country needs another one million more self-employed people to boost the economy. There is a type of person generally known as a self -employed entrepreneur; they can be a single, one-man band but, in some cases, in their minds they are acting and thinking like a large company and consequently, in many cases, naturally grow to be a big company.

These people often have the mind of a one-man band when it comes to customer service, being very reliable and efficient by putting themselves into the customer’s shoes at all times. I remember that I had made that transition in my mind, and had also carried it through into the business as it just became natural, but I found the only way that I could make that transition scalable was to have compatible people around me. Without these people I couldn’t have done any of what I did; it’s a very hard transition and, without having those people around, most will fail.

Firstly, having Marilyn around encouraged me to want stability for her; secondly, we wanted to give our children a secure life. After that, everything fell into place with the people whom we attracted.

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Page 22



To Have More Is Quite Easy

“You can get everything in life that you want as long as you just help enough other people get
what they want.” Zig Ziglar

So, just to summarise: for me to get more I had to motivate myself to do more and, when I did more, that motivated me even more to have more. Some words of caution:

“Understand and know why you are doing it.”

One day recently when I was on a plane, I was working on my laptop and I had a fellow passenger start talking to me. She asked what I did for a living so, to keep it short, I said that at the moment I was writing a book on how we built a successful business; I shouldn’t have told her that, as she said to me that so many businesses that had outlets in every shopping centre were exploiting children, making them do menial tasks for minimum wages. I said to her that that was building a more educated person for the realities of life.

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Page 28


Management Responsibility
I think the responsibility of management is to provide a safe and secure job for their workers by helping them create a working environment and life of stress-free happiness, although it’s seldom achieved in the ever-changing competitive world of today; but that must be the aim and, although our business seemed to change every day, it was always with the thought of these principles, striving to make a better place to work in. I can hear people saying, “What a load of old shit,” but there you are, they didn’t know everything that we were thinking in our hearts and heads.

Some of our lovely staff; this picture was taken around 2007. Many of these people helped me in 2010/11 in my darkest days, and I will always be so very grateful to them for the help and understanding that they showed.


On the shop floor in 2007; another move and the inevitable changes

I always wanted to understand people, why they did things that seemed to hurt themselves, especially when they were successfully going up the ladder. It taught me very early on to help others as you are going up because, with the unpredictable way of the world, you could just find yourself working under a person that you have disrespected in the past, and that wouldn’t do, would it? I have found that there are some people who are motivated in life to help others, but some only to help themselves, and there are people who distrust everyone, even the person that they see in the mirror each morning. (Sad)

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Page 33


It Was So Easy To Get a Job

Up to 1974 I had walked into jobs; it was so easy for me to get a job. Then the economy changed. People were wondering why they had not been offered jobs, and it was because all the jobs had disappeared.

The world had changed, a recession was upon us, and thank goodness I had met Albert when I did, some six years earlier. Albert taught me a trade that I could use but, at this time I did not have the confidence in myself to do it and, besides, my attitude was all over the place – “life is not fair.” Not only that, I wanted a job, but at the same time I had disrespected the situation when I had one. This taught me, when I became self-employed, to be interested in learning new things, as you never know when you will need them and since then I have never stopped learning, every day, without fail. There is never a day goes by without learning something of interest; even negative things teach us.

Everybody wants to get the best out of their job. The worst thing in any job is boredom and, if you stay because it’s easy, this will destroy you and your life. Whatever job I have had, I have tried to motivate myself to find something good in the job that I was doing, and then I might even like it. I say I tried, but it never worked.

Unfortunately, it never happened for me, as I was not in control of things. Apart from the job that I had on the pig farm when I first met Marilyn when I was 16 years old, I couldn’t settle on anything before, and then after this. By 1974 I needed to have my back against the wall to motivate me, a situation that’s followed me through life.

Soul-Destroying

Between 1972 and 1974 I worked for the Ministry of Defence; we were waiting for the next war to start, and I thank my God it didn’t. It was the most soul-destroying job that I could ever have had, as it was in a forgotten outpost, literally a massive hole in the ground, where the only contact we had with the outside world was on a Friday.

We would turn on a radio that had been there since the start of war in 1939 to hear someone say a one-liner, like “The dog barked three times today.” Charlie, our boss, took it very seriously and wrote it on a postcard and sent it off to wherever but to me, in 1973, it

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Page 38


Mad, Foolish or Dreamers?

Marilyn. Julia introduced me to her; it was at the same time as pop stars Paul and Barry Ryan were just going into the Embassy Theatre to perform, so I asked this girl Marilyn, that I had only met one minute ago, if she wanted to go to the show. She said no, as she had to get home. That was good, as I never had the money for the tickets anyway, so I would have had to think quickly if she had said yes.

With nothing coming of that, I never thought anything of it. Even the next week, when she saw the photo in the window, and then she sat there in my mum’s lounge with the other three girls, her head down, her long, black hair covering most of her face, saying nothing. I remember thinking that she was gorgeous but, as she wasn’t talking to me, she obviously wasn’t interested. I didn’t know they had seen the picture and they had brought her to look at me.

