Page 1

The first hundred years of a family business

Christopher Brewer


Designed and project managed by

Carrington Griffin Design Edited by

Stephanie Horner Printed by

Nuffield Press Selected photography:

Lisa Barnard Simon Brewer

Selected wallpaper samples courtesy of:

The Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture Victoria & Albert Museum


The first hundred years of a family business

Christopher Brewer


Acknowledgments

I am so grateful to Nicole and Max for organising and designing this book and taking such an interest in the story. Likewise, many thanks to Stephanie who has knocked the text into shape for me as managing editor. But above all, I wish to thank my wife, Priscilla, who so willingly spent many late evenings during the last eighteen months transferring my rough script so neatly on to the computer and then correcting it over and over again. I also wish to thank members of my family and a number of our senior managers who have kindly helped with the writing of some of the sections. I am also indebted to the writer of our 75th year commemorative booklet ‘In this day and age’ from which extracts have been taken for the early chapters. Christopher Brewer


Contents 6

Introduction

8

1880–1904

14

1904–1911

22

1911–1935

34

1939–1960

56

1960–1972

74

1972–1987

94

1987–1995

114

1995–2004

140

Epilogue

142

2004: Centenary Year

156 158

Appendices

A Family Concern The Idea

The Business Starts Five Branches for Five Brothers From World War to DIY Revolution The Rise of DIY Westward Expansion Lessons from the Recession West, North and East Reflections and New Horizons A Chance to Say Thank You Branch Chronology Family Tree


Introduction A Family Concern

6

WOULD OUR FOUNDER CLEMENT BREWER EVER have thought that one hundred years on his new business would have evolved to be the size it is today, still an independent family business free from any outside ownership and never having needed to seek outside funding of any significance? For some years before this centenary year, we were determined that the story of our company’s hundred years should be written, and being the last of our generation working full time in the business I realised that it was probably incumbent on me with any energies I had remaining to try to put it together. I make no pretence at being an author, having come into the business 47 years ago straight from school and National Service (‘the university of life’). Having had many offers of help from outside publishers which would have made the job a lot easier, we decided that, though we might also gain in objectivity, we would however risk losing much of its soul which I believe has been at the heart of this family business throughout its life. By writing the greater part myself with the aid of other family members and colleagues it is therefore more of an amateur piece; it could almost be subtitled ‘as it seemed to me’, which would be some defence against those who could rightly say: there is a lot he doesn't know about which he has left out. So with this caveat, I have simply done my best, using much information for the early days as told to me by my father.

My objective is to tell a story that would also act as an archive reference for the Company as, hopefully, the business travels through the next hundred years. Family concerns of our size and age, offering personal service over such a wide area of the country are now such a rarity that I also feel a strong sense of obligation to try to write our story in such a way that it may be of interest to other family businesses in the years to come. It therefore may lack something in entertainment value and I have not gone out of my way to find amusing anecdotes, rather, fitted them in only where they are known and relevant. I trust that this will make the account more interesting to the reader who wishes to know how the Brewers of today came about without the need to be amused on every other page. I had thought at one time that each branch had a story of its own that should be told but it turned out that that would have involved too much detail, both in the text and in the research and would be too ambitious. But I have found that the large older branches, whose successes each year have been the backbone of the wealth of the Company, have, after their beginnings, inaptly received little attention compared to the new projects which, though of particular interest at their inception, have in many cases been a drain on the Company for some time.


Without the resources provided by the success of the older branches the new ventures would not have been possible. Some readers amongst staff, past and present, may feel disappointed that they or their branch have not been mentioned or mentioned enough; but by insisting on absolute inclusiveness I would, I fear, have run the risk of making the story into a list of names. A family business does not simply begin by a father waking up one morning and deciding to open a shop in which he and his family can work and earn a living. Starting capital has to be found and you need the confidence that you have something that your customer will want to come and buy. If, as is said, the idea for starting a family business is as important as its creation, it is necessary to go back in family history to discover the circumstances that touched off the spark. Our story therefore begins way back into the nineteenth century. Christopher Brewer, 2004

7


1880–1904

Below left: George Brewer, Clement’s father. Right: Doughton House near Tetbury, Mary’s family home. Wallpaper from 1905 by Morris & Co.

1891

1890

1889

1888

M ar y Fi rst son ,B asi lC hr ist op he r, bo rn

1887 ma rri ed Cl em en t

1886

1885

1884

1883

1882

Cl em en t wi Brew th er Joh st n L arte in d w e, Re ork ad in g

Br ew er bo rn

Cl em en t

Pr itc ha rd M ar y

1881

old. By this time he had struck up a friendship with Arthur Pritchard, probably through the community of the church in Hackney. Arthur was the eldest son of thirteen children of John and Mary Ann Pritchard who were tenant farmers near Tetbury in Gloucestershire. Arthur invited Clement down to the family home where he met the eldest daughter, Mary, who was helping her mother to look after her many siblings. Arthur and Clement made a plan together to go to North America to seek rewarding work and, hopefully, their fortunes, in the Midwest which in the 1880s was still opening up. When they arrived in New York they decided to put away in their left pockets enough money for their return passage, should their venture fail. They did find work: goat farming in Arizona. Evidently there is salt in the Arizona soil and goats are sent ‘cold grazing’, as it is called, roaming over a wide area. After three years the venture failed, they ran out of money and returned home using the savings from their ‘left pockets’.

1861

THIS FAMILY BUSINESS WAS STARTED BY TWO PEOPLE, Clement and Mary Brewer, who had courage, determination and it has to be said, good fortune, having been brought up in the second half of the nineteenth century, when life was tough for all but a few at the top of society. Clement’s father George started his working life as an apprentice to Brunel on railway construction in about 1850, but found he wasn’t physically strong enough for the work. Instead, he became a schoolmaster, specialising in teaching copperplate handwriting. He married Emma Roome in 1854 and the couple set up home near the school in Hackney in London’s East End. They had two sons, George (born 1857) and Clement (born 1861), and a daughter Lily. Both parents died when Clement was around 20 years

bo rn

8

1860

The Idea


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Jac kB rew an dM er bo ar rn ym ov et oL on do n

an dM ar y

Cl em en t

Cl em en t

1904

1903

1902

1901

1900

1899

1898

1897

1896

1895

1894

1893

1892


1880–1904 The Idea

10

A chance meeting

On their return, Clement went to live with his brother, George, who had married (in 1880) and moved from London to somewhere near Reading. Arthur eventually went to Bexhill-on-Sea on the Sussex coast and set up in business selling wooden Venetian blinds, which were very popular at the time. Clement went into Reading one day to look for work. He happened to meet a young man named John Line who, by chance, was looking for someone to help him set up a new business. Line had spotted a business opportunity while working in his father’s furniture store and had asked his father whether he could set up a separate department, selling wallpaper in the store. Line senior had reacted angrily so his son decided to leave and find premises in the town where he could start a wallpaper business, selling to the Trade decorator. It was agreed that Clement could join him. The business began well, and Line also took on two other young men, one called McGregor, whose son later became prominent in wallpaper manufacturing, and another who later became a Director of Sandersons. Employed in a successful and growing business Clement felt confident enough to ask Mary Pritchard to marry him some six years after they first met – she had obviously been patient! Mary’s father, John, had been a Yeoman farmer owning 300 acres at Elvingdon near Pangbourne, Berkshire. In a year of drought he lost thirteen horses which worked the farm so he sold out and took a job

in the City of London with goldsmiths named Chaplin. Evidently, he married the boss’s daughter, Mary Ann Chaplin, one of seven sisters. Her father was an Alderman of the City of London and had been invited on several occasions to be Lord Mayor; but as the appointment required private money he refused because he needed all his money to look after his daughters. On his death, his legacy must have been quite considerable, because Mary Ann’s inherited share meant that she in turn was able to help many of her thirteen children, the eldest daughter being Mary who became Clement’s wife. Mary’s parents, John and Mary Ann, soon found that with a growing family they could not afford to go on living in London. A farm provided a good base for a large family so John Pritchard returned to farming and became a tenant farmer at Doughton, near Tetbury. It was from here that Arthur Pritchard left for London to seek work and was to meet Clement Brewer. His father died aged 55 in 1893 and the whole family then had to move out of the farm to a house called East End in Fairford. A ‘first-class’ idea

Clement would have started in John Line’s new business in the mid-1880s by which time there were, of course, plenty of trains but no cars or buses. Word went round London decorators that there was an efficient supplier of wallpaper in Reading and before long the trade grew with more and more customers in London. It was Clement’s job to take the orders to the


John Line and Sons It is worth noting here that although Clement was not to stay with John Line, the name was to become synonymous with good decoration and during the next half century the Line family eventually set up branches all over England and Scotland. They even received a royal appointment for the supply of decorating materials to Buckingham Palace. Sadly, the family ran out of members interested in continuing the business and it was sold to the Walpamur Co., later Crown Paints, in the 1960s.


1880–1904 The Idea

Below: Clement and Mary.

12

station to be dispatched to London by train. Delivery of each order therefore became quite costly, and customers had to be asked to collect their orders from Paddington Station. Then Clement had a wheeze. No-one used the firstclass carriages during the day, so he would buy a first-class ticket, pack out the carriage with wallpaper parcels, travel to Paddington with them, then hire a taxi (which I suppose would have been horse and trap at the time) and deliver them personally. This worked well for a while until one day the station master tapped him on the shoulder and said “Enough is enough”. John Line and his young colleagues, hungry for business, had to think again about how to serve their London customers. The answer of course was to open a branch in London. They found premises in Aldgate and Clement was asked by John Line to start the new London branch. It was by then the early 1890s and Clement, now with a young family, moved to London from High Wycombe, where they had been living, finding accommodation in Wood Green. By the turn of the century Clement Brewer had had nearly fifteen years’ experience in the wallpaper trade. By this time he also had six children to keep. His third son, Kenneth (my father), born in 1895,

could just remember going hand in hand with his father to the Leadenhall Market to buy the Sunday chicken. However, the London air took its toll on Clement’s health and his doctor advised him to take his family and move to the south coast where the sea air would be the best cure. What a quandary this must have been for Clement and Mary with all their children. He would need to be sure of getting work wherever they were to settle. Mary’s brother Arthur, who had accompanied Clement to America, was still running his Venetian blinds business in Bexhill. Perhaps Clement could find work with him? That is exactly what happened and the Brewer family moved to the Sussex coast in 1901. Unfortunately, within a year the blinds business was heading for failure and Clement had to start looking for work again. He found a job, working as a clerk in the Eastbourne office of a building firm called Glovers. The new venture

Whilst working for Glovers, Clement’s business mind reacted to the chaotic way in which a builder or a decorator in Eastbourne obtained wallpaper for


Left: First shop: 64 Cavendish Place, Eastbourne, 1904.

Eastbourne was full of hotels and boarding houses which needed frequent redecorating. To help keep their growing family, Clement had also taken an evening job, collecting rents for the Cavendish Estates owned by the Duke of Devonshire. Perhaps his visits to many houses and shops further developed his thoughts on starting up a wallpaper business. Mary’s offer of help

his clients. At six-monthly intervals a wallpaper representative would arrive by train from London and show the builder or decorator patterns in the form of loose sheets that were currently being made. The builder would select a dozen patterns, ask for a stock of each to be sent down, then go to his clients with an assortment of those twelve patterns to choose from. (It needs to be explained that in those days nearly everyone put wallpaper on their walls as the plaster used was never as pure and smooth as we know it and often contained foreign bodies which needed to be covered.) Clement Brewer started to think that, given all his experience with John Lines, here was an opportunity to bring a wider range of wallpapers to customers with a much-needed higher standard of service. At the turn of the century, as it is today,

Clement realised, even if he had the knowledge and skills, he didn’t have the start-up capital needed for stock, shop fittings, racking, means of delivery, and just to cover expenses in the early days. His remarkable wife, who was already bringing up seven children, was now being asked to face all the perils of starting a business. This, however, she did, and even offered money from her mother’s inheritance to help launch the venture. The sum is believed to have been £200, a considerable amount at that time, raised from the sale of two terraced houses in Hackney and a pub in Catford, in East London. In 1904 Clement and Mary took a tenancy of a shop in Cavendish Place, Eastbourne (now a hairdresser’s) and the family lived above the premises. The youngest son, Geoff, had been born in 1901 and then a daughter, Dorothy, who sadly died at the age of 2, so family life, could not have been easy, particularly for Mary, while the business itself was being started. It was perhaps not surprising, therefore, that as soon as he was old enough, the eldest son Basil left to try his hand at farming in South Africa.

13


1904–1911 The Business Starts

THE EARLIEST MEMORY MY FATHER KENNETH HAD OF the start of the business was, aged 9, holding hammer and nails, helping to build the first wallpaper racks. For the rest of his life he could recall the thrill of watching the first customer buy three rolls of lining paper.

At first, the description of the business was ‘Wallpaper Factors and Blinds’; the word ‘merchant’ was obviously not yet the right term for the business, and Clement was hoping that there were still some sales of blinds to pick up from Arthur’s failed business, 12 miles along the coast at Bexhill.

Brewer of Eastbourne

1907

1906

1905

1904

In a growing seaside town of some elegance there was a strong demand for wallpaper of quality and for the other items needed by the craftsman in mixing his own paints and applying them. Brewer of Eastbourne was ready and willing to grow along with the town. Materials and helpful advice from fixed, identifiable premises, was new to people living outside the big towns and cities. Buying from markets or horse-drawn carts full of merchandise had been more the means of supply in those days.

Bu sin ess ma start in ed s ly el wa lin llp g ap er

14


Left: Border design, 1897. Below: detail from Silver Studio Art Nouveau pattern, printed by Shand Kydd c.1900. Background: Ansty wallpaper from 1900.

1911

Another event exerting a big influence on the trade in the early part of the twentieth century was the amalgamation of most of the bigger wallpaper manufacturers into one big group, The Wallpaper Manufacturers Ltd (WPM), bringing to the hitherto

1910

1909

The ‘combine’

Fi rst bra n ma ch ( na Red ged hi by ll) o Jac pen k B ed rew , er

Re ad y-m ixe dd ist em pe rs toc ke d

1908

What were wallpaper patterns like in those days? Fairly dull by present standards but usually enlivened by a colourful border. The original purpose of the border was evidently to hide the nail heads used to attach the wallpaper before the times when it was fixed with paste. But before the walls were papered, paint had to be made up and applied to skirtings, window frames and doors, though these were often wood grained using scumble and then varnished. A mix of hardwearing paint was then needed for the outside of the windows and doors.

For the representative of wallpaper manufacturers, things were changing for the better. He now knew Brewers would be stocking a good number of his patterns and he could tell the local tradesmen that they had a local supplier instead of them having to deal directly with manufacturers normally located at great distance. For his part, Clement, helped by his sons, would make up his own pattern books, stamping each sample with a number and a price; this, as we shall see, eventually became the Albany collection. The stock of these patterns would be sent by rail in large hessian-wrapped hand-sewn bundles which could be rolled in like a barrel; a practice that continued until the change to cartons in the 1960s.

Se con M d s ov on e , J to ac 28 k, joi Pev ns ens the ey bu Rd sin ess

Early decoration

Facing page: Keith with dog and Kenneth Brewer outside 26/28 Pevensey Road, Eastbourne, in 1910.

15


1904–1911 The Business Starts

A.T. Morse Sons & Co. We know two names of early washable distempers. One was Duresco, made by Jukes in ten colours and sold worldwide mainly for exteriors. The other was Calcarium, made by A.T. Morse, Sons & Co. These came in powder form in buckets and casks up to 3cwt in weight and had never really been promoted for use by the smaller decorator. This Calcarium leaflet from c. 1903 lists 200 testimonials from the previous 25 years beginning with a Mr. W. Stoddard – Public Analyst, who, in 1878, wrote: “I have made an analysis of your Patent Decorators Compound and find it fully corroborates all you state.” These early washable distempers were available by rail from the factory but not easily obtainable locally. They were probably used for larger work, though dwelling houses are mentioned for their use in a list which included churches, stations, asylums, ‘board schools’ and ship funnels.


Left: Washable distemper chart of 1903 by A.T. Morse Sons & Co. Below: Window display of 26 Pevensey Road, Eastbourne c.1930. Transport c.1920.

premises proved inadequate, forcing a move to Pevensey Road where at No. 28, extending later to No. 26, business continued to expand. The decorator’s stock in trade

chaotic wallpaper world conditions of order, regulation and stability. It meant that a small entrepreneur in Eastbourne, providing he adequately performed the functions of a merchant (carrying stock and issuing pattern books to the decorating Trade), could supply his customers on the same terms as the bigger London merchants who were doing a national, as distinct from a local, trade (one of whom of course was John Lines). These changes, along with other minor factors, enabled the Brewer enterprise to move steadily forward, and soon the Cavendish Place

In the early days the paint needs of the decorator craftsmen could be summarised as comprising: white lead, linseed oil, turpentine, colours, stains, driers, size, whiting, varnishes and brushes. Baldly stated, it seems a simple list. But Brewers would have in stock a full range of colours, both dry and ground in oil, 22 kinds of decorative varnishes, 11 kinds of terebine (early solvents), gold size and Japans; 14 stains and polishes; 16 coach painters’ varnishes; and others that could be specially ordered. Only a craftsman would have heard of them all, let alone know how to use them. With these items, and some tools for scumbling, graining and marbling, the decorator could not only make up a comprehensive range of paints but apply them in a number of artistic ways. White lead pigment, known as stack white lead, although an expensive item, was considered the essential ingredient in a long-lasting paint, especially for outside use (today it is outlawed because of its dangers to mental health were it to be absorbed into the bloodstream). At the time, though, decorators knew that – like fine wine – stack white lead needed to mature; kegs as heavy as 5 cwt would sometimes be buried in the ground away from frost and would often represent the profits ploughed back from a previous year’s trading.

17


1904–1911 The Business Starts

18

Distemper revolution

The wider use of distempers (the name given to the first wallpaints that were available in the 1870s) started in 1908. By that year a revolution for the tradesman was beginning to take shape with the introduction of ready-mixed distemper to replace the whiting, size and colour, which the craftsman had been in the habit of buying separately and mixing himself. Like all revolutions there was some doubt about whether it would succeed and it was with some hesitation that Brewers established an agency for Hall’s Distemper with an order for 16 x 7lb bags in assorted colours. Very soon Hall’s Distemper became a household word and a large part of the bread and butter of the decorators supplier’s business with nearly every decorator in the town wanting to buy it locally. It was even promoted by advertising in a similar way to that shown (right), by using models in fields along the route of the railways. The new wallpaper manufacturing combine WPM feared that Hall’s Distemper would gradually take the place of wallpaper so they tried to manufacture a distemper of their own to be called Walpamur. Their first efforts were unsuccessful as their new product smelt horribly. Two chemists discovered the medium which would prevent this happening. Whether they were working for WPM or not it seems they were in a position to demand £8,000 each for their newly invented formula. WPM refused to pay and so the pair set up a manufacturing unit of their own, which became Leyland Paints, now part of Kalon.

Below: Halls Distemper advertisement, 1920s. Right: Early invoice dated 1911.

Some suppliers at that time were: Lock, Lancaster & Johnson, for white lead Sissons and Bergers, for varnishes and enamels Blundell Spence, for dry colours and colours in oil Chadwick & Chapcott, for brushes Griffins, for grass brushes Mylands, for varnish stains


Below: Early invoices

Delivering the goods

Selling all these product lines required a substantial sum to be invested in stock and for one man with little capital and small borrowing powers it was a considerable strain to maintain monthly payments for supplies. This was achieved, though, without any break in continuity with the result that goodwill between manufacturers and supplier was built up, and Brewer of Eastbourne came to be regarded as a good candidate for any agency that was being offered, because he could be relied upon to meet his obligations promptly. Goodwill was also being built up amongst trade customers who reinforced by word of mouth the message that a reputable local service was available. Delivering the goods was always a prime factor in the service, deeply ingrained in the origins of the business; in fact delivery was the norm for most businesses at the time. Wallpaper and the raw materials and tools of the painting craft would come from the manufacturer by rail and then from the station by horse and cart. From Brewers to the customer it would go via bicycle or handcart. Time saved for the customer through sheer promptitude made up for lack in absolute speed. It was not until 1920 that Brewers took on their first motorised transport. Service in the early days was provided by a boss, a boy, a barrow and a bicycle.

19


1904–1911 The Business Starts

Left: Reigate and Redhill YMCA in 2004. 20

Family life We can pick out a few features of the Brewer family life while Clement was working hard to start the business. Clement and Mary were both committed Christians and he attended church regularly at the Plymouth Brethren Chapel, though whether Mary was able to join him with so many children to look after we do not know. Evidently, she often helped with wallpaper trimming when not attending to her children and even took in washing to help make ends meet. Basil had gone to Africa by 1910, Jack was 19, Mollie 16, Kenneth 15; Keith, Gordon and Geoff all younger. With all these responsibilities it must have been a testing time for the parents. Clement, probably through the church, got to know William Hilton who worked with the YMCA in Eastbourne. Through him young Kenneth used to go on summer camps to Beachy Head. When the Hiltons’ son – another Kenneth – was born, Kenneth Brewer was asked to be his godfather. Kenneth Hilton, now living near Kingsbridge, south Devon, still remembers this early relationship with much happiness. Jack and Kenneth always kept their interest in the YMCA: Jack, when the

war started, worked with the Association in their supporting role to the troops; Kenneth later helped to build up the Reigate and Redhill YMCA over a period of forty years. (In 2004 the Redhill YMCA is very prominent and the Company is much involved in helping the management and development of its facilities.) Kenneth was very keen on sport. As a teenager, he played for an Eastbourne football team and the picture shows him amongst a team all much larger than him – he evidently made up for his lack of brawn with nimbleness of foot. He was also an enthusiastic tennis player and in his late teens used to play in tournaments around Sussex, often staying with one of his many aunts. Below: Kenneth (top right) looked back at this photograph with the sad memory that, despite their nationalistic fervour, nearly all the team was dead within five years, victims of the trenches.


Jack’s widow, Bettie, related:

A friend of Jack’s had greeted him one day in the street, saying “you’re looking very depressed”. He replied “I have just said that I will go into the business”. In the years to come he was to show that this early anxiety was completely unjustified.

Becoming a family firm

Jack, having worked briefly as a clerk in the grocery trade, was the first to decide to join his father in the business in 1910. Two years later his younger brother Kenneth joined the business, aged 17. By 1911, with Jack and Kenneth in line to succeed him, Clement felt confident enough to start thinking about a branch in which each of his sons could prove themselves. Kenneth could recall taking a summer holiday

Below: Early invoice, 1914.

with his father bicycling down to Bristol and back via London, particularly remembering crossing over Westminster Bridge. Perhaps they talked about the future on their journey (we could never find out whether Clement rode on a penny-farthing!) Soon after this time, Clement learned from a representative of Alan Cockshut, wallpaper manufacturers in London, that there was a business for sale in Redhill in Surrey called Broughtons. It comprised a shop selling wallpaper and other decorating materials in Brighton Road, set hard up against the railway embankment, and also a building business. Clement, with under ten years’ experience in running his own business decided that this was his opportunity to expand and he purchased the whole concern, the building side being sold on to a local builder. Looking at a map of the South of England, Clement and his sons reasoned that while Redhill was a small town established around a relatively new railway station it could eventually be the crossroads of the Southeast and that many new houses would be built there that would need decorating. Jack was now 20 and it was agreed that he would go to Redhill to run this new store, the first after Eastbourne.

21


1911–1935

Five Branches for Five Brothers

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1924

1923

1922

1921

1917

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1912

As there had been relative peace in Europe for 45 years many thought that war would be over quite quickly. However, by 1916 more and more young men were needed for the Front as war built up to a world scale, involving the whole British Empire. The Brewer business had to shrink. Jack, using his grocery trade experience, helped the YMCA with their work providing food for soldiers in the trenches. Len Santer was left to run the new Redhill branch until he was called up and it had to close in 1916. Kenneth, like his brother, a pacifist, worked on a farm at Balcombe in Sussex. It is hard to imagine what was going through the minds of the Brewer parents. To add to their

1920

The uncertainty of war

worries, the next son, Keith, aged 16, had been keen to join up, but because he was too young, he took a boat to Canada (where they were less strict on age) and joined up with the forces there. Soon after he was back across the Atlantic on the front line in France. He was wounded in action very early on, returned home and took no further part in the war. Throughout the war, Clement continued at Eastbourne with three staff, including John Santer who, with his elder brother Len and their two sons Derek and Bill, went on to complete 180 years of service between them. Trade during the war was obviously depressed but by its end turnover stood at £5,000. War over, Jack and Kenneth returned to the business. Kenneth took on the job of invoicing customers from all the monthly sales ‘noted down’ (credit sales). Unsurprisingly, perhaps, after his active years on the farm, he soon wearied of this and first Len and then John Santer took over, enabling Kenneth to look for something more exciting.

