A greater contrast between two partners you could not find in this business that bought and sold redundant stocks of consumer goods. One was rock ‘n roll with shoulder length hair, a penchant for designer jeans, Rolls Royces and mixing socially with the rich and famous. The other partner was Mozart, smart casual before it became de riguer on Fridays and then for the rest of the working week, Jaguars and living the quiet family life with just a few very close friends.
Their business specialised in buying in redundant stock from any source that could not shift it themselves for full retail or needed to shift it quickly because of financial reasons or the stock had become tired and could not be moved through normal outlets. Through a network of contacts either of the partners would hear of a stock that was available. Either of them would go to the warehouse to meet the vendors, view the stock and then make an offer on it if it could be moved through their own contacts. They would have a fair idea of the full retail value of the stock and then make an offer of say five pence in the £. The vendors would always hope for more and usually not accept the offer immediately.
While the vendors were considering the offer the partner would retreat to his car and start trying to sell the stock on through their own network of contacts. A perfect outcome would be that they could sell the whole consignment as one parcel without having any warehousing costs and sell it at a price on the phone that would enable them to go back to the vendor and offer them a higher price in the hope of securing the stock. They would sell short, selling stock they did not actually own, in the hope that they would own it and then be able to make delivery.
Selling was done by word of mouth and if someone wanted to buy the stock but it was sold on somewhere else then that was part of the game. Sometimes the partners would bid on several different stocks at once and perhaps only be successful with one parcel if they were lucky.
The worst possible outcome would be that the initial offer of five pence in the £ would be accepted, delivery had to be taken immediately against payment and the stock would have to stay in their own warehouse until it was sold.
When I worked for them they had just bought in five twenty foot containers of, for want of a better word ‘widgets’ that had already been sold to an overseas customer. I worked with the team that transferred the stock from the vendors containers into ones hired for the export movement. All of this was to be done by hand and in a way to meet the requirements of the export customer in terms of colours and patterns. There had to be so many with roses, so many with lavender and so many with bluebells on.
I was checking the sale agreement and in the terms and conditions was the phrase that ‘the goods are being sold as first British quality’. By chance I looked at a box of widgets and saw that it had stamp on it about the size of a postcard stating ‘Seconds Not First Quality’. I spoke to the Mozart partner by phone and unusually for him he let out an expletive. He told me and the rest of the team to stop packing anymore that day and to unpack what we had already loaded into the container.
‘Can you measure the stamp on the boxes Alan?’
‘They are all fifteen by ten centimetres’.
‘Thanks. Don’t do anything until tomorrow when you receive a parcel. Stay there tonight and take all the warehouse team out for a beer or something’.
The next morning a motorbike courier came into the yard kicking up dust.
‘You Alan Russell?’ the courier asked.
‘A parcel for you from your office….sign here mate…….thanks’.
More dust as the courier sped away.
Inside the parcel were rolls of stickers measuring fifteen by ten centimetres. The background was the Union Jack and written over it the words ‘Best British Quality for Export Only’.
Mozart rang to check the stickers had arrived and told us our job at the warehouse was to not only pack the widgets according to the pattern requirements of the customer but to also make sure that none of the boxes showed their original stamps and they all had these ‘Best British’ stickers covering every single stamp. Some of the boxes had up to three such stamps on them so each had to be covered before handballing into the shipping container.
By the time we had finished picking and packing with ten minutes to spare before collection Mozart had gone away for the weekend. I contacted Rock n’ Roll and told him the containers had been collected.
‘Jeeze that was close Alan. What took so long?’
I didn’t bother trying to explain. We were all exhausted and our hands were covered in glue from the stickers but we knew we had done the job.
The consignment was sent and we all held our breath until payment was finally received when the stock was unpacked at the end customers.
An ideal outcome. Phew!