It wasn’t until the next weekend, when I was outside the home of her friend, Claire D’Arcy (14), chatting to her, and Claire said, “I can’t see you any more; my mother says you should be with boys, of your own age (16), not girls.” Then she said, “But Marilyn likes you.” I said, “Who’s Marilyn?” She said, “The girl we were with at your house – she wanted to see you – and the same girl you met outside the Embassy.”

With that, I asked Claire where Marilyn lived. The second she told me I was off, leaving Claire’s house and going straight to Marilyn’s. I’m glad to say she approved. I am writing this at 2 am on 4th July 2014; it is our 44th wedding anniversary, forty-eight years after we first met, all thanks to Julia, Claire, and especially Terry – without your effort to win that trophy I wouldn’t have been with Marilyn all of these years.

Mad, Foolish or Dreamers?

Were we mad, foolish, or just two more dreamers? Actually, I think we were all of those things; mad, because we had never had any experience of business whatsoever; foolish, because we had no money at all, nothing that we could lay our hands on and, yes, we were definitely two of the world’s greatest dreamers.

Just Don’t Give Up

By 1974 our dreams of becoming wealthy overnight just disappeared and realistic dreams took their place, thinking of what we wanted to have, to be, and do, in ten, twenty, thirty, or even fifty years’ time. This took us into a different place as far as our

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Page 71


I ask myself every day: What am I doing with my business? Is it good or bad, is it right or wrong? Am I going nearer to or further away from my goals and my heart’s desires?

Everything Is Great

Of course, there are other things to take into consideration, especially in a business that you have involved family in, or those who have other skills that are needed. Once the honeymoon is over, which can take only weeks, but mostly years, the cracks will appear as everyone has their own agenda. I would recommend a clear strategy and frequent updates on the progress, and have a get-out option for everybody concerned, together with rules of the business that should be adhered to. Most family businesses don’t have that kind of thing; they just evolve along the way, like ours did.

Passion

Both our businesses were built with passion, enthusiasm and focus, which is highly attractive when people are associated with it, whether it’s through employment or supplying goods and services and, at the same time, it is addictive for the owners, but with lots of consequences along the way.

I found that the passion in what I was doing could get so addictive that I would just keep going, irrespective of everything or anybody else in my life. There was a driving force inside of me pushing to challenge and beat myself at what I was doing; I was competing against myself.

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“I must do the most productive thing possible, at every given moment.”

Our number-one goal was financial independence, our second goal…There wasn’t a second goal until the first one was accomplished.

Use the Kiss Principle

“Keep it simple.” This saying is a classic that’s been around forever, and why? Because it’s true – there are lots of complicated things in life. The simpler you can make a business, the better the chances are that it will be around for a long time, and the more valuable it will get; and, when it does get valuable to someone, don’t be afraid to capitalise on your hard work.

I hear people saying, “I work in my business because it’s a lifestyle. I love doing it but I will never make any money.” This means, in other words, that the business is not working for them – they are working for the business. Making money is all about making the business work for you; consequently, they are buying their own business every day.

We were always aware of this trap. Very often, people will work all of their lives then close their business, because they haven’t thought about selling it and putting things into place like developing the business five or even ten years beforehand, so they can keep up their lifestyle until they pop their clogs.

If your business is not working for you, just think before you throw the towel in: Are there other businesses around in your sector that are successful? I remember that we had to be only 1% better than the nearest competitor to take their business.

Have You Got a Prize-Winning Racehorse?

From the first day in our business, we thought that first we would create a business that would sustain our lifestyle; this was no problem as we didn’t have one yet; secondly, a business the family could make a living from and sustain all of their needs and, thirdly, one which could be around and passed on to generations to come, or be sold for a substantial amount of money. To be honest, that was never a thought at that time; that came a lot later. So in 1974,

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Page 76


I Mentally Treated Work as a Game

I mentally treated the business as a game; a competition with imaginary players all competing against me. Losing wasn’t an option. I had said in that dole office to that man behind the counter who verbally gripped my balls and my life, not to think that he was in control of my life. I said that I would look after my family myself; there was no way on this earth that I would ever go cap in hand to him, or anyone like him, ever again. Unfortunately for most people, life is just too easy; I should emphasise this.

Neville Wright
“If life was harder, it would be easier to make the sacrifices needed to become rich.”

Security was Marilyn’s number one priority in her life, so all decisions were made with that criterion in mind. Will this decision take us nearer to, or further from our ambitions and goals in life? As we wanted to be secure in the long run, I repeat, the long run, it didn’t matter about the short run to us. Marilyn needed a great deal of money to make her life secure, or so she thought at the time, having started with nothing at all. A great amount in 1966 was £25,000; now, in 2014, it’s £25 million. Just imagine, and project into the future, how much will be a great amount in another 48 years time.