1919

THE FUTURE MUST HAVE SEEMED SETTLED WHEN Jack left Eastbourne to run the new Redhill branch, and Kenneth left school at the age of 17 to take his brother’s place in the business helping his father. But in August 1914 the country was drawn into the war with Germany.

1918

22


Right: Redhill branch in the 1940s. Below: John and Len Santer (left) with a colleague.

23

1935

1934 ill

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1933 Be xh

1931

1930

1929

1928

1927

1926

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Fi rm

be co limmes ite a p d c riv om ate pa ny

1925

The business needed to re-open in Redhill to regain the advantage of the reputation it had been building between 1911 and 1916. Jack stayed at Eastbourne to help his father, by then 59; Kenneth went to look for new premises in Redhill, the original having been relet. He went to see an agent, Mr Amos, who had been approached for larger premises before the war. Amos told Kenneth that a former fish shop, though nearly derelict, was available in Station Road, but that a Mr Gilkes, who ran a wallpaper business in Brighton,

was already showing interest. But as Mr Brewer senior had been in earlier contact with the agent, Kenneth got first option. This led to 120 Station Road being leased, soon followed by No. 122. The gardens and a falling land level provided potential for easy stocking and storing at basement level in years to come.

1932

A new Redhill branch


1911–1935 Five Branches for Five Brothers

24

The Redhill branch was therefore re-established. As its pre-war turnover had reached £2,000, there were many existing customers who welcomed our return. Kenneth employed two boys, Bert Fairchild and Len Nye, who both went on to do 50 years service, Bert becoming manager of the branch for many years. Before long Keith Brewer and then Geoffrey, the youngest brother, began to help at Redhill. At Eastbourne, meanwhile, with Jack back, the business there began to move ahead. It benefited considerably from the post-war boom, influenced by a five-year lag in painting and decorating.

We know from Kenneth’s own words (1961) how he saw the Redhill exercise:

...the Redhill undertaking was very small judged by today’s standards, but it provided a good school of experience because the manager, first Jack and later Kenneth, had to try and be practical and expert in all the functional operations of buying, selling, stock keeping and accounting. They did in fact produce the balance sheet and profit and loss account for the branch, and developed the ability then to review future propositions from the angle of a commercial accountant enabling them to judge and decide wisely on many important matters concerned with the later history of the family company

The death of Mary

In 1920 Clement’s wife Mary died, which must have been a tremendous blow to him after all they had been through together. She had brought up the children and provided the money for the business as well as being a pillar of support during hard times. We have to be so grateful to her as she must be recognised as the sine qua non of the business we know today. Her mother outlived her by another ten years. In 1921, Jack married Kay Pinker and they went to live in Lewes in Sussex. A year later, Clement, feeling his two sons had enough experience to manage on their own, moved from Eastbourne to a house he called Easton Grey in Reigate – not far from the new branch at Redhill. Though semi-retired, Clement liked to be on hand for advice and help when needed. His daughter, Mollie, came to live with him to look after him and naturally Keith and Geoff, now working full time in the business, found the Reigate home convenient too. One thinks that despite his bereavement, Clement must have enjoyed these years, seeing the business develop under three of his sons in Redhill, and Jack making his own way in Eastbourne. Motorised deliveries

Motorised transport did not feature in the business until 1920. Covered vehicles left over from the war became available and meant that deliveries could be undertaken to villages and towns up to 15 miles away. Smartly lettered on the side the vehicles promoted


Elizabeth Woodhouse enjoyed telling this story about her husband Doug. It probably happened because Clement was beginning to experience and enjoy the use of a motor car.

Clement often used to go down to Redhill and offer help. Kenneth could remember asking him if he would go round to customers to collect money. He was very friendly to all the staff, as on one occasion when he said to a young employee who had just returned from collecting goods from the station, ‘Take your overalls off and I will take you to meet some customers in the Oxted area’ . The reply came, ‘I have only got underclothes on underneath, Sir’, so the young man found himself going out to tea with the founder and his customers wearing his overalls.

Above left: Clement Brewer. Above: Early transport c.1920. Right: Eddie Allchorn, 1928, on the Henderson American X.

Brewers everywhere they went. Anyone could be asked to drive it, relieving the monotony of some of the jobs. Inside there were very few complaints about this. The chance to get your hands on the wheel of a motor vehicle of any sort did not come everyone’s way at that time. Enthusiasm ran high and service was swifter than ever. Sometimes, on setting out on a round, the driver would be shouted to stop to take on a last-minute order – with the result that when it arrived the customer was willing to swear he had only just put down the telephone. By 1928 it was felt that it was high time to take on a properly trained and experienced full-time drivermechanic, especially as they had just invested in a rather unusual and smart-looking piece of transport called a Henderson American X, a 12hp 4-cylinder motor bike with reverse gear and foot clutch. This was when Eddie Allchorn arrived. Eddie proudly recalls this machine as a “sort of car on two wheels, really, with a box on the side, which could take as much as five hundredweight”. Actually, Eddie had taken the job without any intention of staying long; he just wanted to broaden his experience, but – like so many of his colleagues – he found the work so enjoyable, the faces so friendly, the atmosphere so congenial, that he changed his mind and stayed for the next 50 years.

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1911–1935 Five Branches for Five Brothers

26

Post-war trade innovations

How was the trade moving in these post-war years? The first advance was to make distempers oilbound, which meant that the surface coating was washable; these were in common use for 25 years before plastic emulsion paints took their place. Paints for woodwork were now mixed in the factory with a white pigment to give hiding power but no colour range was available. Sissons Bros of Hull were the main suppliers, others being Bergers, Farmiloes and later Ripolin and Paripan – ICI’s Dulux was not even on the horizon. For extra hardwearing coatings there were Johnsons White Lead and Ground White Lead paint. In 1929 one of the representatives for our White Lead supplier (Lock, Lancaster and Johnston, later part of Associated Lead) invited Jack and Kenneth to his home in Hampshire where Kenneth used to stay regularly for the local badminton tournament. His boss, Mr Johnston, wanted to meet them and show them a mock up of a new ready-mixed paint range which could be exclusively made for Brewers and be the first such range in the country. Ironically, it was labelled Albany Pure Paint although its contents were full of white lead! The mock up (see facing page) remains in Brewers’ possession but unfortunately, before it could be launched, Nine Elms had brought

out their own Ready Mixed range which it was decided to stock and to forego the idea of making a range exclusive to Brewers at that time. From family firm to private company

In 1925 the firm became a private company, C. Brewer & Sons Ltd., with the founder as Governing Director and Chairman, and Jack and Kenneth as the other members of the Board; all members of the Brewer family working in the business were made shareholders. This fundamental change gave some personal security to the family and set the business on a course for stronger future growth. As an indication of the ongoing success of the business, another branch had been opened, in Tunbridge Wells, in 1924. This came about in an odd way. Jack and Kenneth had learned that a merchant, Skinners, was up for sale. They made an appointment to meet the owners, but on arrival were told that the owners had changed their minds about selling (in fact Skinners are still well known in Tunbridge Wells today). Jack and Kenneth had both travelled some distance for the meeting, and decided to look for somewhere for lunch. On the way they met a supplier’s representative they knew who told them that the senior counter-hand at Skinners had just been made redundant. They immediately contacted this person, Archie Lashmar, and asked whether he would be interested in joining Brewers and becoming part of a new branch in Tunbridge Wells. He agreed and small premises were found in


27

The ALBANY name By about 1920 the number of wallpapers chosen to go into the stock collections had risen to a hundred or more. Clement and his sons wanted a well-chosen title to give the collection ‘presence’ in the hands and eyes of the customer. Clement knew from his time in London of the high-class Albany mansion flats off Piccadilly where the interior decoration was said to be of the highest standard. So the name was selected for the Brewer pattern book collections and later on was applied to paints made exclusively for Brewers. Today, Albany is a very important private label name for the Company. Albus, meaning white in Latin, and Albion, an old name for Great Britain, point to a perceptiveness, perhaps accidental, in the choice of name.

Below: Mock-up of a first ready mixed paint range in Albany (1929) that never materialised.


1911–1935 Five Branches for Five Brothers Left: Jack Towner outside Grosvenor Road, Tunbridge Wells, 1927. Below left: Calverley Road, Tunbridge Wells, 1950s. 28

Right: Eastbourne showroom, c.1930.

The day came for the move to new premises; in fact it was during the night the move took place. Jack Towner’s wife liked telling the tale of how she made tea for the staff at home and carried it down in the middle of the night to the new premises in Calverley Road in her dressing gown; in the process she was accosted by a policeman who accused her of soliciting! Only the ground floor became the new branch and the upstairs was let off to help pay for the new investment; it became a billiard hall and was known locally as ‘a place of ill repute’. Later on it was taken back and made into a very fine wallpaper showroom. Wallpaper showrooms

Grosvenor Road. As Archie knew most of the trade customers in the area, the third Brewer branch got off to a good start. Keith Brewer, now 26, was invited to run it with the help of Jack Towner. It was so successful that within five years they needed to move to larger premises. A site was found at 86 Calverley Road and planning approval obtained for a two-storey building. This was erected at a cost of £5,000, perhaps the first time the business (now the Company) had ploughed back profits into freehold property – an act of prudence which was to strengthen the Company’s finances immeasurably in years to come.

The introduction of wallpaper showrooms can be seen as the next logical step in Clement’s idea to improve and exploit what had been the chaotic ways of distributing wallpaper to customers before the Brewer business was born. Colour, design and pattern size were being incorporated into far more sophisticated wallpapers and the decorators’ clients wished to see a larger sample than could be seen in pattern books alone. By 1930 most homes were still decorated with wallpaper so, as the market existed, it made sense for a merchant, if he could make space, to create a showroom in his shop. Tables and comfortable chairs and plenty of attention by knowledgeable staff who were prepared to open out rolls of different patterns in front of their customers were the attractions of the early showrooms.


1911–1935 Five Branches for Five Brothers

30

A fourth branch for the fourth brother

Above: Own brand labels of the time. Above right: 11 Quarry Street, Guildford, 1940s.

In 1929 Clement, now living in Reigate, was returning home after an unsuccessful search for suitable premises for a branch in Godalming. He had to wait while changing trains in Guildford, and rather than wasting time, he decided to look around town. A former ‘Ladies School’ at No. 11 Quarry Street seemed to him to offer distinct possibilities and it was indeed here that a new Guildford branch was opened on March 1st. The youngest son Geoffrey was put in place as manager and the rest of the staff consisted of a book-keeper, a van driver and a boy. What the new Guildford branch lacked, though, was someone to go out and sell. This was when Eric Mathieson joined the Company. Eric had been a chemist and works manager at the putty manufacturers Colgate & Gray in Newhaven in East Sussex. He was also a lay reader at the local Evangelical Church – and a Scot. Eric lived in Horsham so much of the business generated for the new Guildford branch came from customers in that area. Another happy event in 1929 was the marriage of Kenneth to Muriel Moss whom he had met some years earlier at the local tennis club. They had a house built for them on the outskirts of Reigate and named it Broadway.


Below: 51A East Street, Horsham, 1950s. Delivery vehicle from the 1940s.

A branch at Bexhill

Then came the 1929 Wall Street Crash. It marked another difficult period in the Brewer history, as well as for so many businesses which relied on consumer spending.The Company had just started a bonus scheme for all their staff, measured half on company and half on branch performances. In these difficult first years the bonus was so reduced that a subsidy had to be introduced which, it was said, would be taken from future more prosperous years, though one doubts that this ever happened. Horsham branch begins

Despite the gloom of this period, a small shop, a former greengrocer’s, was taken over in East Street, Horsham in 1931 and was gradually developed into the fifth branch. As the ‘local man’, Eric Mathieson was given the job of manager and representative (the first non-Brewer manager) with the task of building up this baby branch into a healthy adult, which he did successfully up to and including the Second World War.

The years just prior to the Second World War are not well documented but two decisions need mentioning. In 1935 the first voluntary Pension and Life Assurance Scheme was introduced for all staff. For employees a contribution of about 2/- per week would earn a Pension of £52 per annum and Life Assurance Benefit of £50 while in employment. In the same year, a branch was opened in Bexhillon-Sea, which became one of the early glass stocking branches. The second youngest brother, Gordon, who had been employed in a bank for the first part of his working life, had now left and was available to take over and manage the new branch. Gordon was a talented and artistic man, much liked by his customers.


1911–1935 Five Branches for Five Brothers

32

Adding in builders’ materials In the early 1930s, the Company’s trading underwent a fundamental change, taking on materials more associated with builders’ or timber merchants. Many customers who enjoyed the efficient Brewer service asked whether other materials might also be stocked and delivered to them. These were mostly the materials needed one step before decorating: doors (which were now being manufactured, saving joiners making them up in their own yard), plasterboard (plaster had always been supplied by Brewers), hardboard, plywood, glass, even roofing materials. The downside to extending the range was that vans had to be larger, more space was needed in the premises and handling these heavy items was hard work. However, customers were there to be pleased and the sales justified the effort. What could not have been anticipated at the time was that these materials would be essential for the repair of bomb damage in the next war less than ten years away and that the extended range would help to justify keeping branches open during the war period when there was little or no demand for, and hardly any supplies of, paint or wallpaper. After the war, sales of these heavier materials grew, eventually representing a third of the total turnover, though in recent times, it has become very much less.

Above: Wall boards store at Redhill branch. Below: Delivery vans outside Ashford Road, Eastbourne c.1930.


Right: Gordon Brewer. Left: Brewers Trade Lists 1932 & 1935, featuring the ‘triangle’. Below: Page from the 1932 Trade List.

After war service, Gordon returned to Bexhill branch, but retired to South Africa in the fifties. It was to him that we believe we owe the design of the company triangle which was to be widely recognised on our vans – and letterheads – for the next fifty years. In the late 1930s Kenneth took the opportunity to travel while his wife was looking after three young children. In the United States he was welcomed as a Rotarian by all the Rotary Clubs in towns and cities he visited. Just prior to the war he went to Helsinki and Leningrad with Harry Harte, a friend of Jack Brewer, who had been held prisoner by the Bolsheviks in the Great War, (Harry had joined the business at Eastbourne and later became a large contributor to the success of Tunbridge Wells branch). These experiences must have widened Kenneth’s outlook for the years of growth and expansion ahead. At the age of 75, Clement would have been pleased to see five of his six sons proving their worth in a branch of their own. His sixth and eldest son, Basil, was successfully running rubber plantations in British North Borneo until, in 1942, the Japanese drove him and his wife Phoebe into captivity where they were held for the next three years.

33


1939–1960

John Santer’s memories illustrate how, during the war, the sheet board business came to the rescue of Brewers, as well as the public suffering in their bomb-damaged homes:

From World War to DIY Revolution

34

IT WAS POSSIBLE TO KEEP ALL SIX BRANCHES OPEN during the Second World War, though much of the population of Eastbourne and Bexhill was evacuated and business almost non-existent, except for some paint supplied to the military. Although the younger members of staff were called up immediately, four of the five Brewer brothers were able to stay on and a skeleton staff coped as best it could. Both Eric Mathieson and John Santer were able to stay at Horsham branch.

During the Second World War there was a strict control on the supply of wallboards of any description. Records had to be sent in monthly giving the totals of sales, deliveries received and remaining stock. No board would be supplied without the appropriate permit. We supplied large quantities to several London Boroughs and after a night of bombing there would be one to three lorries waiting at our store for as much board as could be stacked on them. Their requisitions were usually for far more than they could take. The local Council permits were mainly for making buildings habitable after bomb damage. We managed to qualify for stock permits; I suppose the idea was to keep stocks of wallboard dispersed over the country rather than having it in large dumps. We also supplied boards and small quantities of paint to military units in the Sussex area. These were mainly Canadian, but we also supplied materials to British and Australian units, even Italian prisoner of war camps.

1949

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Left:Viv Davies, John Santer and Eddie Allchorn telling their stories for the 75th anniversary booklet. Right: Label for packages, 1940s.

evident today. The first boy to be employed at Redhill, Len Nye, can remember being seen throwing away a piece of string. “It’s the farthings that count, Mr. Nye”, came the soft admonition from Clement Brewer.

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1956

1955

1954

Before the war ended, the chance came to expand the business again. By 1944 two-thirds of Redhill sales had been glass and as it was a large stockist other merchants came to Redhill to collect it. One, from Thornton Heath near Croydon, was called Scratchleys. Mr Scratchley had been coming down regularly throughout the war and in 1944 he asked the Redhill manager, Mr Stockwell, whether Mr Brewer would be interested in buying Scratchleys. This was seen as an ideal opportunity to start supplying the south London area, which would be

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1950

In 1940, Clement Brewer died aged 80. Although no-one living now remembers him well, he was said to have been a quiet, kind man, but in writing this history I realise he must have been a courageous one too, with strong principles. I only hope that in his last years he thought less about the looming war and more of having achieved his life’s work. When we sometimes say to ourselves, “What would Clement Brewer think now…?” I think he really would be extremely pleased to see the business he started now in its hundredth year, because much of what we believe he held dear: integrity, mutual respect, thrift, ambition and overall efficiency, are so

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1939–1960 From World War to DIY Revolution

36

in desperate need of materials for general repairs once the war was over. So the first branch in the London area was opened and Eric Mathieson was asked to move up from Horsham to run it. Joining him were Dennis Hassell, Alf Wisdom, Reg Walker and Arthur Mills, all recently returned from the services, who would play an important part in the early development of Brewers in the south London area; Bill Gibbs, Scratchleys’ manager, subsequently looked after Thornton Heath branch for the rest of his career. Post-war developments

In the five years after the war there were four important developments:

• Keith Brewer suffered from ill health and retired early from Tunbridge Wells. It was decided to appoint joint managers: Jack Towner, for the inside branch operation, and Harry Harte, who was on good terms with all the customers, for the sales side. In theory, it probably shouldn’t have worked, but it did and for twenty years they ran one of the most successful branches in the Company, continuing to sell all the heavier products alongside decorating materials.

• In 1947, through a chance conversation at a Plate Glass Association meeting, Smith & Owen of Beckenham was offered for sale and acquired by Brewers. The firm had two smaller branches at Bromley and Dartford, but a substantial part of the business at Beckenham was a large glass operation (it had no fewer than 18 glaziers). This emphasis slowly had to be changed so that the branch could concentrate on decorating materials. One glazier, Derek Turner, was recommended by his previous manager, Reg Stubbs, to handle sales of decorating materials and he only retired in the 1990s after 50 years’ invaluable service. The glazing operation was eventually sold, though glass continued to be cut on a smaller scale, and the space it released was used for vehicle maintenance for those branches that were nearer to Beckenham than to Eastbourne.

• With the increasing number of branches, Jack Brewer suggested and it was agreed that a Head Office should be established under him at Eastbourne. This must always be a difficult step in the growth of a business as a new head office always takes on the image of new authority, which is sometimes disliked.


Far left: Scratchleys, preparing for a customer day out. Centre left: Refurbished as Thornton Heath branch in the 1950s.

Centre: Derek Turner. Left: No.1 Palace Road, Croydon, c.1958. Below: Basil with his wife Phoebe.

• Croydon was only a few miles away from the new

As Kenneth’s role was mainly developing branches in the field he needed to work closely with the new Head Office team. He made these comments a few years after it was set up:

The new Head Office, of course had its teething troubles and where it was rightly acting as a watchdog on some branch inefficiency this tended to be resented; but gradually the right imaginative conception has taken shape: it is that if dynamism and vitality are to be maintained at branch level there must be a very large measure of local autonomy, that every function should be localised or centralised strictly in accordance with suitability and that Head Office should be engaged in a major way in co-ordinating policy and acting collectively on behalf of all branches, and perhaps in a minor way exercising some necessary control. Among other advantages, the existence of Head Office centralising machinery made it easier for those responsible for new branch work, so they were relieved of worry in connection with wages and p.a.y.e., bought accounts, printing and price records; and also insurance, property and legal matters. It would have been difficult if not impossible to take on a number of new branches without this.

Thornton Heath branch, but in order to service customers working in that densely populated area, premises were needed in Croydon itself. So in 1948, the freehold of No. 1 Palace Road, a building contractors’ yard, was acquired and converted into the tenth branch of the Company to be managed by Arthur Mills who had for a short while been manager at Beckenham. A grandson and a sixth son in the business

Jack’s eldest son, John, joined the business at Eastbourne soon after Head Office was established. With a university degree in English he had started a teaching career and then helped with hospital work during the war. John was now 27 and would be of great assistance at this busy time. Then Basil Brewer returned to England at the age of 56, after three years in a prisoner of war camp in British North Borneo and a year’s recuperation in Australia. To complete his working career Basil was invited to manage the new Dartford branch. Basil and his wife Phoebe went to live near the lovely village of Farningham in north Kent and he was greatly helped to understand the work of a Brewer branch (in contrast to a rubber plantation) by a number of the more senior staff, all of whom enjoyed his company as he did theirs. This proved a wonderful

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1939–1960 From World War to DIY Revolution

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way to re-establish Basil and his wife after the privations they had experienced in the East. They made many new friends and one cannot help thinking these were some of the happiest years of their lives. So the founder’s ambition had been realised and all six sons eventually had a branch of their own, though not all at the same time.

Some of Chris Brewer’s early memories:

In the last year of the war I first remember taking an early interest in the business. I was eight years old when my father [Kenneth] gave me a holiday job down in the basement of the Redhill branch helping to decant large drums of three colours of Valspar gloss paint into small tins which was all rationing allowed each customer at that time. I can also remember my sister coming home from school with an advertisement she had drawn in class and I being incensed that it said on it ‘Best locks come from Brewers’. With a fit of boyhood pique I exclaimed: ‘We sell paint, not locks!’ Another occasion that must have sparked my early enthusiasm was my brother’s entry for a model competition, consisting of a shop built of hardboard laid out with counters, cash desk and shelves with a roof that came off and a light inside, but it was another 12 years before I joined the business and could experience the real thing.

The post-war decorating business Decorating materials remained rationed for some time after the war. But there were said to be 600 paint and varnish manufacturers in the UK at the end of the war ready to bring their products back to the market, though many would have been makers of industrial paints. Goodlass Wall of Liverpool were the Trade brand leaders with Combinol. There were Sissons; Bergers with Pompeian; Jenson & Nicholson with Robbialac; Hadfields with Heolin; Manders Durable Gloss; John Halls with Brolac; and the Walpamur Company with Duradio. ICI called their brand Property Paint until in 1951 they felt confident enough in their raw materials to call their paint Dulux again.


Far left: Loading the van, late 1940s.

but prevented merchants from trading with other suppliers, except for Sandersons and Shand Kydd, perhaps because of their prestigious names and the quality of their product. Innovation in the paint industry

War did bring one compensation to the industry. Through research into munitions a by-product was discovered which aided the manufacture of a new water-based resin (it is said that this discovery was first made in Germany!). It enabled John Hall’s to make the first plastic emulsion paint, Brolac PEP, in the early 1950s. Another innovation at this time was the first tinting system, Robbialac Colorizer, designed by Jenson & Nicholson, who had factories worldwide. The system consisted of tubes of colourant and several bases for each finish similar to today, but up to three selected tubes had to be squeezed into the base by the decorator. Wallpaper: the post-war years

No wallpaper was made in the immediate post-war years and all that was sold was from merchants’ stocks from 1939. By the time Stephen, Jack’s second son, joined the Company in 1949 a trickle of wallpaper was coming through, albeit rationed in quantity, quality and choice. Most of it was produced by WPM Ltd – the Crown Group of Wallpaper Manufacturers – which had nine mills (or wallpaper factories), a virtual monopoly on the wallpaper market and exclusive trading agreements with merchants. This arrangement was largely beneficial to all concerned

Trimming and tying

The way in which wallpaper was delivered to Brewers during the late 1940s was little changed from the days when our founder began his business. It was untrimmed, unwrapped and forward rolled (pattern inwards), bundled loosely in stock quantities of 20 or 30 pieces as they were called, which were in turn wrapped in huge heavy bales of perhaps 150 pieces. The stout hessian wrappers were charged at 5/-, each saved and returned periodically for credit. Stephen Brewer can recall the first few dusty years of his apprenticeship, hauling bales up to the first-floor wallpaper department in Ashford Road in the ropedriven lift; then unpacking, racking and tirelessly trimming on machines by hand or (if lucky) on the electric version. The room lots were then wrapped in the paper waste from the bales and tied with string by the special wallpaper knot – a considerable skill which has proved very useful in later life. From the early days Clement Brewer had selected and bought the wallpaper while his wife Mary undertook much of the trimming. In the 1930s supervision of the wallpaper business had passed to Jack Brewer, an enjoyable responsibility which he passed on to Stephen after the war who in turn was pleased to hand it on to his son, Mark, ten years ago.

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1939–1960 From World War to DIY Revolution

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Advice for the Trade Customers’ desire for product information at this time was in part satisfied by sending them regular “Problems – Practice” leaflets using information supplied by manufacturers. The specimen invoice shows the wide range of products they bought and about which they needed knowledge on their various uses. It was not so easy in those days to pick up the phone wherever you were working and seek help from the local Brewer branch or representative.


Wallpaper pattern books Before the war and for many years after the end of rationing the merchants’ pattern book, its naming, marketing, distribution and pricing structures had all been based on trade agreements and the principle of supplier anonymity for the books themselves. The only branding was the use of individual noms de plume by each distributor to disguise the source of supply from the retail customer; the exception being Sandersons who combined manufacturing and merchanting and were allowed to use their name on the covers. Clement chose the name Albany as our pattern book camouflage probably as early as 1920. By the 1950s there was sufficient paper available to return to normal supplies and the traditional system of pattern book selling. Books were issued free to decorators to keep for the use of their clients, charging the goods to their own accounts and thus earning their trade discount. Even as we developed show rooms our introduction cards were

used by the trade only with our written assurance that their interests would be protected when they sent clients to our premises to make their selections. Nearly all the manufacturers (ie the WPM combine) had worked on a two-year cycle bringing out new collections simultaneously. This created surges of activity in the preparation of new collections before the ‘two year end’ and afterwards the need for a complete redecoration of showrooms, usually accompanied by wallpaper sales at branches of discontinued patterns. This tidy routine faded away in the late 1960s after the results of the Monopolies Commission Inquiry so that today books of new collections come in all the time from all over the world.


1939–1960 From World War to DIY Revolution

Jack Brewer (1891–1971) Chairman until 1961 42

In the 1950s Jack had been largely responsible with my brother John for setting up Head Office and, until Godfrey Barber was appointed Company Secretary, Jack had always acted in this role – one which he performed with great diligence and skill, despite his lack of any formal legal or accountancy qualifications. Jack was not without a sense of humour or the ability to ‘put down’ – in a kindly way. Godfrey would recount how, in his early days he was asked by Jack to do some particular thing, and promptly forgot. Some time later, he was profusely apologetic when my father went to his office: “Never mind, Godfrey,” said my father, “I’ve done it myself now.” A gentle rebuke from “Mr. Jack” could be more effective and longer remembered than any severe one. My father was a virtual teetotaller – by taste as much as principle – and I often wondered how he managed in the ‘outside world’ with important customers and manufacturers and in his role as President of the Wallpaper Merchants Association. The wallpaper industry was at that time, as I

discovered when I took on this job in the 1960s, an environment in which alcohol flowed fairly freely. But in every situation and in all company Jack was highly respected for his integrity and principles, especially his abhorrence of any sort of ‘doubtful dealing’ in his own and the Company’s business relationships. Though not an overtly gregarious man he counted amongst his personal friends many merchant colleagues, including Paul Line, a nephew of John Line, as well as Sir Geoffrey Mander and Roland Shand Kydd who were amongst our key suppliers of paint and wallpaper at that time. My father had a genuine and great concern for others, especially (and naturally) his family and his staff whom he always regarded as family. I remember our unsophisticated wage reviews reflecting that concern: “You didn’t tell me that ‘A’ has had another child. He must have an extra 2/6 a week – backdated!” or “‘B’ has done a great job for 40 years – it must be 10/- this time.” But it wasn’t just a question of money, it was a genuine interest in everybody – their pleasures and their problems – and readiness to offer the soundest of advice whenever it was sought. It was unpatronising paternalism in its very best sense and, like everything in both his private and business life, it sprang from his deeply held Quaker principles.


His concern for people extended way beyond the family. In the late 1930s, for example, he worked tirelessly through Quaker organisations for Jewish refugees from the Continent, welcoming many of them into our home in transit to the States, bringing his concern and business acumen to the establishment of the Bernard Baron Cottage Homes (formerly the Diplock Homes) and the Queen Alexandra Homes and providing, quietly and unobtrusively, financial help – as with all his generous support of charity. Jack never sought money or power and when these came to him in a minor way he regarded them very much as a trust. He wryly told me: “Money is a problem when you haven’t any and even more when you have.” He also advised, more than once, “Never lend money to anyone – but if you can afford to, always give it.” In the same way as Kenneth, Jack never pressured any of his family to join the business. My brothers and I were given not only freedom but help in following alternative careers of our own choice; he believed, I’m sure, that experience of almost any sort in the outside world would always be valuable if and when we changed our minds. He rarely took holidays. Before the war, our Augusts were always spent in rented furnished houses in Eastbourne doing ‘summery’ things –

while Dad could continue ‘getting into the office’ every day with a clear conscience! Nor did he have any consuming, conventional outside interests. Unlike Kenneth, he was not a great sportsman, though in his younger days he played a little golf and always joined in family pastimes such as garden bowls and children’s tennis. In the 1930s he even shared a cabin cruiser with his friend Harold Llewellyn, and I well remember fun fishing expeditions off the Seven Sisters. Like Kenneth, however, he was an insatiable reader and enjoyed nothing more than a quiet game of Canasta with his friends. He was a quiet man, always courteous and considerate, who nevertheless made an enormous contribution to the success and growth of the business during his long working life.

Stephen Brewer, February 2004

43


1939–1960 From World War to DIY Revolution Below right (inset): A wellattended meeting with Bruce Sutherland in the chair while a manufacturer speaks. 44

The Head Office team

While the new branches were growing in south London a team of specialists was establishing itself at Head Office consisting of just six people. In 1947, Godfrey Barber was employed as assistant to Jack Brewer and Stan Apps joined, in time running the bought ledger. Len Santer was responsible for central buying and a little later Bruce Sutherland joined from Jenson & Nicholson as the first Sales Manager. The business had always lacked someone with sales flair. Bruce had a manufacturing background with working experience in India. So to some he came in as a bit of a bombshell, but many of his selling ideas were right for the time and suppliers were delighted to link in with them. In the early 50s Bruce organised evening meetings for customers of every branch to meet suppliers. About 20 manufacturers from across the range of products (brushes, boards, insulation materials, etc.) were invited to speak; a hotel was booked – and usually packed out. In those days tradesmen were eager to see how the newest materials worked; today, it is more a matter of finding which of many products will do the job. Questions were answered from a platform and the answers written up in a booklet and sent to all customers. These meetings were first called Trade Forum and then Contact Meetings.


‘Brevue’ shows After the celebrations of the Company’s half centenary in 1954, a variation on the forums called ‘Brevue’ was staged. Various scenes were acted which helped to demonstrate in a whimsical way how the materials were best used. An important element in the staging of these shows was the entry into the firm of Jack’s other two sons, Stephen and Michael. Stephen had had an early career in acting during which he had taken main parts in many theatricals around the country. His younger brother Michael’s interests were mainly on the practical side of building projects, but he had helped his brother with production and stage management for many of the shows in the Eastbourne area. With the injection of these new skills the Brevue productions were well received and by some still now remembered for their laughs.


1939–1960 From World War to DIY Revolution

Left: Brewer’s Jubilee logo. Below left: Gorton’s, Surbiton, c.1951. 46

The Brewer half centenary

By the time of our half centenary in 1954 tremendous progress had been made but economic conditions were still tight so the celebrations were concentrated on recognising how hard everyone had worked in these difficult years by rewarding all the staff with a special Jubilee bonus. “Let’s give it a go”

In 1952, Gortons, a merchant in Ewell Road, Surbiton, southwest of London, came up for sale. ICI, with its successful relaunch of Dulux, was very keen for us to buy this Dulux stockist. Kenneth was too

busy with Croydon, Beckenham and Bromley, and thought to turn it down unless someone from Eastbourne could run it alongside Guildford, but they were fully occupied with the new Head Office. Eventually it was down to the Scot’s energy, intuition and vision of Eric Mathieson who said, “Come on Mr. Kenneth, I think we can give it a go.” He asked for Dennis Hassell and Alf Wisdom to be transferred from Thornton Heath to the new Surbiton branch and took on Dave Morgan, a future representative, who spent some months actually working in the business before Brewers took it over. With this team and others who went on to work there for many years, Surbiton grew rapidly to become one of the most successful branches. This part of the outskirts of London was becoming a popular and agreeable residential area and the demand for decorating materials grew with property values. Sited on one of the main roads into Kingston-on-Thames the shop became well known to the public and from the early days a wallpaper showroom was established in full view of passing pedestrians and traffic. Many of the staff at Surbiton became very knowledgeable about wallpaper, which helped sales to thrive.


47

Pride in home ownership

Above: The Dulux advertisement perfectly captures the new pride in home ownership. Right: Skylon and the Dome of Discovery: Festival of Britain, South Bank Exhibition,1951.

By the early 1950s the DIY revolution had begun and decorating materials were in great demand from the public. A number of reasons have been given for its upsurge: relative peace after the war, encouragement by the state to buy your own home, the Festival of Britain in 1951 which popularised design and colour after the drab years of war – even Barry Bucknall’s DIY programmes on TV. New paint and wallpaper shops opened up in most High Streets with the price of most items controlled by the manufacturer. Although merchants, selling to both trade and retail, were their competitors, these shops needed a supplier and the few merchants who were capable had to act as distributors to them as well as to the trade.


1939–1960 From World War to DIY Revolution

48

Below: Bromley showroom, 1960s. Below right: Grove Road, Eastbourne, 1960s.

Facing page: Brewer branches at the end of the 1950s.

Wallpaper showrooms

Not only at Surbiton, but at Redhill, Guildford and later Bromley too, the Company saw the potential for increasing wallpaper sales by providing comfortable showrooms. At the end of the 1950s these branches had first-floor showrooms of a standard which would have done credit to a five-star hotel. In central Eastbourne a flagship showroom had been opened in 1948 on the ground floor of a shop in Grove Road, and was run by Bert Hall who, until then, had spent all his working life at the Sanderson’s factory or in their prestigious showrooms in London.

The Bromley branch moved from a small shop (where all paint deliveries had to be left out on the pavement) to new premises specially built for the purpose on land acquired further up London Road. Built in reinforced concrete, however, with three floors and a basement it was not going to be the easiest of buildings to adapt in the future with, for instance, the introduction of forklift trucks. But for


1939–1960 From World War to DIY Revolution

50

Left: Trade counter staff at Redhill, 1954.

the time it gave us the opportunity to create a prestige showroom on the first floor – it even boasted a waterfall and fish pool within the curve of the staircase to attract people up. Redhill’s new showroom was similarly lavish, with long stretches of window seats, chintz show curtains and hundreds of swing panels to add to the many patterns shown on the walls. In due course most branches gave over as large an area as they could to a smart wallpaper showroom, but selling only wallpaper, no fabrics at this time. Looking back, we can appreciate how popular wallpaper still was fifty years ago. Servicing retail outlets

The mix of business to the Trade and to retail shops may have benefited ICI and other manufacturers but it brought problems to the merchant distributors. The service to the Trade that Brewers had so carefully developed over 60 years now had to be available from merchants like us to all the new paint and wallpaper shops which required an assortment of many small tins of different coloured paints boxed up and delivered next

day. The retail outlets sought a larger discount than the decorator because their overheads were higher, although the cost to Brewers of collating orders and delivering was certainly higher too. Initially, these additional sales were seen as extra grist to the mill, but it was soon apparent that our important traditional trade business was being compromised. A retailer’s order over the phone could cover up to six sheets of paper while tradesmen were waiting to place their straightforward order for a few gallons of one or two colours. Therefore, in 1958 it was decided to split Surbiton branch into two. New premises were found in nearby Kingston where all the factoring (as this business was called) would be handled separately; Surbiton would be for the Trade and public only. As an illustration of the size of the factoring business, the department store Bentalls of Kingston received a special daily delivery of a full van load. For a while, this separation worked well for the Surbiton/Kingston branch, though other branches in the south London area in particular were encountering the same problems. The solution for them is related in the next chapter.


Right: Formica exhibition van arriving at Guildford branch, 1950s. Below: Formica display from ‘Forum’ 1956. Below right: Cutting bench.

Materials for kitchens and bathrooms During the 15 years after the war Brewers was no ordinary decorators’ merchant; demand was high for all the semi-building materials (plasterboard, hardboard and doors), we had continued to supply on ration during the war – and sometimes the retail shops ordered these too. One new product taken on soon after the war was Formica decorative laminate, an import from the USA. This sheet product incorporating colour and design linked in well with the Company’s stock range. We were the first ‘distributor’ in the UK, before De la Rue began making Formica under licence in a new factory in Newcastleupon-Tyne. Until factory-made kitchen units became available in the early 1970s Formica in 9 x 4 sheets or cut to size in the branches was in great demand, mainly for kitchen worktops. The popular pattern names of Scarlet Red Softglow, Charcoal Capri and Straight Grained Walnut ran off the tongue as easily as any paint colour. Cutting to size by saw was very laborious, so a patent cutting bench with a guillotine sliding between grooves was invented by Michael Brewer. It became

standard equipment at most branches. But the market declined when whole kitchens could be fabricated more easily and cheaply in the factory. (Later we were to fill this gap by selling kitchen units ourselves at many branches but, partly because of competition from DIY chains by 2004, only Bromley still sells kitchen units.) Another product allied to kitchens was ceramic tiles which Brewers started to stock in the 1950s. The demand was mainly for plain 6” square white tiles. As the range of colours, designs and sizes increased, we initially saw tiles as a growth line, requiring wide displays – perhaps even showrooms. But few decorators and builders involved themselves with larger tiling jobs – these were left to specialist tilers who were not generally our existing customers. As the cost-effectiveness of space became more important after the 1970s and most branches found competition and the need to show enough of a range to attract customers too demanding, ceramic tiles were no longer considered an important product line. Floor, cork and ceiling tiles were also dabbled with, then left to the specialist suppliers/fitters.


The Dulux dog phenomenon Up until this period, Dulux had been just one of many Trade brands of paint. Goodlass Wall had been promoting Valspar to the public but this had historically been a paint sold mainly for bicycles. When competition began to bite in the DIY paint market, ICI played their trump card early on: the introduction of the Dulux Dog. This image of the shaggy Old English sheepdog appeared everywhere Dulux was advertised and eventually people became so attached to the dog – and to Dulux – that when they were in a position to hire a decorator, they took note of the ICI advertising slogan “Say Dulux to your decorator”. Thus the power of specification grew in the Trade market, too.

The Medway towns

I have mentioned that Basil Brewer came back from abroad in 1947 to run the Dartford branch. Shortly after his return, Ralph Redcliffe joined to help with the management of this new branch. Ralph was quick to identify the Medway towns as an area for another Brewer branch and suggested to Mr Kenneth that he might like to look at a property which had come up for sale in New Road, Chatham. Kenneth, realising he had already too much on his plate in the London area but not wishing to dampen Ralph’s obviously sensible enthusiasm, agreed to make an offer but at just half the asking price. That was in 1950 and unfortunately for him (it could be said!) the offer was accepted and it marks the beginnings of the Chatham branch (later moved to Gillingham), then to the opening of Canterbury branch. Ralph Redcliffe knew there were many potential customers in the Medway towns but the new Chatham branch needed much thought, planning and work done on it before a proper service could be


Left: Chatham branch and Paul Watt, Manager then Area Manager for Chatham and Canterbury, 1950s.

Right: Christopher McDowell. Below centre: Stephen Brewer. Below: Michael Brewer.

provided. One difficulty was that the two storage floors were below the shop area as the premises were built on a sharp slope. Ralph was given guidance by John Brewer, who had already been helping his uncle Basil at Dartford, and had valuable assistance from his brother Michael. As the business grew, a separate manager was required for Chatham, so Paul Watt transferred from Eastbourne. Others from Eastbourne like Melvin Newton and Bill Santer cut their teeth on branch work at Chatham, and went on to fill important positions in the Company. Family comings and goings

Two of the family departed during the 1950s and four arrived: Gordon, who had made his influence felt at Bexhill and was very popular with customers and staff alike, decided to retire abroad in 1954 and Charles Stimpson took over as manager. Geoffrey, who had launched Guildford branch and blazed the trail in that area was made a Director in 1954 but in 1957 his health began seriously to fail. He died in 1958, a great sadness not only to his family but to a large circle of staff and customer friends. Bert Rossiter, who had started at Eastbourne and was by then one of the longest-serving staff in the Company, took over as manager. As the third generation of Brewers became involved in the business, there was a tendency for it to form into two groups: Jack’s family and now Kenneth’s family. Stephen (in 1949)

and Michael (in 1950) had joined their brother John (made a Director in 1959), and Kenneth’s son-in-law Christopher McDowell and I joined in 1957. It is probably fair to say that until we all became Directors in 1964, most of the contact was between our fathers and there might have been a danger that the two halves of the new generation would make an uneasy fit; but thankfully later on that was proved not to be. Servicing the demand

When Christopher and I joined the Company in 1957 after National Service in the Army and RAF respectively, the impression I remember was that getting sales was one of the less important priorities. The huge demand from the public was on top of the traditional light and heavy Trade business, and of course there was the factoring to retail shops too. The highest priority seemed to be how best to handle the mass of orders. Competition didn’t seem much of a worry either. Work was full of projects, whether at Redhill, where Christopher and I started out, or at the fast-growing branches all around.

53


1939–1960 From World War to DIY Revolution Below (from top): Staff outing to the South Bank Exhibition, 26th May 1951. Tunbridge Wells Branch cricket team, 1948. 54

Team spirit There was fun outside work too. Before the war there had been a few cricket matches, trips to Birling Gap on the Sussex coast, even to Belgium. In post-war years, there were regular cricket matches between branches. In 195l there was a memorable outing to the Festival of Britain Exhibition on London’s South Bank and from 1954, the halfcentenary year, there was an annual Christmas dinner dance at the Queens Hotel in Eastbourne. Maybe when we look at these photographs we say to ourselves “that must have been fun and where are those times today?” The last inter-branch team events were football matches played in the 70s all on one day but at different grounds each year, often with 12 teams competing.

First Annual Cricket Club dinner-dance menu, 1938. Staff Social & Dance, Saffrons Room, Eastbourne, 1937.


Left: Christopher Brewer. Below right: Crawley branch c.1958.

Christopher and I got to know each other well, particularly when we were sent on product training courses at manufacturers. Soon after joining I spent six weeks at the John Hall’s (Paint and Glass) factory in Bristol, working for a short period in all their departments, from factory floor to personnel. They were still a familyowned company and their Brolac product was one of our main stock brands. Organisation and Methods

In our own business, ways needed to be found to make each element of work practice move quicker and more efficiently. One of the most important management techniques of that time was Organisation and Methods (O&M), which had been started in the Services during the war. There were no computers or forklift trucks and each activity could take a long time and involve many people; so every work movement was analysed to achieve greater efficiency. In 1952 the freehold of the Redhill site was acquired from the Lord Monson Estate. A new wallboard and glass store had been built in the gardens before the war, but this freer control of the land meant plans for expansion of the paint stores, shop and showroom could now go ahead. More store space was desperately needed now that Redhill was

running an inter-branch delivery system to the new and growing branches in the London area, and carrying reserve stocks for them too. Crawley, 10 miles south of Redhill, had been designated a ‘new town’ soon after the war. Industry and new housing estates were encouraged into the area which meant much work for painting contractors. Horsham was simply too far away to service their needs, so in 1958 a new Crawley branch opened in a stone-faced building previously occupied by the Westminster Bank. Christopher McDowell became its manager a year later, while I stayed at Redhill helping with projects and assisting the two managers Bert Fairchild, who had started as a boy in 1921, and Alf Jones, who brought his retail and wallpaper flair to Brewers after the war. By the end of the 1950s, the Company had successfully evolved to a state where soon most branches would be run by non-family managers, so a better-defined role would be needed for the new third generation of family members.

55


1960–1972 The Rise of DIY

ce an eM ain

ten

dir ect me

Pr ic

be co ns

Re sa

le

dso ran

lit

ion

of

rg the ro Fo u

1967

1966

1964 ors

1963

1962

1961

Br ew e Ca r be nt com er e Fi bury s Ch rst a b sub ran irm -d ch an ep ot open e at Se d Sh afo ea rd rn so fP ser utne vic y p e c ur en cha tra se lL dt on o do n

th ne Ke n

1965

and developing new branches. Relationships with suppliers as well as customers always seemed to be excellent. Staff were well looked after, and many went on to become managers.” So, on the whole, a very good report, but were we in a position to face up to the wind of change with the rise of competition which began in the later 1960s?

PASSING THE MIDWAY POINT IN OUR STORY, IT IS perhaps worth looking back and trying to write a halfterm report: “In the main very well done: the founder achieved his objective of finding a place in the business for all six sons and between them they saw the business through the perils of two world wars. During good times, they ploughed back profits into modernising buildings

Ab o

56


Left: Newspaper advertisement, early 1960s. Right: Trade Catalogue, 1964/65. Below: Canterbury branch interior c.1965.

Expansion and development

W

Br ew er

Jac

kB rew er

die

1972

s ho l es So ut Cro ale c ha yd on mp on ve ton tra rts an de b to b e d bra Por ranc nc tsm h he ou s o th pe ne d

1971

1970

1969

Br ew e sho rs W ps ho op les en ale s o fo no r ld sup Cr ply oyd of on ret Ai ail rp or t Br igh ton bra nc ho pe ne d

1968

The Company began the decade termed the ‘permissive sixties’ by making important expansion into two new areas: Canterbury and Putney. The Chatham branch coverage of the Medway towns over the previous ten years had been so successful that John Brewer and Paul Watt, the manager, were keen to progress to Canterbury where Frank Medhurst, ‘the traveller’ (the name used for representatives in those days), already had customers. Small premises were found in Love Lane near the Chaucer Hotel, but there the romantic allusion ends. The building was an old corn store and on first entering it seemed less than inviting: steps led down to where rats could just be seen, and certainly heard, scuttling away in the dark. A shop, warehouse and upstairs wallpaper showroom were all fitted into these premises and Eric Bowley was asked to transfer from Guildford to become the Canterbury manager/traveller. Amongst the staff at the beginning


1960–1972 The Rise of DIY

58

were Derek Scott (later Lewisham Area Manager), John Pettit (now Southampton Area Manager), Terry Robb (the present Canterbury Area Manager) and Ted Hyde (later Head Office Wallcoverings Manager). Apparently, at the outset, the delivery driver used to go round with an order book saying he wouldn’t have a job unless he was given some orders! Boards and doors remained an important part of the Brewers product range and as the business grew extra space had to be found. This time it was a former Fyffes banana store just around the corner and that became the board store until the move to the new Wincheap Trading Estate in 1970. The expansion and development of the business into new buildings often required a local architect. In 1962 it was decided to set up our own Premises department at Head Office, run by an experienced architect. This position was taken by Jack Cant who came from a local practice. Under Michael Brewer he quickly became involved in new buildings, renovations, alterations and the planning of new selling areas throughout the expanding territory, learning the Company’s needs as he progressed. Syd Griffin also joined at this time as designer of shop presentation and planner of shop layouts, garnering experience for him and the Company over the next forty years. In 1962 H. Shearns of Putney, a light materials builders’ merchant was offered to us. It comprised a kitchen showroom close to Putney Bridge and, a short distance away, a series of old stores in a strip of land

Above: Derek Scott. Right: Terry Robb.

Far right: John Pettit. Right: Ted Hyde.

Above: Old Putney with carthorses, c.1890. Left: Putney branch with entrance through from Putney Bridge Road, c.1970.