My priority, on the other hand, was to prove to myself that I was capable of looking after us, so working harder and longer became normal. The more I did this, the more I wanted to do it; it was like I was hooked. I just could not stop myself from working, then investing the money into the business without a thought of easing up on myself. Every day, push, push, pushing myself, and I found that everyone around me did the same; really, it was just using time efficiently, that’s all. That is until one night in 1977, three years into the business. I got home late, as usual; Marilyn said, “Neville, if you keep working like this you will come home one day and we won’t be here.” SHIT! I thought to myself, “Why am I doing this, anyway?” After all, I was doing it for Marilyn and Elaine and, if I was going to lose them, what was the point of all the hard work?

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Page 131


Money Is a Product, Not a Goal for Us

It can be very hard for most people to go and risk all of their money. I suppose we had never had any real money in our hands; it was always tied up in assets, and living in the 10ft caravan was a standard; it did not matter. Money was now a product for us, to be used in the business, not a goal. Obviously, the more you have the more you can do. It was then that we started to use the leveraging of our assets as a means of expansion; it wasn’t because we had to do it, like we did before, it was because we wanted to just for fun. Some people have hobbies and interests; business became ours, and the only difference was we were getting paid for this hobby.

Mentally, this liberated us to push our business forward without constantly worrying about debt all of the time; although we were getting into more debt than we ever had before, it was a debt that we thought we could manage and repay quite easily because we were starting to buy more property assets. We were borrowing money to make money; we could see the property market that we were in at the time was on an upward trend, so we went with it.

“Money Wasted Is Just That, Money Wasted”

Neville Wright

SIDETRACKED

There are people who say to me that they wish they had got the money to start a business or money for investments that they are interested in. If I know them, I say to them, “You’ve got a house that is paid for, or nearly paid for; that will give you plenty of collateral so you could leverage this asset so you really have got the money available to you.” Unfortunately, they say, “I’m not going to do that. I am not risking my house.” I say, “Of course not; stay away from making money, keep on making excuses for not putting your money where your mouth is; just keep wishing someone else will do it for you.”

There are people I speak to who have made the decision to be independent and look after themselves. They are like sponges; they soak up all of the information they can, then they look for ways that the information can be used in their business and lives, always

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Page 145


Life Is a Journey and a Series of Ifs

Life is a series of ifs; if I was good at spelling I would have stayed in one of the jobs that I had, probably forever. If the government had given me enough money I would have stayed on the dole. If we could have sold our house before going self-employed, I would have had the fear of losing the money, maybe, and then I would not have had the courage to go into business.

None of these things happened, so I had started the business with 37p, not having the slightest clue of where life would take us. We had not realised that living in that caravan was the best thing that could have happened to us, as it had given us a standard that we could cope with so, above that we were happy, enabling us to burn our bridges over the years, very often risking everything and saying that if this all goes wrong we can go back to living in a caravan. This nearly came true many times over in the first few years, so not getting complacent was never far from our thoughts.

By the beginning of 1977 we were good at buying property. We thought that we knew where we were going, but never imagined how far we could go, and still don’t know 40 years later, and where we will end up before we pop our clogs. Property was now in our blood, in our minds and in our hearts; there was no going back. We realised that, at that time, success to us was working together, and the way to keep it on that track was to help as many people as possible get what they wanted, and for them to pay us for what we did at the same time. We also realised that the more we thought about what people wanted, the more we did, and the more exciting it got, and the more we attracted money; this is where we excelled once we started the shop.

A Builder Buying Second-Hand Prams!!

We were not only working for clients, we worked on our own properties, and were now creating the shop as well. I had now become involved in buying second-hand prams in the evenings. We would look at the local paper adverts then go to the house and buy them. What a contrast, but it was so exciting. Maybe at this point I will make a list of our hobbies; that’s easy, there were only three: work, work and, oh yes, work, but every minute was so exciting.

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Page 171


Business Changes Every Day

“We all change every day; that’s life”

So, by 1978, four years after we had started the window-cleaning business and three years after Wrightway Decorating, we were just finishing off the last of the customers’ work that we had promised we would do. We had progressed in that short time to working only on our own properties; the name Wrightway Decorating and Property Maintenance wasn’t conducive to what we were now doing.

Marville Properties Was Our New Name

If we were going to concentrate on buying and selling houses, and by now we were thinking about building a large portfolio to include commercial premises as well, we needed to review the name. The local estate agents probably would not have taken us seriously with the existing name, so it had to be changed to reflect what we were doing. The business has always been a 50-50 partnership so, on 27th September 1979 our names, Marilyn and Neville, became Marville, and we just added Properties on the end, with the tagline of residential and commercial investments.

We had traded properties from 1975, buying and selling one or two properties at a time. Now we could step up and buy more. We used to go into estate agents and ask what they had for £1,500 or less; they would go to their filing cabinets and have a rummage around, and probably bring out about six or eight properties, all under the £1,500. We knew virtually all of the properties that they would show us.