Right: Eric Mathieson.

stretching from Putney Bridge Road to a street behind. One idea was that the showroom could be converted to displaying wallpaper and become our ‘London showroom’, but it was not to be and was later sold. In fact the nearby stores were perceived as showing the greatest potential once they had been converted to one elongated shop and warehouse with parking for customers down one side. It took vision to see how the whole could be made into a branch but, on completion, it became a springboard to serve London both south and north of the river in the years ahead. All of the Shearn staff were kept on and converted to selling decorating materials which had represented a small part of their former trading. Dennis Hassell and then Colin Edwards from Surbiton took on the job of the conversion (Colin only retired in 1999 after 37 years as manager of the branch). Putney became the first successful branch serving central London mainly on the back of the large demand for Dulux in London and a good representative in the form of Stan Graham, helped also by the fact that customers could come in from Putney Bridge Road, park, collect their goods and drive out at the back, just as they do forty years on. The small shop and archway at the front of these premises are of some historical interest. Oliver Cromwell’s brother evidently lived there and being a shy man didn’t like being noticed when he walked to the riverside to embark on his boat. Below this shop are arches showing where there was a tunnel under the road which he used to reach the river.

Putney was the last big project with which Eric Mathieson was involved. As right-hand man to Kenneth Brewer since the end of the war, he takes much of the credit for the success of the Croydon, Bromley and Surbiton enterprises. He was made a Director of C. Brewer & Sons (Kent) Ltd., which, though a nominal appointment, was a title he appreciated and richly deserved for the energetic pioneering work he had done, which we perhaps take too much for granted today. Memberships and associations

The Brewer membership of the Plate Glass Association remained important in the years after the war. We were also members of the Building Industry Distributors (now Builders’ Merchants Federation) and the National Association of Wholesale Paint Merchants (NAWPM). There were a great number of local or regional decorators’ merchants in the post-war years and many sought recognition in the eyes of their suppliers by being a member (for £5 annual subscription) of NAWPM. Controls on trading were far looser in those days and such items as prices and competition could be openly discussed. In 1962 NAWPM was informed of a new group in Belgium whose main aim was to organise a forum for the future leaders of decorators’ merchants throughout Europe, meeting at a different venue each year. The Junior European Paint Merchants study trip was founded and

59


1960–1972 The Rise of DIY

60

Right: 1964 European study trip – visit to Redhill branch.

Below right: Brewers’ Techorama exhibitions, c.1960.

for the next thirty years most countries of western Europe were visited and interesting programmes arranged, sometimes for as many as 50 people. Lasting friendships across the cultural and language divides were made and seeing the way foreign merchants operated, helped us to question – even be satisfied with – our own practices. Later, trips were made to Japan and the USA which were open to all ages. The third generation of Brewers

In 1963 the role had to be established for the five members of the third generation. This was conceived as each having a specific responsibility at Head Office in addition to an area responsibility for a number of branches. The following year the four of us joined John as Directors, which helped to consolidate the plan; though to do this and encourage senior non-family managers in their roles was not easy for either party. However, there was a general recognition by the staff that having the involvement of more family members was good for the continuity of the Company as an independent, family-owned business. The new directors then became Area Directors for their appointed branches and this family contact with managers and staff and their direct involvement in their branches has served everyone well for many years. By this time, Stephen and Christopher McDowell had passed on their management responsibilities at Eastbourne and Crawley to Cliff Bourner and Derek Fallis respectively. In 196l my father had taken over as Chairman from his brother Jack who retired at the age

of 70, having led the Company since 1925. Stephen Brewer describes some of his father’s achievements over this long period on pages 40 – 41. Customer shows

During the decade, new customer shows were born, which at first were called Techorama and later on Decorex. These movable exhibitions were the brainchild of Bruce Sutherland. Between 50 and 60 suppliers took stands in large halls in each of the regions served by Brewer branches. They proved very popular with customers, many of whom were brought by coach from the outlying branch areas. They took the form of demonstrations on the stands, but also short lectures ran in sequence in a separate room; sometimes, even a television had to be provided so that customers didn’t miss an important football match!


61

Head Office departments and principal people in the 1960s Director in charge of Head Office

John Brewer

Company Secretary

Godfrey Barber

The growth of Head Office

Accounts and Internal Audit

Alan Lambert, Robert Harflett

The physical expansion of Head Office requires some explaining. In 1930 two houses (123 and 127 Ashford Road) and a coach-painting workshop behind were acquired. These became the new Trade outlet, replacing Pevensey Road. The first floor was reinforced and a hand haul lift installed. It was used first as a wallboard store, then for pattern book selection, and after the war it housed the new Head Office. In the early 1950s the intervening house (125), it’s garden and a bottling plant behind were bought, which provided urgently needed extra space. During the 1960s the yard was built over to accommodate the growing Head Office which gained more space when the Eastbourne branch and then Central Wallcoverings Distribution moved out to Lottbridge Trading Estate in 1971.

Sales Development

Bruce Sutherland Melvin Newton

Buying/Stock keeping

Len Santer, Stan Apps

Wallpaper

Stephen Brewer Bert Hall

Personnel

Ted Batt

Staff Training

John Purkiss

Payroll

Ivy Clifton

Transport

Melvin Newton Eddie Allchorn

Premises

Michael Brewer Jack Cant

Stationery, Printing, Systems

John Grout


1960–1972 The Rise of DIY

62

Innovation in paint manufacture Paint products were becoming more technically sophisticated. Alkyd synthetic resins, started before the war, now enabled manufacturers to make solvent-borne paints to almost any quality or specification. Polyurethene made varnishes tougher than ever before and suitable for outside woodwork. Thixotropic paint (forming a jelly in the can but becoming liquid on brushing) provided a non-drip consistency and also prevented settlement of pigment in the can. Another important innovation was the introduction of a hard-wearing brand of exterior water-based wall paint called Sandtex. Hitherto, Snowcem had been used as a low-cost coating for outside walls; Rogstone made by Dixons was the quality oil bound coating. Sandtex, like Snowcem, was manufactured by Blue Circle Industries. As a cement producer, Blue Circle was keen to promote its new product through builders’ merchants it already knew, rather than decorators’ merchants. It took strong argument by decorators’ merchants led

by Brewers to change Blue Circle’s mind, which it did and never regretted. It was indeed decorators not builders who bought Sandtex, frequently and in volume, the product being regularly specified, often for the redecoration of pubs, most of which were tied to large brewery companies at that time. For Brewers, it was a magnificent success story thanks to the combined efforts of a team at Blue Circle and Stan Apps and Melvin Newton, who had just taken over Sales Development from Bruce Sutherland. The secret of the Sandtex formula was the addition of mica into the pigment which produced just a textured finish. However, before long ICI brought out a smooth finish, Dulux Weathershield. Meanwhile emulsion paint for interiors progressed from plastic-emulsion to vinyl or acrylic-emulsion; and the alternative more heavily pigmented product became the Contract emulsion for new plaster work leading to the Albany Supercover we know today.


Right: In the mid-60s, Syd Griffin won a national competition with this window display.

Below: Advertisement from the 1960s for Carsons paints. 63

Home insulation

The winter of 1962/63 had been the coldest on record with snow on the ground for nearly three months. Demands on fuel were so great that the following years saw many developments in house insulation materials. Double-glazing systems, fibreglass for loft and pipe insulation, polystyrene slabs for cavity walls and rolls of polystyrene sheeting for applying to walls before wallpapering were all stocked at most branches and so became a small but thriving part of the business. This was encouraged by government grants to home owners for loft insulation; of course, no one at the time had heard of global warming… Consolidation in the paint industry

Paint suppliers were amalgamating and ICI for one was concerned about sustained and guaranteed distribution for its strong Dulux brand. It started to acquire independent Trade merchants, first J.P. McDougall & Co. of Manchester, then Rose & Co. in the Midlands and West Country. Over time ICI acquired merchants throughout the UK, calling the chain McDougall Rose (MR). Bergers, Jenson & Nicholson and John Hall’s followed suit and called their chain PGW (Paint, Glass – from the large John Hall’s glass plant – and Wallpaper). The third to acquire a chain was WPM (Wallpaper Manufacturers) who took over John Lines (where Clement Brewer had started back in 1882) which by then had branches covering the country and which had remained more specialised in wallpaper than paint.

The upshot of this for Brewers was that many of our main suppliers were now actively competing with us. This led us to develop stronger links with other manufacturers such as Gays (Gaymel), Permoglaze, Blundell Spence (Pammastic), Goodlass Wall (Valspar), Carsons and Hadfields.


1960–1972 The Rise of DIY

Wallpaper in the 1960s Stephen Brewer provides a first-hand account of wallpaper in the 1960s 64

With the growing consumer interest in wallcoverings and the consequent rapid expansion of the market the 1960s were exciting and eventful times. The Company used the opportunities offered to take advantage of this trading climate by improving showroom facilities and by increasing the range of Albany pattern book collections to as many as ten during this period. A key figure in this activity was Bert Hall who, holidaying in Eastbourne in the 1950s, had decided he liked Sussex enough to leave Sanderson’s, where he had worked ‘man and boy’ in the Perivale factory and Berners Street showroom. He approached Jack Brewer for a job and was taken on as a valuable specialist in supporting me and the small wallpaper team. In the early 1960s as manager of the new Grove Road showroom (in Eastbourne) he set out to exploit the re-emerging holiday industry by actively canvassing local hotels and boarding houses while setting new (for us) standards in our showroom service to decorators’ customers. At the same time, he and I were chiefly occupied in the selection, compilation

and sometimes the actual making of the ever widening range of Albany pattern books that were the basis of our wallpapers then on offer.

Direct marketing

This period also saw the rise of ‘marketing’ in the industry with manufacturers issuing their own selections direct to the marketplace, supported by heavy branding. Where these were made available through conventional channels of distribution many were taken into stock by Brewers, increasing still further the range we carried. It led eventually to the establishment of Head Office Trading, consisting of central stocks held at Eastbourne from which sold ‘room lots’ were distributed daily to all branches, a service that continues today as Central Wallcoverings Distribution. One early and prime example of this branding activity was the Sandersons’ Triad collection which offered for the first time coordination of wallpaper, fabrics and paint between the covers of one very large and very expensive pattern book.

Vinyl

The other very significant product innovation of this period was vinyl: design and colour printed on to a vinyl sheet laminated to a wallpaper base and providing a much more durable ‘easy clean’ decoration. The first of these was Decorene, manufactured by Storeys, followed by Mayfair


(Commercial Plastics), Kingfisher (Nairns), Crown (WPM) and the one that quickly became the brand leader – ICI’s Vymura. Despite some problems with the handling and hanging of these new materials they speedily became an integral part of our business, especially on the contract market. We were also happy to do significant business with even more specialist products, amongst them flocks, grasscloths, corks, foils, wide-width paper-backed hessians and silks.

Monopolies Commission Inquiry

After the passing of the Restrictive Practice Act in 1956, it was only a question of time before the rather restrictive trading terms of the WPM on wallpaper were investigated by the Monopolies Commission. This was a most important period for the industry. The inquiry which covered a wide range of allegedly restrictive practices started in 1963 and was completed early in 1964, when I, as President of the Wallpaper Merchants Association, was called to give evidence about the benefits of trading with a monopoly. Although these were not difficult to explain they were not appreciated by the Commission who found against WPM and the agreed rules and standards that had served manufacturers, merchants and indeed consumers so well. Whereas

sensible levels of discount within the trade had been agreed and adhered to for many years, the new ruling opened the gates to a wave of price cutting which in some quarters inevitably led to huge ‘mark-ups’ at retail level in order to provide cuttable margins; and in many areas it resulted in a considerable reduction in service levels. Eventually, of course, this benefited the DIY chains which compelled the manufacturers to back roll (pattern outwards) so that wallpapers could be more easily displayed in their self selection racks. This practice also brought to an end the need to trim the edges of each roll of wallpaper as they were now protected by an individual polythene wrap.

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1960–1972 The Rise of DIY Below: Haslemere branch 2004.

66

Abolition of Resale Price Maintenance

At about the same time as the inquiry into wallcoverings, the spotlight fell on the practice of Resale Price Maintenance on many other products – including paint. The practice of Resale Price Maintenance (RPM) had enabled suppliers to dictate to their distributors the price for which their products must be sold to the consumer under the threat of withdrawal of supply. Manufacturers could also decide who was allowed to stock and sell their paint. Until then, a retail price would have been set by the manufacturer and a tradesman would be allowed a trade discount, usually 20%. In 1965 Resale Price Maintenance was abolished by law for many products including paint. It therefore became a free for all, price debasement was pervasive, eventually making white paint in particular a price leader in the new DIY chains, and causing the gradual folding of the smaller decorating material shops in town centres that could not compete. Ironically, it was in the early 1960s that we ourselves opened extra shops, believing that our customers, who were becoming more mobile and able to collect goods, needed smaller Brewers in areas with smaller populations. Our first ‘sub-depot’ was established in Seaford, 12 miles from Eastbourne, where many new housing developments were underway. To help their profitability, the sub-depots needed to be located where they would attract the public too; so they needed to be near the town centre, as in Seaford. Soon after, others were established at

Uckfield, Folkestone, Margate, Haslemere and Haywards Heath, each controlled by the manager of the main branch in the area as if it was a department of the branch. Personnel and training

Staff at each branch now reported to non-family managers so the rather paternal approach to pay and staff conditions needed to change to a more formal structure. Ted Batt who had worked in W.H. Smiths joined us as our first Staff Development Manager. His remit was to produce: first, Job Descriptions for all staff, followed by Job Evaluation, a Wage Structure, Staff Assessment and Training required. This allowed more parity between jobs and between branches and gave us more confidence that we were paying market rates in each area. John Purkiss then joined to initiate a training programme for skills, and product training with suppliers. The Company has retained its reputation for training staff well, even through difficult times, in part due to John’s early enthusiasm.


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The Brewer Wholesale operation

By 1968, the effect of the abolition of Resale Price Maintenance was yet to be felt by smaller shops and the supply to them was now up to a third of our total business. Surbiton had already hived off this type of business to the Kingston depot; Bromley, Croydon and Redhill wanted to do the same. It was thought that if all this time-consuming business was brought to one place there would be economy of scale and in one warehouse we could reduce costs to make the combined business profitable. A warehouse on the former site of Croydon (London) Airport was taken and a new venture – still within Brewers – was started, Brewer Wholesale, which took over the factoring business of these three branches and Kingston’s. It was hoped that the established branches could then develop their trade and retail business without being hindered by factoring and that with a new identity and livery, Brewer Wholesale could operate cost effectively and profitably. The Kingston operation had been an unintentional pilot scheme for this much larger exercise but Kingston/Surbiton had not been accounted for separately. Monitoring profitability was not possible in those days, so it was something of a shock to find at the end of Brewer Wholesale’s first year (1968) that the gross margin was only 17%, compared with the total for the Company of 31%. Although there was some benefit from the economy of scale many more cost savings would have to

Above: Croydon warehouse interior. Right and below: Brewer Wholesale Price List, 1970 and van displaying the logo.


1960–1972 The Rise of DIY

68

be made if the operation was to become profitable on this margin. Pressures were also coming from the retailer customer because, as price competition began to bite, offers of generous terms were being made to them by other wholesalers, and having experienced our traditional service they still expected it, making saving through staff reductions impossible. This was before the DIY multiples sprang up, which was to put intense pressures on small retailers and ultimately cause their virtual demise, to the disadvantage of many people who enjoyed the personal service provided by these local, often family-run decorating material shops. After a second year of heavy loss at Brewer Wholesale, a drastic review was necessary. The Croydon trade branch had poor premises with little parking; so it was decided that as the Brewer Wholesale trade held no future for us we would be better off transferring the Croydon branch into the Brewer Wholesale building. This move naturally upset many longstanding retailer customers who lost their accustomed outlet; but proved to be an excellent decision for Brewers as we were able to concentrate on

the roots of our business – to the Trade decorator – and the relocated Croydon branch grew into a strong Trade branch, serving a very busy area. A further small experiment at the time was to open two retail cash and carry shops, trading as Go Decorating, one near the centre of Eastbourne and one in the Croydon Whitgift shopping centre which had just opened. This was to test our ability to make a profit from a purely retail operation with no frills but in a central location. It soon became clear that we were wasting our efforts: another signal that we should concentrate on our Trade business. Going West

In 1968 we were fortunate to be able to bring Eric Parker into the business. He had been a senior manager in Goodlass Wall, the leading post-war decorative paint manufacturer in the UK, and wanted a change to the merchant sector. Eastbourne branch had been managed by Stephen Brewer who needed more time to run the Company wallpaper operation. So Eric came to Eastbourne and was a first-class manager, adding all his manufacturing experience.


Facing page: Go Decorating retail experiments in Eastbourne and Whitgift Centre, Croydon. Left: Artist’s impression of Brighton branch, 1970. Below: Eric Parker.

He also became immensely helpful in the next stage of the Company’s development. Expansion up to this point had been north into the south London area and east into Kent. It was time to expand west along the south coast. Until then the Brighton area had been regarded as ‘forbidden territory’. Merchants R.R. Perry & Son and to a lesser extent Kenneth Gilkes had operated there for many years; we knew them well as friends and agreed that we would not invade one another’s patch. However, Russell Perry wanted to retire and having no successor his firm was acquired by ICI, becoming part of McDougall Rose. Kenneth Gilkes still ran a smart wallpaper showroom in Brighton’s centre but we felt the gloves could come off once Perry’s was acquired. The trade had become so used to going to Perry’s for their decorating materials we decided to open a branch in a large ex-builders’ premises not far from the town centre, but initially to concentrate on boards and doors, the supply of which we knew to be weak in the area. But by luck, another merchant (coincidentally also called Perry’s) in nearby Portslade with small branches in Hove and Shoreham, came

up for sale. This gave us a small foothold in decorating materials in the Brighton area. Eric Parker, still managing Eastbourne, was an enormous help in putting all these elements together to make a fine branch which eventually, under Bill Santer’s and then Jon Hill’s management, was to become the leading paint and wallpaper supplier in Brighton, without any room for the stocks of boards and doors with which it had started. For much of its forty years, Guildford had been one of the most profitable branches with little competition and situated in a wealthy area. No attempt had been made to open up further west until a meeting was organised with a member of the Franklin family who wanted to sell their business, a glass and decorators’ merchant in Aldershot and Basingstoke. We agreed to take them over and Brian Franklin managed Aldershot for a number of years before buying back the glass side which had been run separately. Basingstoke itself had hardly assumed its ‘new town’ role and seemed to have little potential at

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Above: Redhill showroom, 1960s. Right: Map of branches taken from the 1970 Trade catalogue. Below: Early 1960s transport.


Below: Glass cutting at Redhill in the 1970s.

71

the time, but it soon acted as a springboard to opening up in Newbury and later, with Basingstoke’s eventual development, became a very successful branch in its own right. Brewer service

The Company’s territory by 1973 stretched from Basingstoke in the west to Margate on the Kent coast, and from London to Brighton with 20 branches and a daily delivery to any point within that area. A third of the business consisted of the heavy materials such as boards, doors and glass, delivery of which required vehicles of a 3-ton capacity. With perhaps the emphasis still more on service to our customers rather than precise costing and profitability a daily inter-branch vehicle, from Eastbourne and Redhill, made the stocks of any branch available to any other branch’s customer within 48 hours. Each colour of every range of paint had to be kept, so that the interbranch network was often used for overcoming out of stock situations. Inter-branch events

With deliveries between branches and phone contact, staff at different branches got to know each other. Another side to ‘inter-branch’, was the annual sevena-side football competitions which were greatly enjoyed for a number of years until some long-term injuries dampened the Company’s enthusiasm for giving the event its support. Inter-branch fun runs

of 10 miles around Eastbourne took the place of soccer matches for a few years afterwards. A silver cup donated by Jack Towner, former manager of Tunbridge Wells, was competed for at these events. Another occasion which many managers recall from this time was the West Herts Business Management Course run specially for Brewers by Watford Technical College. Few managers had had any formal training and it was decided to ask an outside body to design a course covering every aspect of management, from financial statistics to good communications including such techniques as critical path analysis. A country hotel, called appropriately enough The Two Brewers, was the venue for the three-day course, and when evenings were not taken up with projects there were good opportunities for socialising, much of the time spent playing liar dice. This exercise was a milestone in the story of the Company indicating that if we were going to continue to expand we would all, Directors included, need to become more professional in our daily work.


1960–1972 The Rise of DIY

Kenneth Brewer (1895–1983) Chairman until 1974 72

Two of Clement Brewer’s six sons, Jack and Kenneth, spent all their working lives in the Company. Jack Brewer was a round, twinkling, avuncular figure, with perhaps a touch of Mr Pickwick. I used to wonder, naively, that such a gentle and apparently unassertive man could be at the head of a substantial and successful company. Kenneth made a quite different impression. Squarely built and square jawed, he radiated quiet and controlled determination. One must remember too that in his formative years the idea of leadership was very different from today’s. The climate now is consultative. Then, those in authority, whether generals, archbishops, headmasters or business leaders, were expected to decide for themselves on the right thing to do and then not rest or be diverted until it was done. “Do you follow?” Kenneth would say after stating his point of view – do you follow my argument, and do you therefore follow my lead? His colleagues did not, of course, always immediately follow his lead, but they remember that even after the fiercest argument he instantly forgot the

wrangle and never bore the least ill will. So my father’s approach to business problems was a forceful one, and it served him and the Company well. Largely thanks to his drive, those parts of the Company for which he was responsible survived the difficult years of the depressed 1930s and the even more difficult war years, and after the war saw a major expansion from which the Company still benefits. All this might suggest that Kenneth was simply an autocratic tycoon, but there were many more sides to him than that. He was a devoted father, and unhesitatingly supported me in whatever I wanted to do (such as many years of study) even when he wanted me to do something else (join the Company straight away). But he was very pleased when his other son Chris and his son-in-law Christopher McDowell did join the Company at the start of their careers, and when I later joined them. He loved sports: football in his youth and – almost to the end of his long life – squash, tennis and golf. At tennis he was champion many times for his Reigate club, where he met my mother, played for his county, and once almost qualified for the men’s doubles at Wimbledon. (His partner was a likeable but somewhat unpredictable local friend, perhaps the nearest that respectable Reigate came to producing a rake. All hung on a final set, his partner lost his nerve, or concentration, or both, and glory eluded


them – sacrificed, on Kenneth’s part, to friendship.) Today, anyone even close to Wimbledon qualification would have had years of special coaching, but Kenneth’s sporting skills were self-taught. It was the same in the field of ideas. He had left school at 14, but read avidly all his life, especially in the field where politics and philosophy overlap, and Emerson, Carlyle, Middleton Murry and George Bernard Shaw were amongst his favourite authors. Much of his reading reflected and reinforced his pacifist convictions, a Quaker principle he shared with his brother Jack. In the 1914–18 war, Kenneth had taken the difficult path of registering as a conscientious objector and was assigned to farm work – a hard life, but better than the alternative of prison, to which many objectors were sent. In the Second World War he and Jack bought, with others, a farm at Piltdown in Sussex, to be run and staffed by pacifists who would then at least be working with those of like mind. This was a part of the concern for individuals shared by Kenneth and Jack and a guiding principle for all in the Company who have had responsibility for others. This concern was both general and particular. As an example of the general, Kenneth was very proud of the Company’s introduction in the 1930s of a pension scheme, then a rarity, which

paid all pensioners an egalitarian £1 a week. And for the particular, I remember him telling us about the quiet burly man, Alf Huggett, who, wheeling a trolley heavily loaded with glass, had seen the sheets begin to slip, put out an arm to save them, and had suffered a severed artery, fortunately not fatally. Kenneth’s concern for him was combined with deep respect for a conscientious man who put service to the Company before his own safety. Kenneth and Jack were in many ways different, and it can be a strength in a family company that heredity brings together people of contrasting temperament and varied skills who might not otherwise have found themselves as colleagues. But if the main characteristic of Kenneth seemed to be drive, and of Jack benevolence, nevertheless they both clearly had a generous measure of each. Maybe the brothers were not so unalike after all.

David Brewer, February 2004

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1972–1987

Westward Expansion

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1979 75

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people he always searched for exactly the right word; he would sit and think, write a word, cross it out and substitute another and yet another until at last he was satisfied. “It has to be right”, he would say. Such precision and care was an indication of his sensitivity towards others. What a lesson that is to us today. In 1959, he and his brother Kenneth had decided to donate a room in the Redhill branch to the local St John Ambulance and Nursing Division in memory of their sister Mollie who had died the previous year, having been Secretary of the Division for some time. The room was dedicated by the Vicar of St Matthew’s Church opposite the branch in October 1959 and for the next forty years, though moved to different places in the branch as developments occurred, it became the ‘St John’s Room’, a muchappreciated and loved space in which generations of the local Division could meet and train, as well as being an occasional useful central meeting room for the Company.

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1972

IN JUNE 1971 JACK BREWER DIED. FOR FORTY YEARS he had been a softly spoken figurehead, carrying on many of the gentle ways his father had passed down to him. He represented the soul and the spirit of the business and many senior staff were to learn from his example. Much had been achieved through his quiet but firm leadership. As a practising Quaker he had fitted many outside good works into his full life. At his funeral service it was mentioned that in writing to

1976

74


Left: Jack Brewer at the dedication of the new St John’s Room. Right: The price of glues and adhesives in 1972. Our trading philosophy

1987

1986

1985

1984

1983

boards such as plywood which were imported and subject to fluctuating exchange rates, this was quite complex. Special terms were then allowed to customers, usually at the discretion of the local branch manager. Many customers still wanted free delivery and each branch had between three and five vehicles going out every day delivering boards, paint, sometimes glass, and even tiled fire surrounds. Each

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1980

By 1972 company sales totalled ÂŁ7 million (at a margin of 33%) and the trading profit from the branches ÂŁ600,000. How was the sales side organised over an increasingly wide area with a Head Office right on the perimeter? One of the secrets was the degree of autonomy allowed to the branches which was enough to make most managers feel they were running their own businesses. Attached to 14 main branches there were 21 representatives; at the time the representatives often felt they were themselves on the same level as the managers and together they worked hard to reach the best result they could at the end of each year. To achieve this, though, prices had to be right and readily available. Prices for both trade and retail levels were set and up-dated by Head Office and a heavy Kalamazoo loose-leafed price book was the essential equipment for anyone selling at Brewers. Over the wide range of products sold at that time, especially


1972–1987 Westward Expansion

76

branch had a carefully marked out territory from which to obtain business and this also saved wasteful overlap of the delivery service. Most important of all, each branch, including any sub-depots within its area, could be measured separately for profitability. This was not only a good business exercise but meant each manager and his staff had personal pride in its success – or perhaps sometimes a worry over its shortcomings. That was how it worked but it was the people who made it work who mattered most. Many had been in the business for 25 years since the war and some for longer. As each stepping stone in the expansion was laid down it naturally gave more excitement to the staff, despite some of the new developments requiring many hours of hard work which often meant physical labour in those days. The increasing size of the Company did not remove the personal touch between family, managers and their staff which had been an essential part of the working relationship from the very early days. In business jargon the “spirit of the organisation” was excellent and everyone wanted to keep it that way, however large the Company grew. Moving with the times

Up to the early 1970s most branch buildings, either in or on the edge of towns, had been extended and adapted to serve customers from as large and wide a range of stock as possible, often with great physical

Below: Tunbridge Wells and Canterbury, 2004. Among the first branches to move out of town.

and practical difficulty. Then during this decade, with more widespread use of forklift trucks and palletisation from suppliers, an out of town warehouse on one level with plenty of parking and manoeuvring space was the obvious answer to so many of the problems experienced within the town. Seven branches moved out of town between 1970 and 1975 and most of their new premises were built to our own requirements which were difficult to lay down in those early days with no tested pattern of working. However, many builders’ merchants were making the same move and sensible practices were being worked out by suppliers of racking, forklifts, lighting, heating, etc., so eventually the needs of this new style of operation became commonplace. To overcome the potential loss of retail trade the former branch premises were reduced in size and for some years acted as a shop/showroom until the public became used to


visiting the trading estates and then the rather costly shops were disposed of. One of the first branches to move out of town was Tunbridge Wells. Its site in Calverley Road had expanded in order to accommodate boards, doors, glass and many other bulky items. Under the comanagement of Jack Towner and Harry Harte the growth of the business over twenty years had been remarkable and had given great satisfaction to them and their staff. By this time, Harry had retired; but when Jack in his final year looked across the field of mud, the former High Brooms brickworks on which the new branch was to be built, he said to me “Oh how I wish I had another few years, I think this is going to be something really exciting.” Sadly, Jack died a year after his retirement and hardly saw the project completed. But his right-hand man, Ivor Exall, took on the baton and ensured that Jack Towner’s hopes were fulfilled. Another technological advance was machine accounting. Prior to this time an adding machine and a typewriter were the only aids to speeding up the accounting process. Since about 60% of turnover involved trade credit accounts, each branch with as many as 500 accounts needed four or five staff to cope with it. The new Burroughs Sensimatic accounting machine was installed, first at Bromley and Surbiton branches. The accounts supervisor now became the operator with one or two assistants, and a monotonous handwritten book-keeping operation was replaced by a much quicker mechanised routine.

The big DIY chains

It was not only the Trade merchants who were moving out of town at that time; the larger retailers selling heavier goods decided to move out too, some of whom were the DIY multiples selling paint. After the abolition of Resale Price Maintenance on most products (excluding food and books at this point) it was only a matter of time before businessmen saw opportunities to sell paint, particularly white paint, as a commodity like baked beans. ‘Pile it high and price it low’ was the catch phrase. The number of homeowners in the UK was growing (it was then 65%), which led entrepreneurs to think there was a huge market for DIY materials at the lowest price with maximum convenience, such as late opening and ease of parking. B&Q, Texas Homecare, Marley Homecare and Homebase were amongst the first. Before long, large quoted companies saw the opportunity too and began to buy them out, so that Woolworths (B&Q), Boots (Payless DIY), W.H. Smith (Do It All), Sainsbury (Homebase) and Ladbrokes (Texas Homecare) for good or ill became involved in this sector. On the trading estates these DIY ‘sheds’ became larger as they extended their range to include timber, plumbing, kitchens and bathrooms. Some smaller tradesmen used them, but the sheds were mainly designed for the public, offering retail brands and selfservice, but little personal service. Members of the public often ask how we are able to compete with “the likes of B&Q”. The answer is that our sales are divided about 90% to the Trade and 10% to the public; for the

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1972–1987 Westward Expansion

Right: Bernard Smith, Manager for Southampton, Bournemouth and Romford 1972 – 1990. 78

sheds, it is probably the reverse. They had the greatest effect on the small paint and wallpaper shop in the centre of town which had not enough to offer to compensate the public for the difference in their price compared to the sheds; many had to close. This was sad for the industry, but for us has meant less competition on the retail side for which we offer a personal service not readily available elsewhere. Going further west

With the Brighton branch established, it was decided to look at opening up further along the south coast. Eric Parker knew the merchants in the Portsmouth/ Southampton areas and was able to sound them out as to their future plans. With these introductions, in March 1972 we were able to acquire Phippard’s, a small merchant in Southampton with three branches, and later that year another merchant in Portsmouth. None of the Phippard branches (one in Salisbury) was big enough to become a Brewer branch, so a former Crown Paints depot was acquired in Chandler’s Ford, a few miles from Southampton. A new manager was needed who turned out to be another man from Goodlass Wall, Bernard Smith, who, like Eric, wished to cross the divide into merchanting. Eric and Bernard knew each other, and from Bernard’s many experiences as a manufacturer he was likely to know more about the Southampton area than any manager in Brewers. The new building, sited at the entrance to the trading estate, gave the venture a strong start and in a short time the former

Phippard stores in Shirley, Woolston (both in Southampton) and Salisbury were replaced by those in the excellent positions they are today. Christopher McDowell was the Director running these new developments, which were to become one of the strongest trading areas in the Company. Through another introduction Harold Seagers, a merchant in the Fratton area of Portsmouth, was acquired. Again it was no place to grow a Brewers’ main branch but it was four years before we were able to build our own new branch at Farlington just north of the city. With this in the planning stage it was realised we would need to find a manager for the larger branch; and here we were lucky to have almost in waiting Mike Parker, Eric’s son, who had joined us from Goodlass Wall a few years earlier. He had been a manufacturer’s representative and knew the area well. Over the next 17 years he built up a first-class trading operation for the Company in the Portsmouth area.

One of the regular orders for the Portsmouth branch was for a strong filler/adhesive called Componex, made by Sikkens. It was placed by the maintenance department at HMS Victory – over the years Mike Parker reckoned so much was supplied that it must have kept the old ship from falling apart!


Left: Smurthwaites, Chichester, c.1900.

The OPEC price hike

At this time, we also acquired a wallpaper wholesaler, Peter Challis, at Fareham. That operation was eventually absorbed into Portsmouth branch but their extensive business with merchants in the Channel Islands still requires a visit twice a year by the Portsmouth manager. After providing enormous help in the initial growth of these two new branches, Eric Parker concentrated his time back in Eastbourne; but not before providing a last contact with a small merchant in Chichester – Smurthwaites. This business, in a steep three-storeyed old building in the middle of the shopping area, was acquired, along with so many memorabilia from early days that when the shop was reorganised to make it manageable a small museum was set up behind the staircase to contain these items. Included in these finds was a very long handled narrow bladed shovel for removing incendiaries during the Second World War. Glass was cut in a rear store and later, in 1987 when the branch moved to its much-improved site on the Chichester by-pass, the glass cutter Les Wood who had started in the business as a boy became the manager. Two further branches in the area were later established, Petersfield in 1978 and Winchester in 1988.

In 1973 came the shock that changed the world economic climate overnight. The oil producing countries, mainly in the Middle East, all members of OPEC (Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) decided to double the price of oil, preferring to keep supplies in their wells for selling at a higher price over a greater number of years. The price of crude oil is crucial to so many industries that inflation rocketed worldwide. At its peak it rose to 23% year on year in the UK. Paint was affected, but less badly than many commodities. The price went up while stock was held on the rack, giving an illusion that extra profit was being earned, but replacement stock had to be bought in at a higher price, while replacement of plant, fixtures and fittings cost more than had been allowed for in depreciation charges over previous years. Calculating cash flow was a complicated exercise and a review of accounting practice initiated by the government produced the Sandilands Report which introduced ‘current cost accounting’ to overcome misrepresentations shown up in the normal practice of historical cost accounting. Above all was the need to raise wages to keep up with inflation, in turn leading to pressures to reduce overall staff costs – not easy in a business which concentrates on personal service. It was very difficult to keep good staff, but the hardcore of those who had served in the Company over many years were relied upon to maintain the service, and loyally they did. Of course, in time the UK increased its own oil supplies from the North Sea and eventually a new

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more workable level for the price of oil was established, but not before the government had been forced to go cap in hand to the International Monetary Fund. Basingstoke in the early 1970s was too small to justify the trappings of a main branch and so Peter Maynard, the Manager, who had moved up from Eastbourne, was soon driving over the hills to Newbury, in search of business. A small merchant in the town (who also sold clocks!) was bought and a year later a warehouse on an estate next to the racecourse was taken on and a full branch established, working in tandem with Basingstoke. But it was not until the 1980s when the burgeoning computer industry settled in the Thames Valley (‘Silicon Valley’) that Newbury became a dormitory town and the branch was able to benefit from the building of the new housing estates. Newbury became a strong branch and was later able to act as a base for developing branches further west.

being able to prove themselves by building up their own branches as if it was their own business; Kenneth had just as much time for those who had not become managers and who had derived an immense amount of satisfaction through working in a team, knowing that the business was going places. There were many who said they lived for Brewers and for the interest it gave them, and this had much to do with Kenneth Brewer’s manner of leadership. So the third generation of the family under John’s chairmanship would develop the next stage. The group worked well together and I believe this was partly due to the fact that we were all so completely different. Is it one of the laws of magnetism which states: ‘Like poles repel and unlike poles attract’? Had we all been accountants we would have probably split apart. As it was, we certainly treated each other with mutual respect and together strove to carry on the family business ethos of care for staff, assets and customer service which had been passed on down to us.

Changes at the top

In 1974 John Brewer took over from his uncle, Kenneth, as Chairman of the Company. Kenneth had seen the first customer coming in to buy in 1904 and seventy years on he could look back at a time of exciting expansion of the business for much of which he was directly responsible. But he would have been just as proud and happy to think of the many people who had started off very young, even straight from school, eventually becoming managers and then

Surbiton, a ‘model’ branch

Two interesting building works were completed in 1974/75. Surbiton was one of the last branches to move to a trading estate. Finding this was very difficult, as Surbiton was such a high-density residential area. But space was eventually found on a site previously occupied by Gazes, builders and also makers of hard tennis courts, right by the river at Thames Ditton, close to Surbiton. Learning from the


Below: Staff training at Ewell Road, Surbiton. Right: Surbiton branch at Thames Ditton, 2004.

81

experiences of the other moves to trading estates and with the opportunity to have what we wanted on the site, much thought was given to trying to make it a ‘model’ branch. One of the features was to arrange the paint racks down the side of a long wide gangway so customers could go past the counter and pick out their own requirements at the same time as seeing all the stock we had. (This worked well until paint colours switched to being machine tinted.) After thirty years, nearly all under the management of Keith Brown, the branch with adaptations still holds up to its model status. The former branch in Ewell Road, Surbiton remained a popular retail shop and wallpaper showroom for another twenty years and space at the rear was used for practical wallcoverings training for staff in the region. The new Redhill

The second project was building a completely new front to Redhill branch with a large shop area on the ground floor and offices to let on two floors above,

and space for a new St John’s Room. It seemed right at the time, anticipating that the large shop and showrooms would draw in the public from greater distances. A separate Trade and Retail counter was kept, though this tradition disappeared from most branches that had moved to trading estates. Doors were still an important part of the product range and with Crosbys, our suppliers, we installed a permanent show of doors right across the front of the Redhill shop, which was promoted as the Good Door Store. Customers could walk through 24 different styled doors fitted in their frames and view them from one end to the other. Two trade joiner customers agreed to take on enquiries and orders for fitting from the public. The opening day created some interest when the glamorous actress, Diana Dors (appropriately!), was invited to cut the ribbon. The display was a moderate success for a few years and then faded out, as did our interest in selling doors. Branches in the new out of town locations were sizeable enough to be quite easily turned into exhibition halls for an evening where customers could be entertained and a Trade Show set up with anything from 30 to 60 suppliers’ stands. But these


1972–1987 Westward Expansion Left: Redhill in the 1970s. Centre: Redhill Good Door Store opening by Diana Dors. Right: Stand at trade show.

82

became harder to organise when the premises were reduced in size after the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s and became too much of a demand on the Area Managers’ time. The flurry of recruiting new managers from outside the Company for the new south Hampshire branches was the exception though it turned out to be right in those cases. Generally managers for branches and at Head Office were, and remain, home grown wherever possible; this followed the basic desire of the founder and his family to make it possible to learn by experience and go, if wished, from being a boy in the warehouse or on the counter to senior management during a full career in the business. Albany in 98 colours

Important to Brewers during 1977 was the development of Albany as its own brand of paint. The number of paint manufacturers was decreasing through the endemic problem of overcapacity and competition and takeovers. ICI with Dulux had seized the advantage and become very strong, mainly through its own organic growth. In 1976, under a

new leader, they had decided to concentrate on distribution through their own merchant chain and to allow their independent merchants to fill in the gaps, but on a more slender margin. This was a red rag to most merchants. To combat this new policy by the UK’s largest manufacturer, we decided to develop the Albany brand into a complete British Standard (BS) colour range to compete effectively with the national brands and to provide ourselves with improved profit margins. The previous year we had developed with Goodlass Wall a formula for Albany in white only, which offered top quality at a price to meet competition. This we now had to expand into a full colour range in each of the finishes and in primers as well. At this time there was no tinting of bases by computer systems and the BS colour range of 98 colours was regularly used by specifiers and even homeowners. Albany had to be produced in this full range if it was to attempt to compete on equal terms. A good Albany team spirit was built up with Goodlass Wall and amongst our own staff, who quickly realised it would be our salvation.


1972–1987 Westward Expansion

The new woodstains 84

In the mid-1970s a new decorative product was introduced to the Trade market. Doors had often been made of hardwood, but now architects began to specify hardwood for window frames reasoning that though they were more costly to buy they would last longer and be easier to maintain. Stains, varnishes or preservatives had traditionally been used on bare wood. What was wanted was a liquid to afford protection from the elements that would show the grain of the wood and be easy to recoat. An architect had been specifying Sadolin’s protective stain (made in Denmark) for some time and saw the potential for it in the UK. He became Sadolin’s UK Sales Manager and built up a strong demand, mainly through specification by his fellow architects. The coloured pigment in this translucent product made it expensive so it was some time before it became popular with the public. This success brought Sikkens, a 200-yearold Dutch paint manufacturer and part of the huge international chemical business, Akzo, into the UK market. Sikkens were strong on woodstains. Their first presence in the UK consisted of Clive Sanders (ex-ICI) and a mobile home parked in Didcot, Berkshire, big enough for him and a token stock.

Far right: Milton Keynes village in 1967, and the New Town centre now. Far right, below: Keith Holder. Milton Keynes New Town, Buckinghamshire

The next stage of expansion took an unusual step. The government had decided to create a whole new town to take overspill from London, superimposed on the tiny village of Milton Keynes. Lewellyns, building contractors in Eastbourne, had won a contract to use their Quikbild System for building a large number of its new houses. (Lewellyns and Brewers had started in Eastbourne around the same time and over the years the families had become firm friends and Lewellyns was a big customer of Eastbourne branch.) They were keen for us to supply them while working in Milton Keynes. It made sense to try to open a branch there to service their needs. As Milton Keynes was a small village, the branch would have to be in a town nearby. After much searching, in 1976 Decorfare in Aylesbury was purchased. The lease on the Decorfare property was running out so that all that was acquired was a sales ledger, a manager (Derek Ward) and a few staff. Finding the new warehouse (right by the Grand Union Canal) took time too so not long after it had opened Lewellyns had already finished their Quikbild contract in Milton Keynes! None the less, a new small branch had been established – the first time that the business had expanded by ‘jumping’ into a new area rather than ‘creeping’ step by step. The Trade did not know who we were and at first there were no staff with any knowledge of how Brewers was run. But that was to change. The new premises would take all Derek Ward’s time, so an outside salesman was urgently required. Keith Holder as a boy had helped in the shop at


85

It is of interest that in negotiating the price paid for the Albany product a special fund within the margin was suggested for the good of both parties which was to be used by Brewers for promoting the new range. In hindsight this was seen to be an important factor in the early success of the exercise. How tempting it would have been to pass all the margins obtained through to the bottom line net profit! Colour cards, tin livery, shop presentation, staff training, product and specification details were top class from the start. But above all it worked because all staff were convinced of its quality and promoted Albany to their customers, many of whom they knew very well. Perhaps another reason for its success was that customers had respected Brewers over so many years that they had confidence in a product that had the Brewers’ guarantee behind it. They liked it, and the price, and came back for more.

Folkestone branch when his father was manager and the family had lived above the branch. He had now risen to be the representative at Dartford and was asked if he would like to make the ‘jump’ and move to Aylesbury. He did, and today he is Area Manager, responsible for five branches and an outside sales force of three. Keith was just one of the many people who started from the bottom and rose to near the top, deriving an immense amount of satisfaction from seeing a new branch build up to quite a large business – particularly as Aylesbury was out on a limb – and feeling he had played a major part in this achievement. As a representative, he quickly got to know the customers and this enabled him to build


1972–1987 Westward Expansion Left: Nick Brewer addressing delegates at a ‘Welcome to Brewers’ course at a hotel venue. Below: The Kent Quiz. 86

his confidence to learn all the other skills he needed for running the branch and ultimately the area. But he, and others like him, could not have done this without proper training in all aspects of the business.

experience in teaching and lecturing equipped him to join John Purkiss and then Ted Hyde in the development of new ideas for training staff as part of his Head Office responsibilities. One project was the appointment of four Regional Trainers who would take training to the workplace, an idea which, if it didn’t in the end succeed, impressed on everyone how committed the Company was to staff training.

Training

The training function at Head Office had been formed in the 1960s. Although new staff learn technical, practical and selling skills partly from watching and listening to their longer-serving colleagues and sometimes even from customers, it has always been seen as a company priority to provide more formal training on products, selling skills and, for some, leadership skills. Beforehand, all new staff attend a ‘Welcome to Brewers’ course, usually at Head Office. It always starts with a family member giving the history of Brewers and new people are then taken to visit each department in Head Office. As with all the courses, interaction is of great benefit and the opportunity to meet people from other branches is a real bonus. David Brewer, Kenneth’s eldest son and my brother, joined the Company in 1971 aged 39. He had had an academic career with some commercial involvement. After an early period of learning the business then running Aldershot branch, his

The Kent Quiz One idea of the Training Manager, together with Paul Watt (by then Area Manager for Chatham and Canterbury), was to run a Kent Quiz, held annually with three or four branches competing in teams of three people. Questions related to the Company or products and the event became an annual social get-together of the Kent branches. Always an amusing part of the evening was the presentation of the wooden spoon to the bottom branch – it was christened the ‘Getshotovit’– often, unluckily, it had to be retained by the same branch for a further year.


Cold start in Bournemouth

Seventy-five years of service In 1979, to mark the 75th Anniversary of the business, a commemorative logo was produced for shop fronts, vehicles and letterheads. All the staff received a special award related to their pay and length of service.

By 1980 Southampton and Portsmouth were running comfortably and growing quite rapidly so interest was shown in expanding further west to Bournemouth. Southampton branch had gradually started serving customers in the Bournemouth area. A merchant called Hursts had built up an enviable reputation in this large busy seaside and commercial town since the war, as much for wallpaper as for paint. Without the benefit of knowledge that recession was only a year away, and with premises still very difficult to find, we took a large warehouse (15,000 sq. ft) on the outskirts of town and Bernard Smith came from Southampton to manage what was effectively a cold start. Boards and doors were also stocked (they helped to fill the space!), but it was a tall order with the considerable premises costs involved for the branch to avoid making heavy losses. It took eight years for the branch to make any money at all. The fact that sales figures were high, having reached over ÂŁ2 million, shows how hard the new team worked over that period but sadly without a positive result on the bottom line. North of the Thames

The 1981/82 recession was felt mainly in manufacturing in the Midlands and North, but coinciding with the Falklands campaign, both depressed trading generally throughout the UK. Once those concerns were over, we were able to plan further expansion.

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88

For a period in the past, our representative at Dartford had sought business across the Thames. Apart from Essex being traditionally known as the ‘salesmen’s graveyard’ the psychological barrier of the river made the whole exercise unproductive, as few potential customers there were interested in suppliers on the ‘other side’. However, with the completion in the early 1980s of the M25, except for the toll tunnel at Dartford, getting to and from places around the capital became so much easier and effectively all the suburban areas of London were linked. I had been travelling through Essex and Suffolk for ten years visiting my wife’s family and so had some knowledge of the area. We had had a number of discussions with a merchant in Romford, F.C. and R.G. Turner, but they weren’t ready to sell. So in 1984 a new 10,000 sq. ft warehouse at Hornchurch was acquired and stocked with the full range of paints, wallboards and doors and complete with a wallpaper showroom. This was a really cold start and the immediate priority was to find the right manager. Nobody knew or remembered that Bernard Smith, now at Bournemouth, had lived in Hornchurch when working for Goodlass Wall. He was now in his late fifties yet he jumped at the idea of a last challenge in his old homeland before he retired. Once the branch was opened in 1984 it was clear that there were very many potential customers in Essex and the East London area, but they were used to buying at low prices. The old ‘market trading’ culture of the East End of London had spread out to

Essex as presumably traders had made money and moved out over the years, first to the suburbs and then the country. Bernard, having served in the Commandos during the war, enjoyed the challenge, and was joined by Paul Munday from Redhill as his Assistant Manager. Then, as we might have expected, Turners then told us they were prepared to sell their business having obviously found our presence put new pressures on them. Six months after Hornchurch opened, we acquired the Turner premises just outside Romford and their sales ledger which, of course, was immensely important to us. We also took on Turners’ small branches in Birmingham and Redditch, which they had started in a fit of wild expansion. These proved too much of a burden on the main business, contributed very little, and were later sold to ICI. The Hornchurch branch and Turners at Romford needed much work with the help of people from Head Office to create a single integrated operation out of two premises. One can now perhaps question whether so much time, effort and money should have been spent on this exercise. But had we not taken the initiative, other merchants would have used the improved links over the Thames and moved into areas like Kent which had been our heartland for thirty years. So this was an expensive but necessary protective action as well as careful but costly expansion. Guildford branch had been struggling to serve customers and sites around Windsor and the Thames Valley for many years. The completed motorway network in west Surrey now made it possible to reach


Berkshire more easily, so in 1983 it was decided to open a new major branch in Maidenhead which would at the same time fill the gap between Guildford and Aylesbury. The rise of self-employed decorators

During the early 1980s and after the recession we began to notice a gradual but significant difference in the type and size of customer wanting our services. Without exception, every manager would have had close working relationships with the proprietors of a high number of large contractors employing many of their own staff and also a proportion of sub-contract labour. Over time and largely as a result of successive governments tightening up on the regulations regarding sub-contract labour, combined with the fact that in this ‘Thatcher era’ individuals were being encouraged to work more for themselves, we found that the number of painters actually employed in these large organisations fell by well over 50% compared with ten years earlier. This seemed to be a general trend right across our area and indeed the industry, and it became increasingly evident as the months and years went by. Out of this trend grew a new category of ‘very small decorators’, businesses made up of fewer than four painters. In our experience, by the end of the 1980s almost two-thirds of the people working in this industry across our area were in this new category of customer, a trend that has continued to this day. This change in our customer base signalled

Trade paint market review – by applier

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1972–1987 Westward Expansion

Godfrey Barber

90

their need for more smaller branches from which decorators could collect items, almost on a daily basis, frequently more often than once a day. This indicated to us that our strategy of opening up smaller branches in populous towns where we were not represented and expanding into new areas with this size of branch was absolutely right for the time and confirmed the direction in which we needed to continue to move for the years ahead. Likewise, our own practices needed to change and our increasing number of representatives more often had to find painters on sites, rather than visiting people in charge of painters in their offices. With more customers calling in to our shops rather than asking for delivery the role of the shop staff became increasingly important. Sadly, many of the firms with whom so many friendly customer relationships had been made over the years died out, including, to cite but two in Surrey with alliterative-sounding names: Balcombe & Bish and Shove & Tidy. In addition fewer young people wanted to join the industry as apprentice painters and many painting and decorating departments of technical colleges were closing down, with consequent effect on the general quality of painting work. Despite these changes the actual size of the Trade paint market remained constant; the Trade still represented 90% of our turnover.