We knew all the streets in Peterborough, because we would never go to the same place twice without going on a different route, looking out for sale boards. I would make ridiculous offers on all eight properties, even though I’d never seen inside them. I would offer the price of a virtual rebuild, so I used to think that any condition above that was a bonus. The agents would say, “If you were fortunate enough to get all of these, would you be able to buy them?”

Do you think I was going to say no? Of course not! I used to say, “Yes”, of course, thinking there was no way that all of these people would accept my offer. However, just in case they did, I was confident enough that I would find the money from somewhere. The

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Page 185


Look After the Pennies

“And look after the pounds as well”

For years I have asked people to answer a question in 5 seconds:

Which one would you pick?

1 million pounds cash right now, or

1 penny today, and doubled every day for 31 days?

Just so you understand, without any doubt; on the first day I would give you 1 penny, the next day 2, the next 4, the next 8, and so on. On the eleventh day it would have accumulated to £10.24.

Which would you take?

Answer now – 1 million or 1 penny?

When it comes to money, lots of people like to keep it, hoard it away for a rainy day, or just because they feel safe seeing their savings in a bank ready for them to live on when they don’t have a job or don’t want to work.

Now think about this: if, after working and saving for thirty years, you find out a thief has been stealing a bit of your savings every week you would be very angry, so why are you not angry about inflation doing the same thing every week? Inflation is just robbing you so that your money deflates, leaving you unable to buy what you could have just a year ago. So I say that your money is being stolen. Most people don’t see it like that and, if they do, they don’t understand just what it’s doing to their savings and the diminishing returns they can get on their money.

Another question for you, in 5 seconds please.

Who is the winner when it comes to money?

The person who saves their money in a bank?

The bank which lends that money to a customer?
The person who is the borrower of that money?

The answer, in the vast number of cases, is the person who borrows. You see, different times call for different strategies, but the

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Heartbreaking Days

“Things came to try us”
It was now October 1981. Marilyn was pregnant at the time; we were so excited – we had been longing for another baby. We were also looking for a new house, something that would match our income and lifestyle, when I discovered a 47-room mansion in an isolated village. The price was around £240,000, the equivalent house today is £2.5 million; to put that into perspective, we were buying brand-new four-bedroom detached houses in Peterborough for £25,000. This was ten times that price; we had come from a 10ft caravan that we classed as our standard of living, at our lowest point in life in 1973, to this, in eight years.

You Have Only One Life

SIDETRACKED

What’s The Worst Thing That Can Happen? Here I just want to say how we dared to do the things we did by taking what most people would call massive risks, literally risking everything. Maybe I have said this before, but I will say it again.

Although we had lived and survived in that little caravan with a three- year-old, in the snow and the freezing cold, it had done us no harm. It had taught us to realise that possessions were far less important to us as a family; we were the only things that mattered. If we lost everything but still had each other, then that’s all we would need. Of course, having lots of money at the same time is better, because it gives you the freedom of choice.

If You Have Made the Effort Once
So when some people ask for my advice on how to make more money, and I tell them, some say to me, “It’s all right for you, with all that money. I have just my house, and I am not risking that.” I say, “That’s fine. When you die, your dream of having wealth has gone with you, but you have lost your house anyway, so don’t get hung up on possessions. Your God gave them to you as a reward for your effort, so why have you stopped making an effort? The loss is obviously greater than the reward that you are seeking; maybe you need to relook at what you want because, when the reward becomes bigger than the potential loss, the effort will be made.”

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BACK

The house was very spooky, and too far away, but that’s how crazy our minds were at the time, well mine was, anyway. The thing was, it was like a mausoleum – too big, too dark and too isolated for Marilyn. She soon put me right about living there, so we just kept looking, as we needed a home with privacy, security and on its own.

Unfortunately, Marilyn lost that baby a few days later. Our lives were so hectic, with not a minute to think, and she was back at work the day after discharging herself from hospital. In fact she had to, because we had to go to London for two days to the Nursery Fair. It was at the Russell Hotel, Russell Square, where all of the new products for the nursery industry were shown for the year and, if you didn’t put your orders in for the next six months, you wouldn’t get any stock.

Marilyn was the only one who could do it, as we didn’t have any staff with buying capabilities at the time. How she got through those two days I will never know; buying prams is a very girly thing, you have to be in the mind-set of an expectant mother with an understanding of the emotions, needs, and wants. Marilyn was in that mind-set the day before we went to the show. I can’t imagine what it was like for her; I tried not to look at her, but every time I caught a glimpse of her face her eyes were filled with tears. She just kept her head down and did the ordering non-stop from 9am to 7pm, constantly looking at and buying the new products.