In 1988, Godfrey Barber retired as a Director and Company Secretary. Since coming to Brewers from north London in 1947, his contribution to the post-war success of the Company was inestimable. He recalled how he was just sending off an acceptance letter to work with a large London accounting firm when he spotted an advertisement in the Quaker magazine for “a Chairman’s assistant, Decorators’ Merchant on the South Coast”. It sounded interesting so he sent a letter off for that job instead, not knowing where it was. Godfrey became so useful to Jack Brewer he was soon put in charge of the accounts. He took over from Jack Brewer as Company Secretary in 1964, but also managed to fit in setting-up our staff pension scheme and, earlier on, the introduction of mechanised accounting at branches. He was always looking at ways to do things better and had a kindly attitude towards everyone as was particularly evident when he became Company Secretary and he was able to give helpful and well-remembered advice to managers when their staff got into difficulties. In 1973 he was made a Director, the first from outside the family. He was so devoted to the Company one felt he never let it out of his mind; much of the successful growth of the Head Office departments on the financial side was due to his determination to get everything just right.


Below: Swindon branch, 1985.

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It is perhaps worth pointing out here that paint is almost the only material (together with plaster and cement) used on a building which changes its chemical and physical state on application. This makes it that much more important that the decorator is advised properly and goes away with the right product.

Swindon: a new western salient

When our Newbury branch took off, helped by the new estates being built there, we felt it was time to look further west. Swindon, an old railway engineering town pre-1960s, had become a rapidly expanding new industrial and commercial centre. Honda had set up a new factory there and it and other industries were attracting supporting services. Finding a good manager was, as always, the key to starting a new branch on the road to success. Mike

Braybrook, a former representative at Guildford twenty years back who had worked with a paint manufacturer in the meantime, asked if he could return. He was made assistant manager at Newbury, to familiarise him with Brewers again before becoming manager of the new Swindon branch. A rather tired factory building was found in a good location and of the right size to stock the full product range. In 1985 the branch opened with a two-evening trade show (a thunderstorm on the first night put all the lights out but this was not thought an ill omen and our new customers entered nobly into the spirit of our misfortune). Amongst the early enquiries one led to a continuing order from Honda for providing their production line with a brush, used once and then discarded, amounting to a large annual consignment. Swindon, out on its own, surrounded by beautiful countryside and many lovely villages, remained our western salient for some years.


1972–1987 Westward Expansion

Wallcoverings in the 1970s and 80s 92

What was happening in wallcoverings during the 1970s and early 80s? The number of Albany Collections came down to three of wallpaper and one of vinyl to make room for the many manufacturers’ branded books on offer. The latter included many collections from the Continent where we built good trading relationships with Rasch in Germany and Venelia and Inaltera in France. Perhaps with increasing numbers of people taking their holidays abroad “continentals” had an added public appeal. Everyone in the wallcoverings business was looking for an exclusive product that offered innovative and decorative designs, represented good value and, most importantly, was free of the widespread price competition prevalent on UK branded wallcoverings at that time. We were also looking for every opportunity to sell ‘speciality’ wallcoverings.

Amongst these was Boyle’s Muraweave, a widewidth woven jute which was stocked in depth and sold by the yard from our central stock. We carried a range of 40 colours, the brightest and boldest of which were used for display backings in our shops. Then there was Novamura, a polyethylene sheet produced by ICI. Its main benefits were that it was ‘paste the wall’, washable and easily removable by simply pulling away from the wall; it could then be rehung elsewhere – if moving house, for example. This was a period of constant innovation by British producers focused on making paper hanging simpler and less daunting in the hope of shortening the recycle period for DIY customers. There was ‘ready pasted’, pasting the wall, pasting by machine and an interesting but unsuccessful experiment with free matching designs. But the traditional specialities carried on. Hand prints, often using the same blocks that had been used for over a hundred years, were still desired by the wealthy who felt that here was a personal touch that differed from machine-made papers. Less expensive but also involving manual work were silk screened papers or ‘screen prints’. Another two traditional products were Lincrusta and Anaglypta, manufactured over many years by Relief Decorations in Lancashire. Lincrusta is now rather an old-fashioned speciality: like linoleum it is made with linseed oil. A thick sheet is produced then


embossed with a pattern and supplied in panels or rolls which are either stained or painted at the factory or on site. Lincrusta could be used, for example, to decorate a whole room very effectively with imitation wood panelling. Anaglypta was originally made using rags as the raw material (probably discarded from the nearby Lancashire cotton mills). After processing the material was pressed into rolls of tough embossed quasiwallpaper ideal for covering cracked walls which could take a subsequent paint coating as desired. Being a stronger material than just paper, Anaglypta was also formed into reproduction decoration pieces such as ceiling centres, cornices and mouldings. In the 1980s these types of products were challenged by the rapid development of ‘blown vinyls’ – made by the expansion of a vinyl sheet to provide a deeply embossed spongy product – a process invented in Germany. It started with white textures for ceilings then took on more traditional designs for walls (all needing painting), followed by coloured patterns and on to the

very attractive alternatives to ceramic tiles for bathrooms and kitchens. Washable and uncrushable blown vinyls have been the ongoing success story for the past twenty-five years.

Far left: 1970s showroom introduction card for decorators’ clients. The Guildford showroom.

Above: Guildford’s ‘50 years’ – typical papers of the late 70s and early 80s. Background: Vymura ‘Popsical’ , 1984.


1960–1972 The Rise of DIY

ce an eM ain

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Re sa

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1967

1966

1964 ors

1963

1962

1961

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1965

and developing new branches. Relationships with suppliers as well as customers always seemed to be excellent. Staff were well looked after, and many went on to become managers.” So, on the whole, a very good report, but were we in a position to face up to the wind of change with the rise of competition which began in the later 1960s?

PASSING THE MIDWAY POINT IN OUR STORY, IT IS perhaps worth looking back and trying to write a halfterm report: “In the main very well done: the founder achieved his objective of finding a place in the business for all six sons and between them they saw the business through the perils of two world wars. During good times, they ploughed back profits into modernising buildings

Ab o

56


Left: Newspaper advertisement, early 1960s. Right: Trade Catalogue, 1964/65. Below: Canterbury branch interior c.1965.

Expansion and development

W

Br ew er

Jac

kB rew er

die

1972

s ho l es So ut Cro ale c ha yd on mp on ve ton tra rts an de b to b e d bra Por ranc nc tsm h he ou s o th pe ne d

1971

1970

1969

Br ew e sho rs W ps ho op les en ale s o fo no r ld sup Cr ply oyd of on ret Ai ail rp or t Br igh ton bra nc ho pe ne d

1968

The Company began the decade termed the ‘permissive sixties’ by making important expansion into two new areas: Canterbury and Putney. The Chatham branch coverage of the Medway towns over the previous ten years had been so successful that John Brewer and Paul Watt, the manager, were keen to progress to Canterbury where Frank Medhurst, ‘the traveller’ (the name used for representatives in those days), already had customers. Small premises were found in Love Lane near the Chaucer Hotel, but there the romantic allusion ends. The building was an old corn store and on first entering it seemed less than inviting: steps led down to where rats could just be seen, and certainly heard, scuttling away in the dark. A shop, warehouse and upstairs wallpaper showroom were all fitted into these premises and Eric Bowley was asked to transfer from Guildford to become the Canterbury manager/traveller. Amongst the staff at the beginning


1960–1972 The Rise of DIY

58

were Derek Scott (later Lewisham Area Manager), John Pettit (now Southampton Area Manager), Terry Robb (the present Canterbury Area Manager) and Ted Hyde (later Head Office Wallcoverings Manager). Apparently, at the outset, the delivery driver used to go round with an order book saying he wouldn’t have a job unless he was given some orders! Boards and doors remained an important part of the Brewers product range and as the business grew extra space had to be found. This time it was a former Fyffes banana store just around the corner and that became the board store until the move to the new Wincheap Trading Estate in 1970. The expansion and development of the business into new buildings often required a local architect. In 1962 it was decided to set up our own Premises department at Head Office, run by an experienced architect. This position was taken by Jack Cant who came from a local practice. Under Michael Brewer he quickly became involved in new buildings, renovations, alterations and the planning of new selling areas throughout the expanding territory, learning the Company’s needs as he progressed. Syd Griffin also joined at this time as designer of shop presentation and planner of shop layouts, garnering experience for him and the Company over the next forty years. In 1962 H. Shearns of Putney, a light materials builders’ merchant was offered to us. It comprised a kitchen showroom close to Putney Bridge and, a short distance away, a series of old stores in a strip of land

Above: Derek Scott. Right: Terry Robb.

Far right: John Pettit. Right: Ted Hyde.

Above: Old Putney with carthorses, c.1890. Left: Putney branch with entrance through from Putney Bridge Road, c.1970.


Right: Eric Mathieson.

stretching from Putney Bridge Road to a street behind. One idea was that the showroom could be converted to displaying wallpaper and become our ‘London showroom’, but it was not to be and was later sold. In fact the nearby stores were perceived as showing the greatest potential once they had been converted to one elongated shop and warehouse with parking for customers down one side. It took vision to see how the whole could be made into a branch but, on completion, it became a springboard to serve London both south and north of the river in the years ahead. All of the Shearn staff were kept on and converted to selling decorating materials which had represented a small part of their former trading. Dennis Hassell and then Colin Edwards from Surbiton took on the job of the conversion (Colin only retired in 1999 after 37 years as manager of the branch). Putney became the first successful branch serving central London mainly on the back of the large demand for Dulux in London and a good representative in the form of Stan Graham, helped also by the fact that customers could come in from Putney Bridge Road, park, collect their goods and drive out at the back, just as they do forty years on. The small shop and archway at the front of these premises are of some historical interest. Oliver Cromwell’s brother evidently lived there and being a shy man didn’t like being noticed when he walked to the riverside to embark on his boat. Below this shop are arches showing where there was a tunnel under the road which he used to reach the river.

Putney was the last big project with which Eric Mathieson was involved. As right-hand man to Kenneth Brewer since the end of the war, he takes much of the credit for the success of the Croydon, Bromley and Surbiton enterprises. He was made a Director of C. Brewer & Sons (Kent) Ltd., which, though a nominal appointment, was a title he appreciated and richly deserved for the energetic pioneering work he had done, which we perhaps take too much for granted today. Memberships and associations

The Brewer membership of the Plate Glass Association remained important in the years after the war. We were also members of the Building Industry Distributors (now Builders’ Merchants Federation) and the National Association of Wholesale Paint Merchants (NAWPM). There were a great number of local or regional decorators’ merchants in the post-war years and many sought recognition in the eyes of their suppliers by being a member (for £5 annual subscription) of NAWPM. Controls on trading were far looser in those days and such items as prices and competition could be openly discussed. In 1962 NAWPM was informed of a new group in Belgium whose main aim was to organise a forum for the future leaders of decorators’ merchants throughout Europe, meeting at a different venue each year. The Junior European Paint Merchants study trip was founded and

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1960–1972 The Rise of DIY

60

Right: 1964 European study trip – visit to Redhill branch.

Below right: Brewers’ Techorama exhibitions, c.1960.

for the next thirty years most countries of western Europe were visited and interesting programmes arranged, sometimes for as many as 50 people. Lasting friendships across the cultural and language divides were made and seeing the way foreign merchants operated, helped us to question – even be satisfied with – our own practices. Later, trips were made to Japan and the USA which were open to all ages. The third generation of Brewers

In 1963 the role had to be established for the five members of the third generation. This was conceived as each having a specific responsibility at Head Office in addition to an area responsibility for a number of branches. The following year the four of us joined John as Directors, which helped to consolidate the plan; though to do this and encourage senior non-family managers in their roles was not easy for either party. However, there was a general recognition by the staff that having the involvement of more family members was good for the continuity of the Company as an independent, family-owned business. The new directors then became Area Directors for their appointed branches and this family contact with managers and staff and their direct involvement in their branches has served everyone well for many years. By this time, Stephen and Christopher McDowell had passed on their management responsibilities at Eastbourne and Crawley to Cliff Bourner and Derek Fallis respectively. In 196l my father had taken over as Chairman from his brother Jack who retired at the age

of 70, having led the Company since 1925. Stephen Brewer describes some of his father’s achievements over this long period on pages 40 – 41. Customer shows

During the decade, new customer shows were born, which at first were called Techorama and later on Decorex. These movable exhibitions were the brainchild of Bruce Sutherland. Between 50 and 60 suppliers took stands in large halls in each of the regions served by Brewer branches. They proved very popular with customers, many of whom were brought by coach from the outlying branch areas. They took the form of demonstrations on the stands, but also short lectures ran in sequence in a separate room; sometimes, even a television had to be provided so that customers didn’t miss an important football match!


61

Head Office departments and principal people in the 1960s Director in charge of Head Office

John Brewer

Company Secretary

Godfrey Barber

The growth of Head Office

Accounts and Internal Audit

Alan Lambert, Robert Harflett

The physical expansion of Head Office requires some explaining. In 1930 two houses (123 and 127 Ashford Road) and a coach-painting workshop behind were acquired. These became the new Trade outlet, replacing Pevensey Road. The first floor was reinforced and a hand haul lift installed. It was used first as a wallboard store, then for pattern book selection, and after the war it housed the new Head Office. In the early 1950s the intervening house (125), it’s garden and a bottling plant behind were bought, which provided urgently needed extra space. During the 1960s the yard was built over to accommodate the growing Head Office which gained more space when the Eastbourne branch and then Central Wallcoverings Distribution moved out to Lottbridge Trading Estate in 1971.

Sales Development

Bruce Sutherland Melvin Newton

Buying/Stock keeping

Len Santer, Stan Apps

Wallpaper

Stephen Brewer Bert Hall

Personnel

Ted Batt

Staff Training

John Purkiss

Payroll

Ivy Clifton

Transport

Melvin Newton Eddie Allchorn

Premises

Michael Brewer Jack Cant

Stationery, Printing, Systems

John Grout


1960–1972 The Rise of DIY

62

Innovation in paint manufacture Paint products were becoming more technically sophisticated. Alkyd synthetic resins, started before the war, now enabled manufacturers to make solvent-borne paints to almost any quality or specification. Polyurethene made varnishes tougher than ever before and suitable for outside woodwork. Thixotropic paint (forming a jelly in the can but becoming liquid on brushing) provided a non-drip consistency and also prevented settlement of pigment in the can. Another important innovation was the introduction of a hard-wearing brand of exterior water-based wall paint called Sandtex. Hitherto, Snowcem had been used as a low-cost coating for outside walls; Rogstone made by Dixons was the quality oil bound coating. Sandtex, like Snowcem, was manufactured by Blue Circle Industries. As a cement producer, Blue Circle was keen to promote its new product through builders’ merchants it already knew, rather than decorators’ merchants. It took strong argument by decorators’ merchants led

by Brewers to change Blue Circle’s mind, which it did and never regretted. It was indeed decorators not builders who bought Sandtex, frequently and in volume, the product being regularly specified, often for the redecoration of pubs, most of which were tied to large brewery companies at that time. For Brewers, it was a magnificent success story thanks to the combined efforts of a team at Blue Circle and Stan Apps and Melvin Newton, who had just taken over Sales Development from Bruce Sutherland. The secret of the Sandtex formula was the addition of mica into the pigment which produced just a textured finish. However, before long ICI brought out a smooth finish, Dulux Weathershield. Meanwhile emulsion paint for interiors progressed from plastic-emulsion to vinyl or acrylic-emulsion; and the alternative more heavily pigmented product became the Contract emulsion for new plaster work leading to the Albany Supercover we know today.


Right: In the mid-60s, Syd Griffin won a national competition with this window display.

Below: Advertisement from the 1960s for Carsons paints. 63

Home insulation

The winter of 1962/63 had been the coldest on record with snow on the ground for nearly three months. Demands on fuel were so great that the following years saw many developments in house insulation materials. Double-glazing systems, fibreglass for loft and pipe insulation, polystyrene slabs for cavity walls and rolls of polystyrene sheeting for applying to walls before wallpapering were all stocked at most branches and so became a small but thriving part of the business. This was encouraged by government grants to home owners for loft insulation; of course, no one at the time had heard of global warming… Consolidation in the paint industry

Paint suppliers were amalgamating and ICI for one was concerned about sustained and guaranteed distribution for its strong Dulux brand. It started to acquire independent Trade merchants, first J.P. McDougall & Co. of Manchester, then Rose & Co. in the Midlands and West Country. Over time ICI acquired merchants throughout the UK, calling the chain McDougall Rose (MR). Bergers, Jenson & Nicholson and John Hall’s followed suit and called their chain PGW (Paint, Glass – from the large John Hall’s glass plant – and Wallpaper). The third to acquire a chain was WPM (Wallpaper Manufacturers) who took over John Lines (where Clement Brewer had started back in 1882) which by then had branches covering the country and which had remained more specialised in wallpaper than paint.

The upshot of this for Brewers was that many of our main suppliers were now actively competing with us. This led us to develop stronger links with other manufacturers such as Gays (Gaymel), Permoglaze, Blundell Spence (Pammastic), Goodlass Wall (Valspar), Carsons and Hadfields.


1960–1972 The Rise of DIY

Wallpaper in the 1960s Stephen Brewer provides a first-hand account of wallpaper in the 1960s 64

With the growing consumer interest in wallcoverings and the consequent rapid expansion of the market the 1960s were exciting and eventful times. The Company used the opportunities offered to take advantage of this trading climate by improving showroom facilities and by increasing the range of Albany pattern book collections to as many as ten during this period. A key figure in this activity was Bert Hall who, holidaying in Eastbourne in the 1950s, had decided he liked Sussex enough to leave Sanderson’s, where he had worked ‘man and boy’ in the Perivale factory and Berners Street showroom. He approached Jack Brewer for a job and was taken on as a valuable specialist in supporting me and the small wallpaper team. In the early 1960s as manager of the new Grove Road showroom (in Eastbourne) he set out to exploit the re-emerging holiday industry by actively canvassing local hotels and boarding houses while setting new (for us) standards in our showroom service to decorators’ customers. At the same time, he and I were chiefly occupied in the selection, compilation

and sometimes the actual making of the ever widening range of Albany pattern books that were the basis of our wallpapers then on offer.

Direct marketing

This period also saw the rise of ‘marketing’ in the industry with manufacturers issuing their own selections direct to the marketplace, supported by heavy branding. Where these were made available through conventional channels of distribution many were taken into stock by Brewers, increasing still further the range we carried. It led eventually to the establishment of Head Office Trading, consisting of central stocks held at Eastbourne from which sold ‘room lots’ were distributed daily to all branches, a service that continues today as Central Wallcoverings Distribution. One early and prime example of this branding activity was the Sandersons’ Triad collection which offered for the first time coordination of wallpaper, fabrics and paint between the covers of one very large and very expensive pattern book.

Vinyl

The other very significant product innovation of this period was vinyl: design and colour printed on to a vinyl sheet laminated to a wallpaper base and providing a much more durable ‘easy clean’ decoration. The first of these was Decorene, manufactured by Storeys, followed by Mayfair


(Commercial Plastics), Kingfisher (Nairns), Crown (WPM) and the one that quickly became the brand leader – ICI’s Vymura. Despite some problems with the handling and hanging of these new materials they speedily became an integral part of our business, especially on the contract market. We were also happy to do significant business with even more specialist products, amongst them flocks, grasscloths, corks, foils, wide-width paper-backed hessians and silks.

Monopolies Commission Inquiry

After the passing of the Restrictive Practice Act in 1956, it was only a question of time before the rather restrictive trading terms of the WPM on wallpaper were investigated by the Monopolies Commission. This was a most important period for the industry. The inquiry which covered a wide range of allegedly restrictive practices started in 1963 and was completed early in 1964, when I, as President of the Wallpaper Merchants Association, was called to give evidence about the benefits of trading with a monopoly. Although these were not difficult to explain they were not appreciated by the Commission who found against WPM and the agreed rules and standards that had served manufacturers, merchants and indeed consumers so well. Whereas

sensible levels of discount within the trade had been agreed and adhered to for many years, the new ruling opened the gates to a wave of price cutting which in some quarters inevitably led to huge ‘mark-ups’ at retail level in order to provide cuttable margins; and in many areas it resulted in a considerable reduction in service levels. Eventually, of course, this benefited the DIY chains which compelled the manufacturers to back roll (pattern outwards) so that wallpapers could be more easily displayed in their self selection racks. This practice also brought to an end the need to trim the edges of each roll of wallpaper as they were now protected by an individual polythene wrap.

65


1960–1972 The Rise of DIY Below: Haslemere branch 2004.

66

Abolition of Resale Price Maintenance

At about the same time as the inquiry into wallcoverings, the spotlight fell on the practice of Resale Price Maintenance on many other products – including paint. The practice of Resale Price Maintenance (RPM) had enabled suppliers to dictate to their distributors the price for which their products must be sold to the consumer under the threat of withdrawal of supply. Manufacturers could also decide who was allowed to stock and sell their paint. Until then, a retail price would have been set by the manufacturer and a tradesman would be allowed a trade discount, usually 20%. In 1965 Resale Price Maintenance was abolished by law for many products including paint. It therefore became a free for all, price debasement was pervasive, eventually making white paint in particular a price leader in the new DIY chains, and causing the gradual folding of the smaller decorating material shops in town centres that could not compete. Ironically, it was in the early 1960s that we ourselves opened extra shops, believing that our customers, who were becoming more mobile and able to collect goods, needed smaller Brewers in areas with smaller populations. Our first ‘sub-depot’ was established in Seaford, 12 miles from Eastbourne, where many new housing developments were underway. To help their profitability, the sub-depots needed to be located where they would attract the public too; so they needed to be near the town centre, as in Seaford. Soon after, others were established at

Uckfield, Folkestone, Margate, Haslemere and Haywards Heath, each controlled by the manager of the main branch in the area as if it was a department of the branch. Personnel and training

Staff at each branch now reported to non-family managers so the rather paternal approach to pay and staff conditions needed to change to a more formal structure. Ted Batt who had worked in W.H. Smiths joined us as our first Staff Development Manager. His remit was to produce: first, Job Descriptions for all staff, followed by Job Evaluation, a Wage Structure, Staff Assessment and Training required. This allowed more parity between jobs and between branches and gave us more confidence that we were paying market rates in each area. John Purkiss then joined to initiate a training programme for skills, and product training with suppliers. The Company has retained its reputation for training staff well, even through difficult times, in part due to John’s early enthusiasm.


67

The Brewer Wholesale operation

By 1968, the effect of the abolition of Resale Price Maintenance was yet to be felt by smaller shops and the supply to them was now up to a third of our total business. Surbiton had already hived off this type of business to the Kingston depot; Bromley, Croydon and Redhill wanted to do the same. It was thought that if all this time-consuming business was brought to one place there would be economy of scale and in one warehouse we could reduce costs to make the combined business profitable. A warehouse on the former site of Croydon (London) Airport was taken and a new venture – still within Brewers – was started, Brewer Wholesale, which took over the factoring business of these three branches and Kingston’s. It was hoped that the established branches could then develop their trade and retail business without being hindered by factoring and that with a new identity and livery, Brewer Wholesale could operate cost effectively and profitably. The Kingston operation had been an unintentional pilot scheme for this much larger exercise but Kingston/Surbiton had not been accounted for separately. Monitoring profitability was not possible in those days, so it was something of a shock to find at the end of Brewer Wholesale’s first year (1968) that the gross margin was only 17%, compared with the total for the Company of 31%. Although there was some benefit from the economy of scale many more cost savings would have to

Above: Croydon warehouse interior. Right and below: Brewer Wholesale Price List, 1970 and van displaying the logo.


1960–1972 The Rise of DIY

68

be made if the operation was to become profitable on this margin. Pressures were also coming from the retailer customer because, as price competition began to bite, offers of generous terms were being made to them by other wholesalers, and having experienced our traditional service they still expected it, making saving through staff reductions impossible. This was before the DIY multiples sprang up, which was to put intense pressures on small retailers and ultimately cause their virtual demise, to the disadvantage of many people who enjoyed the personal service provided by these local, often family-run decorating material shops. After a second year of heavy loss at Brewer Wholesale, a drastic review was necessary. The Croydon trade branch had poor premises with little parking; so it was decided that as the Brewer Wholesale trade held no future for us we would be better off transferring the Croydon branch into the Brewer Wholesale building. This move naturally upset many longstanding retailer customers who lost their accustomed outlet; but proved to be an excellent decision for Brewers as we were able to concentrate on

the roots of our business – to the Trade decorator – and the relocated Croydon branch grew into a strong Trade branch, serving a very busy area. A further small experiment at the time was to open two retail cash and carry shops, trading as Go Decorating, one near the centre of Eastbourne and one in the Croydon Whitgift shopping centre which had just opened. This was to test our ability to make a profit from a purely retail operation with no frills but in a central location. It soon became clear that we were wasting our efforts: another signal that we should concentrate on our Trade business. Going West

In 1968 we were fortunate to be able to bring Eric Parker into the business. He had been a senior manager in Goodlass Wall, the leading post-war decorative paint manufacturer in the UK, and wanted a change to the merchant sector. Eastbourne branch had been managed by Stephen Brewer who needed more time to run the Company wallpaper operation. So Eric came to Eastbourne and was a first-class manager, adding all his manufacturing experience.


Facing page: Go Decorating retail experiments in Eastbourne and Whitgift Centre, Croydon. Left: Artist’s impression of Brighton branch, 1970. Below: Eric Parker.

He also became immensely helpful in the next stage of the Company’s development. Expansion up to this point had been north into the south London area and east into Kent. It was time to expand west along the south coast. Until then the Brighton area had been regarded as ‘forbidden territory’. Merchants R.R. Perry & Son and to a lesser extent Kenneth Gilkes had operated there for many years; we knew them well as friends and agreed that we would not invade one another’s patch. However, Russell Perry wanted to retire and having no successor his firm was acquired by ICI, becoming part of McDougall Rose. Kenneth Gilkes still ran a smart wallpaper showroom in Brighton’s centre but we felt the gloves could come off once Perry’s was acquired. The trade had become so used to going to Perry’s for their decorating materials we decided to open a branch in a large ex-builders’ premises not far from the town centre, but initially to concentrate on boards and doors, the supply of which we knew to be weak in the area. But by luck, another merchant (coincidentally also called Perry’s) in nearby Portslade with small branches in Hove and Shoreham, came

up for sale. This gave us a small foothold in decorating materials in the Brighton area. Eric Parker, still managing Eastbourne, was an enormous help in putting all these elements together to make a fine branch which eventually, under Bill Santer’s and then Jon Hill’s management, was to become the leading paint and wallpaper supplier in Brighton, without any room for the stocks of boards and doors with which it had started. For much of its forty years, Guildford had been one of the most profitable branches with little competition and situated in a wealthy area. No attempt had been made to open up further west until a meeting was organised with a member of the Franklin family who wanted to sell their business, a glass and decorators’ merchant in Aldershot and Basingstoke. We agreed to take them over and Brian Franklin managed Aldershot for a number of years before buying back the glass side which had been run separately. Basingstoke itself had hardly assumed its ‘new town’ role and seemed to have little potential at

69


1960–1972 The Rise of DIY

Above: Redhill showroom, 1960s. Right: Map of branches taken from the 1970 Trade catalogue. Below: Early 1960s transport.


Below: Glass cutting at Redhill in the 1970s.

71

the time, but it soon acted as a springboard to opening up in Newbury and later, with Basingstoke’s eventual development, became a very successful branch in its own right. Brewer service

The Company’s territory by 1973 stretched from Basingstoke in the west to Margate on the Kent coast, and from London to Brighton with 20 branches and a daily delivery to any point within that area. A third of the business consisted of the heavy materials such as boards, doors and glass, delivery of which required vehicles of a 3-ton capacity. With perhaps the emphasis still more on service to our customers rather than precise costing and profitability a daily inter-branch vehicle, from Eastbourne and Redhill, made the stocks of any branch available to any other branch’s customer within 48 hours. Each colour of every range of paint had to be kept, so that the interbranch network was often used for overcoming out of stock situations. Inter-branch events

With deliveries between branches and phone contact, staff at different branches got to know each other. Another side to ‘inter-branch’, was the annual sevena-side football competitions which were greatly enjoyed for a number of years until some long-term injuries dampened the Company’s enthusiasm for giving the event its support. Inter-branch fun runs

of 10 miles around Eastbourne took the place of soccer matches for a few years afterwards. A silver cup donated by Jack Towner, former manager of Tunbridge Wells, was competed for at these events. Another occasion which many managers recall from this time was the West Herts Business Management Course run specially for Brewers by Watford Technical College. Few managers had had any formal training and it was decided to ask an outside body to design a course covering every aspect of management, from financial statistics to good communications including such techniques as critical path analysis. A country hotel, called appropriately enough The Two Brewers, was the venue for the three-day course, and when evenings were not taken up with projects there were good opportunities for socialising, much of the time spent playing liar dice. This exercise was a milestone in the story of the Company indicating that if we were going to continue to expand we would all, Directors included, need to become more professional in our daily work.


1960–1972 The Rise of DIY

Kenneth Brewer (1895–1983) Chairman until 1974 72

Two of Clement Brewer’s six sons, Jack and Kenneth, spent all their working lives in the Company. Jack Brewer was a round, twinkling, avuncular figure, with perhaps a touch of Mr Pickwick. I used to wonder, naively, that such a gentle and apparently unassertive man could be at the head of a substantial and successful company. Kenneth made a quite different impression. Squarely built and square jawed, he radiated quiet and controlled determination. One must remember too that in his formative years the idea of leadership was very different from today’s. The climate now is consultative. Then, those in authority, whether generals, archbishops, headmasters or business leaders, were expected to decide for themselves on the right thing to do and then not rest or be diverted until it was done. “Do you follow?” Kenneth would say after stating his point of view – do you follow my argument, and do you therefore follow my lead? His colleagues did not, of course, always immediately follow his lead, but they remember that even after the fiercest argument he instantly forgot the

wrangle and never bore the least ill will. So my father’s approach to business problems was a forceful one, and it served him and the Company well. Largely thanks to his drive, those parts of the Company for which he was responsible survived the difficult years of the depressed 1930s and the even more difficult war years, and after the war saw a major expansion from which the Company still benefits. All this might suggest that Kenneth was simply an autocratic tycoon, but there were many more sides to him than that. He was a devoted father, and unhesitatingly supported me in whatever I wanted to do (such as many years of study) even when he wanted me to do something else (join the Company straight away). But he was very pleased when his other son Chris and his son-in-law Christopher McDowell did join the Company at the start of their careers, and when I later joined them. He loved sports: football in his youth and – almost to the end of his long life – squash, tennis and golf. At tennis he was champion many times for his Reigate club, where he met my mother, played for his county, and once almost qualified for the men’s doubles at Wimbledon. (His partner was a likeable but somewhat unpredictable local friend, perhaps the nearest that respectable Reigate came to producing a rake. All hung on a final set, his partner lost his nerve, or concentration, or both, and glory eluded


them – sacrificed, on Kenneth’s part, to friendship.) Today, anyone even close to Wimbledon qualification would have had years of special coaching, but Kenneth’s sporting skills were self-taught. It was the same in the field of ideas. He had left school at 14, but read avidly all his life, especially in the field where politics and philosophy overlap, and Emerson, Carlyle, Middleton Murry and George Bernard Shaw were amongst his favourite authors. Much of his reading reflected and reinforced his pacifist convictions, a Quaker principle he shared with his brother Jack. In the 1914–18 war, Kenneth had taken the difficult path of registering as a conscientious objector and was assigned to farm work – a hard life, but better than the alternative of prison, to which many objectors were sent. In the Second World War he and Jack bought, with others, a farm at Piltdown in Sussex, to be run and staffed by pacifists who would then at least be working with those of like mind. This was a part of the concern for individuals shared by Kenneth and Jack and a guiding principle for all in the Company who have had responsibility for others. This concern was both general and particular. As an example of the general, Kenneth was very proud of the Company’s introduction in the 1930s of a pension scheme, then a rarity, which

paid all pensioners an egalitarian £1 a week. And for the particular, I remember him telling us about the quiet burly man, Alf Huggett, who, wheeling a trolley heavily loaded with glass, had seen the sheets begin to slip, put out an arm to save them, and had suffered a severed artery, fortunately not fatally. Kenneth’s concern for him was combined with deep respect for a conscientious man who put service to the Company before his own safety. Kenneth and Jack were in many ways different, and it can be a strength in a family company that heredity brings together people of contrasting temperament and varied skills who might not otherwise have found themselves as colleagues. But if the main characteristic of Kenneth seemed to be drive, and of Jack benevolence, nevertheless they both clearly had a generous measure of each. Maybe the brothers were not so unalike after all.

David Brewer, February 2004

73


1972–1987

Westward Expansion

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1979 75

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1978

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people he always searched for exactly the right word; he would sit and think, write a word, cross it out and substitute another and yet another until at last he was satisfied. “It has to be right”, he would say. Such precision and care was an indication of his sensitivity towards others. What a lesson that is to us today. In 1959, he and his brother Kenneth had decided to donate a room in the Redhill branch to the local St John Ambulance and Nursing Division in memory of their sister Mollie who had died the previous year, having been Secretary of the Division for some time. The room was dedicated by the Vicar of St Matthew’s Church opposite the branch in October 1959 and for the next forty years, though moved to different places in the branch as developments occurred, it became the ‘St John’s Room’, a muchappreciated and loved space in which generations of the local Division could meet and train, as well as being an occasional useful central meeting room for the Company.

Ho Go meb D dfr ase IY ey ) ju m Ba st ul rb b tip no er b eginn les Joh n- eco in fam m g nB ily es fi rew dir rst er ect be or com es Ch air Da ma vid n Br ew er be com es Di Al rec ba ny tor ow Br n br iti an sh d Sta pa nd int ard in Ay Co com les bu lou ple ry r r te bra an nc ge ho pe ne d– the fir st ‘le ap ’

1972

IN JUNE 1971 JACK BREWER DIED. FOR FORTY YEARS he had been a softly spoken figurehead, carrying on many of the gentle ways his father had passed down to him. He represented the soul and the spirit of the business and many senior staff were to learn from his example. Much had been achieved through his quiet but firm leadership. As a practising Quaker he had fitted many outside good works into his full life. At his funeral service it was mentioned that in writing to

1976

74


Left: Jack Brewer at the dedication of the new St John’s Room. Right: The price of glues and adhesives in 1972. Our trading philosophy

1987

1986

1985

1984

1983

boards such as plywood which were imported and subject to fluctuating exchange rates, this was quite complex. Special terms were then allowed to customers, usually at the discretion of the local branch manager. Many customers still wanted free delivery and each branch had between three and five vehicles going out every day delivering boards, paint, sometimes glass, and even tiled fire surrounds. Each

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1981

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1980

By 1972 company sales totalled ÂŁ7 million (at a margin of 33%) and the trading profit from the branches ÂŁ600,000. How was the sales side organised over an increasingly wide area with a Head Office right on the perimeter? One of the secrets was the degree of autonomy allowed to the branches which was enough to make most managers feel they were running their own businesses. Attached to 14 main branches there were 21 representatives; at the time the representatives often felt they were themselves on the same level as the managers and together they worked hard to reach the best result they could at the end of each year. To achieve this, though, prices had to be right and readily available. Prices for both trade and retail levels were set and up-dated by Head Office and a heavy Kalamazoo loose-leafed price book was the essential equipment for anyone selling at Brewers. Over the wide range of products sold at that time, especially


1972–1987 Westward Expansion

76

branch had a carefully marked out territory from which to obtain business and this also saved wasteful overlap of the delivery service. Most important of all, each branch, including any sub-depots within its area, could be measured separately for profitability. This was not only a good business exercise but meant each manager and his staff had personal pride in its success – or perhaps sometimes a worry over its shortcomings. That was how it worked but it was the people who made it work who mattered most. Many had been in the business for 25 years since the war and some for longer. As each stepping stone in the expansion was laid down it naturally gave more excitement to the staff, despite some of the new developments requiring many hours of hard work which often meant physical labour in those days. The increasing size of the Company did not remove the personal touch between family, managers and their staff which had been an essential part of the working relationship from the very early days. In business jargon the “spirit of the organisation” was excellent and everyone wanted to keep it that way, however large the Company grew. Moving with the times

Up to the early 1970s most branch buildings, either in or on the edge of towns, had been extended and adapted to serve customers from as large and wide a range of stock as possible, often with great physical

Below: Tunbridge Wells and Canterbury, 2004. Among the first branches to move out of town.

and practical difficulty. Then during this decade, with more widespread use of forklift trucks and palletisation from suppliers, an out of town warehouse on one level with plenty of parking and manoeuvring space was the obvious answer to so many of the problems experienced within the town. Seven branches moved out of town between 1970 and 1975 and most of their new premises were built to our own requirements which were difficult to lay down in those early days with no tested pattern of working. However, many builders’ merchants were making the same move and sensible practices were being worked out by suppliers of racking, forklifts, lighting, heating, etc., so eventually the needs of this new style of operation became commonplace. To overcome the potential loss of retail trade the former branch premises were reduced in size and for some years acted as a shop/showroom until the public became used to


visiting the trading estates and then the rather costly shops were disposed of. One of the first branches to move out of town was Tunbridge Wells. Its site in Calverley Road had expanded in order to accommodate boards, doors, glass and many other bulky items. Under the comanagement of Jack Towner and Harry Harte the growth of the business over twenty years had been remarkable and had given great satisfaction to them and their staff. By this time, Harry had retired; but when Jack in his final year looked across the field of mud, the former High Brooms brickworks on which the new branch was to be built, he said to me “Oh how I wish I had another few years, I think this is going to be something really exciting.” Sadly, Jack died a year after his retirement and hardly saw the project completed. But his right-hand man, Ivor Exall, took on the baton and ensured that Jack Towner’s hopes were fulfilled. Another technological advance was machine accounting. Prior to this time an adding machine and a typewriter were the only aids to speeding up the accounting process. Since about 60% of turnover involved trade credit accounts, each branch with as many as 500 accounts needed four or five staff to cope with it. The new Burroughs Sensimatic accounting machine was installed, first at Bromley and Surbiton branches. The accounts supervisor now became the operator with one or two assistants, and a monotonous handwritten book-keeping operation was replaced by a much quicker mechanised routine.

The big DIY chains

It was not only the Trade merchants who were moving out of town at that time; the larger retailers selling heavier goods decided to move out too, some of whom were the DIY multiples selling paint. After the abolition of Resale Price Maintenance on most products (excluding food and books at this point) it was only a matter of time before businessmen saw opportunities to sell paint, particularly white paint, as a commodity like baked beans. ‘Pile it high and price it low’ was the catch phrase. The number of homeowners in the UK was growing (it was then 65%), which led entrepreneurs to think there was a huge market for DIY materials at the lowest price with maximum convenience, such as late opening and ease of parking. B&Q, Texas Homecare, Marley Homecare and Homebase were amongst the first. Before long, large quoted companies saw the opportunity too and began to buy them out, so that Woolworths (B&Q), Boots (Payless DIY), W.H. Smith (Do It All), Sainsbury (Homebase) and Ladbrokes (Texas Homecare) for good or ill became involved in this sector. On the trading estates these DIY ‘sheds’ became larger as they extended their range to include timber, plumbing, kitchens and bathrooms. Some smaller tradesmen used them, but the sheds were mainly designed for the public, offering retail brands and selfservice, but little personal service. Members of the public often ask how we are able to compete with “the likes of B&Q”. The answer is that our sales are divided about 90% to the Trade and 10% to the public; for the

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1972–1987 Westward Expansion

Right: Bernard Smith, Manager for Southampton, Bournemouth and Romford 1972 – 1990. 78

sheds, it is probably the reverse. They had the greatest effect on the small paint and wallpaper shop in the centre of town which had not enough to offer to compensate the public for the difference in their price compared to the sheds; many had to close. This was sad for the industry, but for us has meant less competition on the retail side for which we offer a personal service not readily available elsewhere. Going further west

With the Brighton branch established, it was decided to look at opening up further along the south coast. Eric Parker knew the merchants in the Portsmouth/ Southampton areas and was able to sound them out as to their future plans. With these introductions, in March 1972 we were able to acquire Phippard’s, a small merchant in Southampton with three branches, and later that year another merchant in Portsmouth. None of the Phippard branches (one in Salisbury) was big enough to become a Brewer branch, so a former Crown Paints depot was acquired in Chandler’s Ford, a few miles from Southampton. A new manager was needed who turned out to be another man from Goodlass Wall, Bernard Smith, who, like Eric, wished to cross the divide into merchanting. Eric and Bernard knew each other, and from Bernard’s many experiences as a manufacturer he was likely to know more about the Southampton area than any manager in Brewers. The new building, sited at the entrance to the trading estate, gave the venture a strong start and in a short time the former

Phippard stores in Shirley, Woolston (both in Southampton) and Salisbury were replaced by those in the excellent positions they are today. Christopher McDowell was the Director running these new developments, which were to become one of the strongest trading areas in the Company. Through another introduction Harold Seagers, a merchant in the Fratton area of Portsmouth, was acquired. Again it was no place to grow a Brewers’ main branch but it was four years before we were able to build our own new branch at Farlington just north of the city. With this in the planning stage it was realised we would need to find a manager for the larger branch; and here we were lucky to have almost in waiting Mike Parker, Eric’s son, who had joined us from Goodlass Wall a few years earlier. He had been a manufacturer’s representative and knew the area well. Over the next 17 years he built up a first-class trading operation for the Company in the Portsmouth area.

One of the regular orders for the Portsmouth branch was for a strong filler/adhesive called Componex, made by Sikkens. It was placed by the maintenance department at HMS Victory – over the years Mike Parker reckoned so much was supplied that it must have kept the old ship from falling apart!


Left: Smurthwaites, Chichester, c.1900.

The OPEC price hike

At this time, we also acquired a wallpaper wholesaler, Peter Challis, at Fareham. That operation was eventually absorbed into Portsmouth branch but their extensive business with merchants in the Channel Islands still requires a visit twice a year by the Portsmouth manager. After providing enormous help in the initial growth of these two new branches, Eric Parker concentrated his time back in Eastbourne; but not before providing a last contact with a small merchant in Chichester – Smurthwaites. This business, in a steep three-storeyed old building in the middle of the shopping area, was acquired, along with so many memorabilia from early days that when the shop was reorganised to make it manageable a small museum was set up behind the staircase to contain these items. Included in these finds was a very long handled narrow bladed shovel for removing incendiaries during the Second World War. Glass was cut in a rear store and later, in 1987 when the branch moved to its much-improved site on the Chichester by-pass, the glass cutter Les Wood who had started in the business as a boy became the manager. Two further branches in the area were later established, Petersfield in 1978 and Winchester in 1988.

In 1973 came the shock that changed the world economic climate overnight. The oil producing countries, mainly in the Middle East, all members of OPEC (Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) decided to double the price of oil, preferring to keep supplies in their wells for selling at a higher price over a greater number of years. The price of crude oil is crucial to so many industries that inflation rocketed worldwide. At its peak it rose to 23% year on year in the UK. Paint was affected, but less badly than many commodities. The price went up while stock was held on the rack, giving an illusion that extra profit was being earned, but replacement stock had to be bought in at a higher price, while replacement of plant, fixtures and fittings cost more than had been allowed for in depreciation charges over previous years. Calculating cash flow was a complicated exercise and a review of accounting practice initiated by the government produced the Sandilands Report which introduced ‘current cost accounting’ to overcome misrepresentations shown up in the normal practice of historical cost accounting. Above all was the need to raise wages to keep up with inflation, in turn leading to pressures to reduce overall staff costs – not easy in a business which concentrates on personal service. It was very difficult to keep good staff, but the hardcore of those who had served in the Company over many years were relied upon to maintain the service, and loyally they did. Of course, in time the UK increased its own oil supplies from the North Sea and eventually a new

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1972–1987 Westward Expansion

80

more workable level for the price of oil was established, but not before the government had been forced to go cap in hand to the International Monetary Fund. Basingstoke in the early 1970s was too small to justify the trappings of a main branch and so Peter Maynard, the Manager, who had moved up from Eastbourne, was soon driving over the hills to Newbury, in search of business. A small merchant in the town (who also sold clocks!) was bought and a year later a warehouse on an estate next to the racecourse was taken on and a full branch established, working in tandem with Basingstoke. But it was not until the 1980s when the burgeoning computer industry settled in the Thames Valley (‘Silicon Valley’) that Newbury became a dormitory town and the branch was able to benefit from the building of the new housing estates. Newbury became a strong branch and was later able to act as a base for developing branches further west.

being able to prove themselves by building up their own branches as if it was their own business; Kenneth had just as much time for those who had not become managers and who had derived an immense amount of satisfaction through working in a team, knowing that the business was going places. There were many who said they lived for Brewers and for the interest it gave them, and this had much to do with Kenneth Brewer’s manner of leadership. So the third generation of the family under John’s chairmanship would develop the next stage. The group worked well together and I believe this was partly due to the fact that we were all so completely different. Is it one of the laws of magnetism which states: ‘Like poles repel and unlike poles attract’? Had we all been accountants we would have probably split apart. As it was, we certainly treated each other with mutual respect and together strove to carry on the family business ethos of care for staff, assets and customer service which had been passed on down to us.

Changes at the top

In 1974 John Brewer took over from his uncle, Kenneth, as Chairman of the Company. Kenneth had seen the first customer coming in to buy in 1904 and seventy years on he could look back at a time of exciting expansion of the business for much of which he was directly responsible. But he would have been just as proud and happy to think of the many people who had started off very young, even straight from school, eventually becoming managers and then

Surbiton, a ‘model’ branch

Two interesting building works were completed in 1974/75. Surbiton was one of the last branches to move to a trading estate. Finding this was very difficult, as Surbiton was such a high-density residential area. But space was eventually found on a site previously occupied by Gazes, builders and also makers of hard tennis courts, right by the river at Thames Ditton, close to Surbiton. Learning from the


Below: Staff training at Ewell Road, Surbiton. Right: Surbiton branch at Thames Ditton, 2004.

81

experiences of the other moves to trading estates and with the opportunity to have what we wanted on the site, much thought was given to trying to make it a ‘model’ branch. One of the features was to arrange the paint racks down the side of a long wide gangway so customers could go past the counter and pick out their own requirements at the same time as seeing all the stock we had. (This worked well until paint colours switched to being machine tinted.) After thirty years, nearly all under the management of Keith Brown, the branch with adaptations still holds up to its model status. The former branch in Ewell Road, Surbiton remained a popular retail shop and wallpaper showroom for another twenty years and space at the rear was used for practical wallcoverings training for staff in the region. The new Redhill

The second project was building a completely new front to Redhill branch with a large shop area on the ground floor and offices to let on two floors above,

and space for a new St John’s Room. It seemed right at the time, anticipating that the large shop and showrooms would draw in the public from greater distances. A separate Trade and Retail counter was kept, though this tradition disappeared from most branches that had moved to trading estates. Doors were still an important part of the product range and with Crosbys, our suppliers, we installed a permanent show of doors right across the front of the Redhill shop, which was promoted as the Good Door Store. Customers could walk through 24 different styled doors fitted in their frames and view them from one end to the other. Two trade joiner customers agreed to take on enquiries and orders for fitting from the public. The opening day created some interest when the glamorous actress, Diana Dors (appropriately!), was invited to cut the ribbon. The display was a moderate success for a few years and then faded out, as did our interest in selling doors. Branches in the new out of town locations were sizeable enough to be quite easily turned into exhibition halls for an evening where customers could be entertained and a Trade Show set up with anything from 30 to 60 suppliers’ stands. But these


1972–1987 Westward Expansion Left: Redhill in the 1970s. Centre: Redhill Good Door Store opening by Diana Dors. Right: Stand at trade show.