The Highlight of Our Year

Those two days back then, once a year, were the highlight of our year in the nursery business. In the 1970s and 1980s there were more than 2,000 independent shops selling baby products in the UK; now, in 2014, there are around 200 left.
Everybody seemed to be so happy enjoying themselves; the hustle and bustle of trying to get appointments with manufacturers, seeing and talking to other shopkeepers who we had met at other trade shows, and staying in a hotel in London, even though it was just for one night. This trip was like a luxury holiday to us; we used to get the bedroom just above the entrance, because it had a little sitting area next to the bedroom where they would put a bed for Elaine.

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We did not have to know everything about the nursery trade; there were more than 2000 competitors who could teach us, and we assumed they were all making a living. It amazes me that, with all the experience out there, we the newcomers become the most successful – why?

That’s an easy one to answer – just carry on when other people stop. Obstacles are just something that gives you time to think, and being responsible is a learned thing; once we were over 24 and looking after ourselves with our brains that had matured, we became completely responsible for ourselves. Then, we naturally grew into becoming responsible for others around us; once we learned and accepted this, it was a great feeling.

I can’t believe now, looking back, that I was, at the age of 30, looking at a 47-roomed mansion that had not been touched for a hundred years. I wouldn’t do that now but, if Marilyn had said yes, I would have found a way to have bought it; what was in my mind?

Marilyn always put her business before herself and carried on regardless, knowing that one day she would be secure; I suppose that’s why she went along with my mad, scary, crazy, nutcase but sometimes-brilliant ideas.

“You only have to be right 51% of the time to be a success in business.”

Money Just Kept Rolling In
The money just rolled in so, financially, we were much better off now, because the income was very consistent from the shop as well as the property side, which had been erratic, but good. The average wage in 1982 was £7,500 pa and, by then, we were making £60,000. Having said that, our personal drawings were a fraction of what we were earning; the surplus stayed in the business. This actually got a hold of me; I tried to live on next to nothing while at the same time re-investing as much as possible into the business.

I still had this dreadful fear of failing, and that dole queue was never far from my mind. I have just spoken to a person today, who told me that he bought all of their nursery equipment from us in the 80s. He said, “We had a choice of where to buy and the reason we chose you was because there was just something about you two – the way you cared about the customers and the passion you had for the products that we didn’t get in other shops.”

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This One Made Us Millions

Ek Pialla Garam Chaar

“One cup of hot tea;” my dad told us this when we first started in business. This one sentence, once implemented, has made us millions of pounds. When he was in India the shopkeepers used to invite people into the shops, and then ask if they would like a cup of tea.

He said that the process was very, very simple. The tea was a free gift; the hotter it was, the longer it would take to drink, meaning more time for you to wander around the shop. The more you would see in that business, the longer you were there, and the more the shopkeeper would befriend you; then, everything being equal, if there was something that you wanted, why not buy it from him?

My Dad told us about that on our first day; however, it took something like 5 years for us to implement the strategy, and only when we got our third shop. We put a small reception area in the middle of the Nursery department that doubled up as a tea-and-coffee bar; we then went one step further by adapting this to our business by adding hot chocolate, soup in a cup, orange and biscuits, all free, something for everyone, adults and especially kids.

The Law of Compensation

The more we gave, the more we received – “speculate to accumulate.” Local people who would go for a walk around the village would stop for a free coffee, a win-win situation unbeknown to them. Just by being there they were helping us to sell to new customers coming in for the first time; the thought of a shop in a village, packed with people, it must be good and, of course, every aspect of the business was.

It doesn’t always work, though; we met a bus driver when we had a rare holiday in the Isle of Wight, who said he took coach trips to the new shopping centre in Peterborough and he would do detours to our shop if we crossed his palm with silver. Well, the first coach came – 47 people had free drinks and a whole case of biscuits, and then someone asked for a sandwich. Six loaves and a ton of ham later they left, with not a penny in the till; that was the first and last coach that we entertained.

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Having Fun and Making Money

What better way is there to make a living, than doing something that you love to do with the people you love to be with?


Elaine, Marilyn, me & JoJo.

Every Job Was Another Plate

If you have seen a clown, they get one plate spinning, that’s fantastic; then they get another one spinning; no problem to get the third one spinning, they cope with it, then the fourth, then they have to start going back to the first, second, third and then the fourth. They then get ambitious and they do a fifth, and back they go to number one, all over again.

No time to rest, no time for holidays. No time for long lunches. This was us; after a while, we were there spinning eight or nine plates. It got easy, we got used to it; it’s so easy thinking we were invincible, piling on ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen but realistically, in business, to get up to this number quickly you would have to involve the bank.

We were leveraging our assets with the bank and had no problem giving them all of our assets, including our house; we also extended our credit that we had with our suppliers, many times. If our suppliers wanted to sell us their surplus stock, we would want to pay for it once we had sold it. This amounted to leveraging our souls, which I became uncomfortable with as I liked to pay for

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Think With the End in Mind
In 1989 we also applied to rebuild the shop to make it bigger, as we were so busy. The plans got refused, and that’s when the fun started as the Council said that a new shop, although a traditional building, would be out of character in a conservation area. I could not understand their logic; the building that we occupied was a 1960, flat-roofed retail store, more like a cheap industrial unit, and it was in the middle of a conservation village.

“So I painted the old building to show them what ‘out of character’ was”

Sorry!!!

We went back to planning, with no luck again, so I got the first five of twenty TV aerials and put them on the roof. Then I put flags on them. I then got into trouble with the locals – unknowingly, I had put the Union Jack upside down. They said that I did it on purpose and I was being disrespectful, but I didn’t know there was a right and wrong way – the lines all looked the same to me, flapping about in the wind; another 15 to go, some with skull and crossbones, etc.

I had an artist, Bob Pickersgill, a customer of ours paint the building with a Noah’s Ark and animals down the side, and the front with a cottage and a big rainbow. No one could miss it when they came down the road, which led to increased business for us. The Council were not pleased, but there was nothing they could do.

“We loved that shop and everything about it”

Golly, Bob, What Have You Done?
Then someone spotted that Bob had painted a golly in one of the cottage windows, so we had a nasty, threatening letter from a customer who was offended; he came into the shop and repeatedly asked a member of the staff what the picture on the wall was, trying to put words into her mouth.

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What Is Normal?

“Whatever it is, keep away from it, don’t let it get you”

By the 1990s we had now learned and gained the ability to be flexible, with the attitude of “The answer is ‘yes’, now what’s the question?” That meant that when customers said, “Can you…?” we would say yes before they had finished asking the question. We still worked hard, only now we were getting incredible rewards for it, so we started to have the things that came with surplus money – worldwide holidays, good cars, my first Bentley.

SIDETRACKED

Marilyn did not like the Bentley, but my mum and dad loved it, which meant so much to me. When I say Marilyn didn’t like it, it was because one day when out in the Bentley, we drew up to the traffic lights on the bridge in Stamford where we lived; some builders in a van in front of us opened the back doors of the van then dropped their pants in front of us. I just laughed, but Marilyn was embarrassed and refused to go in the car again, so I put it in the garage and just forgot about it.

We could now afford nice food, in nice restaurants, although that didn’t mean that we were extravagant. We only ever lived on 10% of what we made, the rest going back into the businesses, as their growth needed more and more money to feed them.

BACK

Eating out every night became a normal necessity of working life, because the more money we earned the more responsibility we had, and the harder we worked, the less time we had at home; everything that needed doing at home, like cleaning, gardening, and the help in looking after Jo, was done by two lovely people, Sandra and Clive Kent. They looked after us so we could work extra hours at the drop of a hat, which happened most days.

We were getting so busy that it was not possible to see all of the reps during the day; we would see some of them in the evenings, and some would stay at our house instead of a hotel. We could get the buying done without the disturbances that inevitably would happen in the shop during the daytime. There would also be more time to chat and find out what was going on in the trade.

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The Last Straw
By May 1993 the last straw came when I could not get upstairs. I was on my hands and knees, and Marilyn was trying to help me up the stairs; I was screaming with pain, even though I had taken everything going for relief. The next day I was still out washing mud off lorry wheels before they left site, so as not to get mud on the road. At the same time, in my head I was planning my exit from this life because I felt that I just couldn’t carry on.

At that time Marilyn was overseeing a huge project of rebuilding what was our main store in Werrington village; the store was being rebuilt in three sections while we were still trading there. This project was taking 35 weeks, plus fit-out, to complete; it was a logistics nightmare for her. On top of that she was organising Elaine’s wedding; the reception was to be at home, and we were having a 48ft conservatory built at home with a massive new patio, new walls, new planting – the works. On top of this, she was looking after me.

It Wasn’t Time
I couldn’t stand the pain any more, and there was no way out. I was drinking so much alcohol along with the pills to ease the pain – I just felt life would not get any better for me. On the other hand, I felt like Marilyn’s life would only get worse looking after me.

I had kept my thoughts from everyone; besides, what could they do about it? The next morning at 11 am, as I was washing the mud off the wheels, my knees and back bent, eyes streaming because of the pain that was getting worse by the minute, Marilyn appeared. She said, “I’ve rung a surgeon who has a waiting list a year long, but his 1 o’clock appointment has cancelled; if we get there he will see you.”

I went with Marilyn to see him in the Peterborough Hospital. Going down the corridor I was literally holding onto the walls and radiators; I wanted to crawl on the floor, but that would have made me look like a twat. Even though I was ready to kill myself, I still had my dignity. He said that we needed to get to the local private hospital, as they had a MRI scanning machine there. Back down the corridor we went; how I managed to get to the end I don’t know – the adrenalin had gone completely. I was ready and wanted to die.

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Stand Back and Think
SIDETRACKED

At one point we owed £1,075,000 to the bank, as we had started to keep most of the properties for passive income. This amounted to a lot of money then, a lot easier to borrow than to pay back when, or if, something happens. The tipping point came when a friend died at the age of 39, leaving his wife and children; he had what seemed to be a great life, and a super business of, what I believe to be at the time, six shops and manufacturing business.

Now his wife was left to look after their business all on her own, with two young children, which must have been an impossible task, and then, after about a two-year struggle, the business folded. And, as our business was no different, it made us think – what if…?

The two of us played many parts, we wore lots of hats, and so, if one of us were to go, that would mean 50% of the key staff would go from the business and the other 50% would crack under the pressure.

At that time we were the only ones who knew everything about the business; the managers had their areas of responsibility, and Elaine and Jo were too busy with the advertising and promoting of the business, and all of the customers to deal with. That left little time

to learn the boring bit of how to run a business. At that time neither was interested, as the other stuff was far too exciting for them.

I did not want them to be left in the same position as our friend’s family, thinking that if one of us died, it would be awful for them to be left with a huge debt that I had happened to accumulate in both of our businesses due to expanding them. The answer was to play a game that I heard on one of my motivational tapes, called “Dad’s dead”! The game went like this: “Dad’s dead; what do we do now?” Then Marilyn, Elaine and Jo had to decide what to do.

Would they keep the business? And if so, how? Would they sell? And then do what? Some very interesting questions; and a lot of answers were needed. One answer I got was that we would carry on as normal, so I said, “OK, I will be dead today – run the business.” Within five minutes of that, someone started asking me questions; “Have we got enough money to buy this property?” I said, “I’m dead, ask someone else,” then more questions followed; “Have we got enough space for surplus stock? Who is our estate agent? What bank do we use? What is our plan for the business in the future,” etc., etc.

The game of “Dad’s dead” went on for a bit when we realised that we needed to do something; that game alone makes you aware of the need for key staff, and for partners to know more about the business that they rely on for their living. I urge everybody I talk to play that game before it’s not a game any more; you too should try this in your business, or just in your life in general.

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Why Have a Pension?

SIDETRACKED

When I first realised we had got about £200,000 in the nine pensions, I was annoyed, as we had still got another 17 years before we could start drawing the money as a pension. I didn’t want to waste any of it through erosion, sitting in some bank account just going down in value over those 17 years. Now we were thinking of expanding again, we could transfer all of the pensions into one, which was called a self-invested personal pension, or SIPP, and that meant we could control it ourselves under some very strict rules. I didn’t mind that; as long as I was able to make the money work for us, it would be great.

The rules were that you could buy commercial property in this SIPP, and get a 50% mortgage but, with only £200,000 it wouldn’t get us very far and, if we saved up in the normal way, it would take us years to accumulate enough, after paying tax, to buy anything substantial like we needed.

Now, after three years of strict financial constraints, around 1998 we suddenly found we had over £430,000 extra profit that year. I had the mindset needed to manipulate money; I may have been dyslexic, but I knew how to put money to good use, and Marilyn trusted me implicitly with every penny, like I trusted her with the decision-making in relation to the rest of the business. So we put the £430,000 into our pensions as, in those days, you could go back six years and reclaim your tax that had been paid, consequently getting a £215,000 tax refund. We did that again in 1999, reclaiming around £240,000 of tax, so we did benefit from paying our taxes. It was “a window of opportunity” at the time, not to be missed.


The First Car-Seat Fitter

BACK

We were not only short of retail space, we were short of car-parking too. We also needed six dedicated parking bays for baby-car-seat fitting, something that I had done since starting the business; a company called Securon had just brought out the first child’s car seats that needed to be bolted into the car, and I am pretty sure that I was the first person in the UK to fit them.

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The Internet Went Live

December 1999. The Internet Went Live
Scott and Barrie had been working to open up the website ready for Christmas Day. Scott was still doing this while working in London; I am sure that, at the time, he didn’t think there would ever be enough work for it to be a full-time job for him. When we got the first order of a Maclaren pushchair, wow, what a great feeling for everybody after so much time and money had been spent on it. This was an extra to our everyday business; it reminded me of my window-cleaning days, when I could get another house in before it got too dark to see.

This was a whole lot different, though; this system would work 1440 minutes a day for us with no hassle, no sales people, no sickness, no lighting or heating at nights when the orders were coming in; in fact, no extra overheads. Again, we had two businesses for the price of one; fantastic, so easy, and so simple.

Once you have a working business that is successful, all you have to do is bolt another allied business to it, using the infrastructure that you have already; therefore, all of the profit drops to the bottom line; well, in theory anyway.


Christmas party for 150 people; staff, their partners and our friends. From the left: me, Scott, Gadget, Dad, Barry, head of Security, and Marilyn. On the table behind Gadget were Sandra and Clive Kent, the people who looked after us at home. Elaine took the picture.

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A Rejection Can Be Great
A Rejection Can Be GreatThere was at first a lot of opposition to putting products into new packaging, because we were the only ones asking for it. They couldn’t do it just for us, so, in those situations, we had our own new boxes made and just put one box inside the other. One good thing came out of this – we were able to have them printed with our name and what Kiddicare did, advertising the website and the shop to everyone who handled or saw the box all over the country.

It was a blessing in disguise when some companies refused to make better packaging for us. We weren’t going to accept this, and it made us even more determined to run our business without them.

Property and Retail, Same Principles
It was a very similar situation to that which we had in the property business in the 1970s, when we realised that it would be better to just work on our own property and not do other people’s work, as there would be a limit to what we could charge.

We needed to be in total control of our Kiddicare business, only choosing to do business with the people who could see where we were going in this trade, and being in control ourselves by manufacturing and selling our own brands, enabling our profit margins to rise.

We Just Re-boxed Their Products
In the meantime, we would just re-box their products ourselves, knowing that their other customers were nowhere near us and would have to go through the same obstacles as us if they were to follow this path which, by then, we knew they would have to because we could see that retail businesses were definitely going in one direction, and that was down the drain.

We Were Leading the Field
From that first hour of changing the way we did business on the Internet we knew that we were in the lead of the nursery Internet field. Manufacturers would say to us, “You are the only company

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A Job for Jackie
There’s a job for everyone in the world, it’s just a matter of finding it. Just after we moved we had been taking on more staff. A girl came in and said she had been made redundant from the factory next door and had we got any warehouse jobs? I said there were none in the warehouse, so I gave her a job on the shop floor. In those days we just had men in the warehouse, although Elaine, Jo, Marilyn and all the long-serving staff had no problem working in there but, as it was getting busy, I didn’t want to put new staff in the warehouse as it was such hard and often dirty work, so it wasn’t conducive with sending staff on to serve people in the shop as well as working in the warehouse.

After two weeks, Jackie came to see me to give in her notice. She said that there was no way she could work in a shop, and she was going to look for a job in a warehouse. There was something about her that told me not to accept her notice, so I asked her why. She said that she was used to a production line managing forty people, so she could work on picking and packing products. I said we had not picked and packed anything for a year.

I couldn’t bear to think that the customer would get the wrong products ever again, and that we would lose money again. People would have to wait until such time as we got a foolproof system, but that was just another thing on the IT to-do list. There were now eight people in that department, who were producing probably the same amount of work as forty people in a large organisation. We had now perfected the picking system, which was one product per box as it had come in from the manufacturer; the only downfall was that we had to have staff who knew every one of the 1000 products by eye as, again, bar-coding was on the to-do list, which would take another few years to implement. Luckily, we had by now some very good staff who knew what they were doing.

I wanted to keep this girl; I could see in her eyes that she had the will and determination to succeed.

So, I had Jackie standing in front of me intimating that she could do the job blindfolded, standing on her head, and I believed her. There were about 3000 items to go at but, with so many different sizes and types of things, I said I would choose six items like rain covers and pram mattresses that go with prams and pushchairs that customers had repeatedly asked us to send over the last twelve months; we would try it for one week.

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The Farce Began Tuesday 5th October 2010

The barrister said, “You have ten minutes to tell me your life story.” I poured my heart out; how we started the business and the struggles over the years, how proud we were to have accomplished this with our family and how we were so proud of employing so many people in Peterborough and now, through red tape and the fault of the system, we felt failures. To top it all, we were in debt to the tune of £14 million, this now being the straw that was mentally breaking the camel’s back.

A Mental Meltdown Was About To Happen
We got into the court. There was a coffee shop, so we sat down at a table with a lady whom the solicitor recognised; she was the solicitor for the Environment Agency. They started to talk, and I sat next to a young girl. I asked who she was; this was the person who had instigated all of this fiasco in the first place.

I asked how this all came about, and she said that she was passing the new building and just thought that we might not be complying with the regulations. I said, “Why take people to court? Why not just let them know, so they can then comply?” She said that they had no money for their department and the only way that they could get it was to prosecute.

I told our solicitor that these people hadn’t got a clue how they were affecting peoples’ lives and how damaging it was to businesses; he said that I must not say anything in court – I must remain silent at all costs.

The prosecution, as I understood, was that we hadn’t complied on three counts of the regulations: one, we hadn’t applied for a form; two, we hadn’t filled it in and three, we hadn’t sent it back. All three had a minimum fine of £10,000 each, so the fine would be £30,000. They were also saying that we owed £29,129 in back duties for what we had sent for recycling.

Our barrister told our story virtually word for word, with such compassion; listening to that brought back the memories of the hardship and the continuous fight that we had been through. To then end up in court was too much for me; I could feel myself cracking, wanting to shout out that this was an injustice, but I had been told to stay silent.

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My Book

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A must-read book if you are in business, retail, dealing with the public or just want to understand what it takes…
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The fact that all the proceeds go to charity is just an added bonus.

What a lovely, kind man with a great philosophy. So many high street stores could learn so much from this book.

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