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became harder to organise when the premises were reduced in size after the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s and became too much of a demand on the Area Managers’ time. The flurry of recruiting new managers from outside the Company for the new south Hampshire branches was the exception though it turned out to be right in those cases. Generally managers for branches and at Head Office were, and remain, home grown wherever possible; this followed the basic desire of the founder and his family to make it possible to learn by experience and go, if wished, from being a boy in the warehouse or on the counter to senior management during a full career in the business. Albany in 98 colours

Important to Brewers during 1977 was the development of Albany as its own brand of paint. The number of paint manufacturers was decreasing through the endemic problem of overcapacity and competition and takeovers. ICI with Dulux had seized the advantage and become very strong, mainly through its own organic growth. In 1976, under a

new leader, they had decided to concentrate on distribution through their own merchant chain and to allow their independent merchants to fill in the gaps, but on a more slender margin. This was a red rag to most merchants. To combat this new policy by the UK’s largest manufacturer, we decided to develop the Albany brand into a complete British Standard (BS) colour range to compete effectively with the national brands and to provide ourselves with improved profit margins. The previous year we had developed with Goodlass Wall a formula for Albany in white only, which offered top quality at a price to meet competition. This we now had to expand into a full colour range in each of the finishes and in primers as well. At this time there was no tinting of bases by computer systems and the BS colour range of 98 colours was regularly used by specifiers and even homeowners. Albany had to be produced in this full range if it was to attempt to compete on equal terms. A good Albany team spirit was built up with Goodlass Wall and amongst our own staff, who quickly realised it would be our salvation.


1972–1987 Westward Expansion

The new woodstains 84

In the mid-1970s a new decorative product was introduced to the Trade market. Doors had often been made of hardwood, but now architects began to specify hardwood for window frames reasoning that though they were more costly to buy they would last longer and be easier to maintain. Stains, varnishes or preservatives had traditionally been used on bare wood. What was wanted was a liquid to afford protection from the elements that would show the grain of the wood and be easy to recoat. An architect had been specifying Sadolin’s protective stain (made in Denmark) for some time and saw the potential for it in the UK. He became Sadolin’s UK Sales Manager and built up a strong demand, mainly through specification by his fellow architects. The coloured pigment in this translucent product made it expensive so it was some time before it became popular with the public. This success brought Sikkens, a 200-yearold Dutch paint manufacturer and part of the huge international chemical business, Akzo, into the UK market. Sikkens were strong on woodstains. Their first presence in the UK consisted of Clive Sanders (ex-ICI) and a mobile home parked in Didcot, Berkshire, big enough for him and a token stock.

Far right: Milton Keynes village in 1967, and the New Town centre now. Far right, below: Keith Holder. Milton Keynes New Town, Buckinghamshire

The next stage of expansion took an unusual step. The government had decided to create a whole new town to take overspill from London, superimposed on the tiny village of Milton Keynes. Lewellyns, building contractors in Eastbourne, had won a contract to use their Quikbild System for building a large number of its new houses. (Lewellyns and Brewers had started in Eastbourne around the same time and over the years the families had become firm friends and Lewellyns was a big customer of Eastbourne branch.) They were keen for us to supply them while working in Milton Keynes. It made sense to try to open a branch there to service their needs. As Milton Keynes was a small village, the branch would have to be in a town nearby. After much searching, in 1976 Decorfare in Aylesbury was purchased. The lease on the Decorfare property was running out so that all that was acquired was a sales ledger, a manager (Derek Ward) and a few staff. Finding the new warehouse (right by the Grand Union Canal) took time too so not long after it had opened Lewellyns had already finished their Quikbild contract in Milton Keynes! None the less, a new small branch had been established – the first time that the business had expanded by ‘jumping’ into a new area rather than ‘creeping’ step by step. The Trade did not know who we were and at first there were no staff with any knowledge of how Brewers was run. But that was to change. The new premises would take all Derek Ward’s time, so an outside salesman was urgently required. Keith Holder as a boy had helped in the shop at


85

It is of interest that in negotiating the price paid for the Albany product a special fund within the margin was suggested for the good of both parties which was to be used by Brewers for promoting the new range. In hindsight this was seen to be an important factor in the early success of the exercise. How tempting it would have been to pass all the margins obtained through to the bottom line net profit! Colour cards, tin livery, shop presentation, staff training, product and specification details were top class from the start. But above all it worked because all staff were convinced of its quality and promoted Albany to their customers, many of whom they knew very well. Perhaps another reason for its success was that customers had respected Brewers over so many years that they had confidence in a product that had the Brewers’ guarantee behind it. They liked it, and the price, and came back for more.

Folkestone branch when his father was manager and the family had lived above the branch. He had now risen to be the representative at Dartford and was asked if he would like to make the ‘jump’ and move to Aylesbury. He did, and today he is Area Manager, responsible for five branches and an outside sales force of three. Keith was just one of the many people who started from the bottom and rose to near the top, deriving an immense amount of satisfaction from seeing a new branch build up to quite a large business – particularly as Aylesbury was out on a limb – and feeling he had played a major part in this achievement. As a representative, he quickly got to know the customers and this enabled him to build


1972–1987 Westward Expansion Left: Nick Brewer addressing delegates at a ‘Welcome to Brewers’ course at a hotel venue. Below: The Kent Quiz. 86

his confidence to learn all the other skills he needed for running the branch and ultimately the area. But he, and others like him, could not have done this without proper training in all aspects of the business.

experience in teaching and lecturing equipped him to join John Purkiss and then Ted Hyde in the development of new ideas for training staff as part of his Head Office responsibilities. One project was the appointment of four Regional Trainers who would take training to the workplace, an idea which, if it didn’t in the end succeed, impressed on everyone how committed the Company was to staff training.

Training

The training function at Head Office had been formed in the 1960s. Although new staff learn technical, practical and selling skills partly from watching and listening to their longer-serving colleagues and sometimes even from customers, it has always been seen as a company priority to provide more formal training on products, selling skills and, for some, leadership skills. Beforehand, all new staff attend a ‘Welcome to Brewers’ course, usually at Head Office. It always starts with a family member giving the history of Brewers and new people are then taken to visit each department in Head Office. As with all the courses, interaction is of great benefit and the opportunity to meet people from other branches is a real bonus. David Brewer, Kenneth’s eldest son and my brother, joined the Company in 1971 aged 39. He had had an academic career with some commercial involvement. After an early period of learning the business then running Aldershot branch, his

The Kent Quiz One idea of the Training Manager, together with Paul Watt (by then Area Manager for Chatham and Canterbury), was to run a Kent Quiz, held annually with three or four branches competing in teams of three people. Questions related to the Company or products and the event became an annual social get-together of the Kent branches. Always an amusing part of the evening was the presentation of the wooden spoon to the bottom branch – it was christened the ‘Getshotovit’– often, unluckily, it had to be retained by the same branch for a further year.


Cold start in Bournemouth

Seventy-five years of service In 1979, to mark the 75th Anniversary of the business, a commemorative logo was produced for shop fronts, vehicles and letterheads. All the staff received a special award related to their pay and length of service.

By 1980 Southampton and Portsmouth were running comfortably and growing quite rapidly so interest was shown in expanding further west to Bournemouth. Southampton branch had gradually started serving customers in the Bournemouth area. A merchant called Hursts had built up an enviable reputation in this large busy seaside and commercial town since the war, as much for wallpaper as for paint. Without the benefit of knowledge that recession was only a year away, and with premises still very difficult to find, we took a large warehouse (15,000 sq. ft) on the outskirts of town and Bernard Smith came from Southampton to manage what was effectively a cold start. Boards and doors were also stocked (they helped to fill the space!), but it was a tall order with the considerable premises costs involved for the branch to avoid making heavy losses. It took eight years for the branch to make any money at all. The fact that sales figures were high, having reached over ÂŁ2 million, shows how hard the new team worked over that period but sadly without a positive result on the bottom line. North of the Thames

The 1981/82 recession was felt mainly in manufacturing in the Midlands and North, but coinciding with the Falklands campaign, both depressed trading generally throughout the UK. Once those concerns were over, we were able to plan further expansion.

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88

For a period in the past, our representative at Dartford had sought business across the Thames. Apart from Essex being traditionally known as the ‘salesmen’s graveyard’ the psychological barrier of the river made the whole exercise unproductive, as few potential customers there were interested in suppliers on the ‘other side’. However, with the completion in the early 1980s of the M25, except for the toll tunnel at Dartford, getting to and from places around the capital became so much easier and effectively all the suburban areas of London were linked. I had been travelling through Essex and Suffolk for ten years visiting my wife’s family and so had some knowledge of the area. We had had a number of discussions with a merchant in Romford, F.C. and R.G. Turner, but they weren’t ready to sell. So in 1984 a new 10,000 sq. ft warehouse at Hornchurch was acquired and stocked with the full range of paints, wallboards and doors and complete with a wallpaper showroom. This was a really cold start and the immediate priority was to find the right manager. Nobody knew or remembered that Bernard Smith, now at Bournemouth, had lived in Hornchurch when working for Goodlass Wall. He was now in his late fifties yet he jumped at the idea of a last challenge in his old homeland before he retired. Once the branch was opened in 1984 it was clear that there were very many potential customers in Essex and the East London area, but they were used to buying at low prices. The old ‘market trading’ culture of the East End of London had spread out to

Essex as presumably traders had made money and moved out over the years, first to the suburbs and then the country. Bernard, having served in the Commandos during the war, enjoyed the challenge, and was joined by Paul Munday from Redhill as his Assistant Manager. Then, as we might have expected, Turners then told us they were prepared to sell their business having obviously found our presence put new pressures on them. Six months after Hornchurch opened, we acquired the Turner premises just outside Romford and their sales ledger which, of course, was immensely important to us. We also took on Turners’ small branches in Birmingham and Redditch, which they had started in a fit of wild expansion. These proved too much of a burden on the main business, contributed very little, and were later sold to ICI. The Hornchurch branch and Turners at Romford needed much work with the help of people from Head Office to create a single integrated operation out of two premises. One can now perhaps question whether so much time, effort and money should have been spent on this exercise. But had we not taken the initiative, other merchants would have used the improved links over the Thames and moved into areas like Kent which had been our heartland for thirty years. So this was an expensive but necessary protective action as well as careful but costly expansion. Guildford branch had been struggling to serve customers and sites around Windsor and the Thames Valley for many years. The completed motorway network in west Surrey now made it possible to reach


Berkshire more easily, so in 1983 it was decided to open a new major branch in Maidenhead which would at the same time fill the gap between Guildford and Aylesbury. The rise of self-employed decorators

During the early 1980s and after the recession we began to notice a gradual but significant difference in the type and size of customer wanting our services. Without exception, every manager would have had close working relationships with the proprietors of a high number of large contractors employing many of their own staff and also a proportion of sub-contract labour. Over time and largely as a result of successive governments tightening up on the regulations regarding sub-contract labour, combined with the fact that in this ‘Thatcher era’ individuals were being encouraged to work more for themselves, we found that the number of painters actually employed in these large organisations fell by well over 50% compared with ten years earlier. This seemed to be a general trend right across our area and indeed the industry, and it became increasingly evident as the months and years went by. Out of this trend grew a new category of ‘very small decorators’, businesses made up of fewer than four painters. In our experience, by the end of the 1980s almost two-thirds of the people working in this industry across our area were in this new category of customer, a trend that has continued to this day. This change in our customer base signalled

Trade paint market review – by applier

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Godfrey Barber

90

their need for more smaller branches from which decorators could collect items, almost on a daily basis, frequently more often than once a day. This indicated to us that our strategy of opening up smaller branches in populous towns where we were not represented and expanding into new areas with this size of branch was absolutely right for the time and confirmed the direction in which we needed to continue to move for the years ahead. Likewise, our own practices needed to change and our increasing number of representatives more often had to find painters on sites, rather than visiting people in charge of painters in their offices. With more customers calling in to our shops rather than asking for delivery the role of the shop staff became increasingly important. Sadly, many of the firms with whom so many friendly customer relationships had been made over the years died out, including, to cite but two in Surrey with alliterative-sounding names: Balcombe & Bish and Shove & Tidy. In addition fewer young people wanted to join the industry as apprentice painters and many painting and decorating departments of technical colleges were closing down, with consequent effect on the general quality of painting work. Despite these changes the actual size of the Trade paint market remained constant; the Trade still represented 90% of our turnover.

In 1988, Godfrey Barber retired as a Director and Company Secretary. Since coming to Brewers from north London in 1947, his contribution to the post-war success of the Company was inestimable. He recalled how he was just sending off an acceptance letter to work with a large London accounting firm when he spotted an advertisement in the Quaker magazine for “a Chairman’s assistant, Decorators’ Merchant on the South Coast”. It sounded interesting so he sent a letter off for that job instead, not knowing where it was. Godfrey became so useful to Jack Brewer he was soon put in charge of the accounts. He took over from Jack Brewer as Company Secretary in 1964, but also managed to fit in setting-up our staff pension scheme and, earlier on, the introduction of mechanised accounting at branches. He was always looking at ways to do things better and had a kindly attitude towards everyone as was particularly evident when he became Company Secretary and he was able to give helpful and well-remembered advice to managers when their staff got into difficulties. In 1973 he was made a Director, the first from outside the family. He was so devoted to the Company one felt he never let it out of his mind; much of the successful growth of the Head Office departments on the financial side was due to his determination to get everything just right.


Below: Swindon branch, 1985.

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It is perhaps worth pointing out here that paint is almost the only material (together with plaster and cement) used on a building which changes its chemical and physical state on application. This makes it that much more important that the decorator is advised properly and goes away with the right product.

Swindon: a new western salient

When our Newbury branch took off, helped by the new estates being built there, we felt it was time to look further west. Swindon, an old railway engineering town pre-1960s, had become a rapidly expanding new industrial and commercial centre. Honda had set up a new factory there and it and other industries were attracting supporting services. Finding a good manager was, as always, the key to starting a new branch on the road to success. Mike

Braybrook, a former representative at Guildford twenty years back who had worked with a paint manufacturer in the meantime, asked if he could return. He was made assistant manager at Newbury, to familiarise him with Brewers again before becoming manager of the new Swindon branch. A rather tired factory building was found in a good location and of the right size to stock the full product range. In 1985 the branch opened with a two-evening trade show (a thunderstorm on the first night put all the lights out but this was not thought an ill omen and our new customers entered nobly into the spirit of our misfortune). Amongst the early enquiries one led to a continuing order from Honda for providing their production line with a brush, used once and then discarded, amounting to a large annual consignment. Swindon, out on its own, surrounded by beautiful countryside and many lovely villages, remained our western salient for some years.


1972–1987 Westward Expansion

Wallcoverings in the 1970s and 80s 92

What was happening in wallcoverings during the 1970s and early 80s? The number of Albany Collections came down to three of wallpaper and one of vinyl to make room for the many manufacturers’ branded books on offer. The latter included many collections from the Continent where we built good trading relationships with Rasch in Germany and Venelia and Inaltera in France. Perhaps with increasing numbers of people taking their holidays abroad “continentals” had an added public appeal. Everyone in the wallcoverings business was looking for an exclusive product that offered innovative and decorative designs, represented good value and, most importantly, was free of the widespread price competition prevalent on UK branded wallcoverings at that time. We were also looking for every opportunity to sell ‘speciality’ wallcoverings.

Amongst these was Boyle’s Muraweave, a widewidth woven jute which was stocked in depth and sold by the yard from our central stock. We carried a range of 40 colours, the brightest and boldest of which were used for display backings in our shops. Then there was Novamura, a polyethylene sheet produced by ICI. Its main benefits were that it was ‘paste the wall’, washable and easily removable by simply pulling away from the wall; it could then be rehung elsewhere – if moving house, for example. This was a period of constant innovation by British producers focused on making paper hanging simpler and less daunting in the hope of shortening the recycle period for DIY customers. There was ‘ready pasted’, pasting the wall, pasting by machine and an interesting but unsuccessful experiment with free matching designs. But the traditional specialities carried on. Hand prints, often using the same blocks that had been used for over a hundred years, were still desired by the wealthy who felt that here was a personal touch that differed from machine-made papers. Less expensive but also involving manual work were silk screened papers or ‘screen prints’. Another two traditional products were Lincrusta and Anaglypta, manufactured over many years by Relief Decorations in Lancashire. Lincrusta is now rather an old-fashioned speciality: like linoleum it is made with linseed oil. A thick sheet is produced then


embossed with a pattern and supplied in panels or rolls which are either stained or painted at the factory or on site. Lincrusta could be used, for example, to decorate a whole room very effectively with imitation wood panelling. Anaglypta was originally made using rags as the raw material (probably discarded from the nearby Lancashire cotton mills). After processing the material was pressed into rolls of tough embossed quasiwallpaper ideal for covering cracked walls which could take a subsequent paint coating as desired. Being a stronger material than just paper, Anaglypta was also formed into reproduction decoration pieces such as ceiling centres, cornices and mouldings. In the 1980s these types of products were challenged by the rapid development of ‘blown vinyls’ – made by the expansion of a vinyl sheet to provide a deeply embossed spongy product – a process invented in Germany. It started with white textures for ceilings then took on more traditional designs for walls (all needing painting), followed by coloured patterns and on to the

very attractive alternatives to ceramic tiles for bathrooms and kitchens. Washable and uncrushable blown vinyls have been the ongoing success story for the past twenty-five years.

Far left: 1970s showroom introduction card for decorators’ clients. The Guildford showroom.

Above: Guildford’s ‘50 years’ – typical papers of the late 70s and early 80s. Background: Vymura ‘Popsical’ , 1984.


1987–1995

Lessons from the Recession

1990 Br ia

nH fir islo st p a Ge p ne poi ral nt M ed a an s ag er

1989

1988

Mathieson opened six new branches which would cover the whole of the south London area. But, earlier in the 1920s, he had taken over from his father the main contact with paint manufacturers and then in the 1930s, with the wallboard, door and glass manufacturers too. He made many friends, and was highly respected for his forthright, but always quiet and helpful attitude. Through the Associations of the time, as well as through the Company, he worked hard to bring order to the distribution of paint in the UK in the post-war years. He also kept a very strict eye, with his brother, on the financial side of the business. The circumstances of his upbringing had taught him to be frugal and in his early days in the business, financial disaster could have been just around the corner. Much of the Company’s expansion has been described but little about when and where the

Ne w Hi gh NW bran -cl ass Lon ches sho don at C w Co room and olind rn i St al fie n A e ld Ea lba , Ho stb ns use ou , o rne pe , ne De d ep eco no mi cr ece ssi on 19 89 –1 99 3

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1987

KENNETH BREWER HAD DIED IN 1983 aged 88. He had always been the pioneer, happily leaving his brother Jack to ensure everything was running right at the centre. Without his drive the business might have stayed on the south coast. His particular thrill was seeing people develop and providing them with the means to do so. But throughout his life he was also keen to develop his own self, particularly his mind. Kenneth learnt Pitman’s shorthand when he was young, because he said it helped you to think quicker while you were writing. Every year he would use a diary given to him by suppliers, not for engagements, but to record his thoughts packed throughout the book in tiny neat shorthand. The family used to call it ‘doodling’. We still have one edition to this day, but no-one has yet deciphered it. He will be best remembered in the years after the Second World War for this time when he and Eric

Co

94


Left: Kenneth Brewer. Below: Our accountant, Sydney Cooper, who was also a first-class Surrey wicket keeper.

1995

1994 ha Br ew ers

ris Ch

ve Akz jus o t t t ake wo o ma ver i C IC n pa asco I a int -N nd su obe Ak ppl l; zo iers No : be l

1993

By carefully developing the business step by step as funds allowed and at what could be seen as a natural pace rather than one forced by ambition, more freehold premises were secured so that, faced with difficult periods, extended overdraft facilities with the bank were easily forthcoming on the strength of the collateral provided by a growing premises portfolio. When the limited company was formed in 1925, W.F.A. Cooper & Sons of Cannon Street, London were appointed the Company’s accountants. After the war, Sydney Cooper, operating then from Wallington near Croydon, also became a very helpful adviser on the financing of the growth of the Company and securing its future as a family run business. In 1970, on Sydney’s advice, another firm of London accountants, Thompson McLintock, took over as auditors, while the accounts work was kept within the Company.

Br ew John er be Brew com e es r ret Ch ire air s ma n

1992 ag e im rat e po cor Ne w

the C I ‘In om ntro ter pa duc -B ny tio M Bri ranc new n of ar sto h T sle kB lb tt rew ran ravel er er ch ler’ joi op ns ene com d pa ny

1991

finances came from to support this activity. From the outset, our founder Clement soon acquired a reputation for being careful with money, whilst at the same time paying his suppliers promptly. This was wise as he and the business built a name for prudence. Each year money was ploughed back and very little taken out, which must have helped during the years up to and after the Great War, and meant by the end of the 1920s they were able to invest in the building of new premises, including the one in Calverley Road, Tunbridge Wells.

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1987–1995 Lessons from the Recession

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The introduction of computers

In 1987, the Company started down the long road to the total computerisation of all its accounting systems. Oddly, the decision came about through the need to replace counter tills at 12 branches and our wondering whether more advanced machines could provide product sales analysis on both cash as well as credit sales. Research drew us into contact with computer software businesses who were beginning to tackle the needs of pure distribution companies. At this stage, each product’s code number had to be processed by hand which was very time wasting and laborious, particularly for a waiting customer. BCT Business Systems was chosen to write a specification for computerising all sales and the resulting system we named BIAS (Branch Integrated Accounting System) which became a useful acronym for future use. Both supplier and merchant were feeling their way so that the basic software (PACS) supplied by BCT needed frequent enhancements leading, in time, to a largely bespoke software package. A training team was set up internally and over two years 500 sales staff at 65 branches were converted from handwriting invoices to keyboard entry into the system. Accounts departments at main branches were reduced to just an administrative assistant. Credit and cash sales priced on the system were relayed overnight to the central computer in Head Office for processing into invoices,

and at the end of each month onto statements. The hardest task was to fit on the system the special terms that many customers received on a wide range of products. With some standardisation and the use of a price ‘matrix’ the problem was eventually solved. Initially, apart from some reduction in staffing costs, the major benefit was a monitoring of each branch’s trading profit margin, now called the BIAS margin, but later automatic indenting for stock from each sale made became a great time saver. The installation of BIAS from its ‘test bed’ year in Surbiton into the entire company took seven years. In 1994, to celebrate this mammoth achievement, BCT and Brewers jointly invited all who had taken a large part in it to the Grand National at Aintree and a celebration weekend in Chester. The fourth generation

In the mid-80s we were delighted to welcome Michael’s two sons, Nick and Neal, into the business, the first of the fourth generation to join. Nick arrived in 1985, having first gained a University degree in Building Management. Always keen on the practical side of the buildings, after a year at branches learning the business and, as important, meeting people, he joined his father in Head Office Premises and eventually took over from him as Manager. Neal obtained a degree in Business Management and Computer


Left: Neal Brewer. Below left: Nick Brewer. Below right: The Albany family.

Sciences and went on to study Accountancy. After his induction at branches in 1986, he joined the team training branch staff on the new computer system. He then underwent the training that enabled him to become the Company's first qualified Health and Safety Officer. Nick and Neal were both appointed Directors in 1993. New premises in Sussex

Crawley ‘new town’ was, in 1987, beginning to feel the effects of the growth of Gatwick airport. Our branch now in a former factory on a main road location was sold for office development and the proceeds were only just enough to be able to purchase a rare freehold piece of land on which to build a new branch. It is always risky being the first to build on a new estate and here we had bad luck: we ended up with car repairers and car body bashers as neighbours, making the environment the least friendly of any branch. In the same year, we were more fortunate with the environment when we started a new branch at Worthing run by John Cook in a former milk distribution centre (in 1995 it moved to smaller, more economic premises in the same estate). Albany and national brands forge ahead

After ten years, sales of Albany paint in its full colour range and all finishes reached an annual 2.5 million litres. Its contribution to profit had had such an effect

on company performance that all staff received an Albany bonus. Success came because staff knew that the range had been made to our formulation, that it had been tested independently and by themselves against other brands at special training courses. This gave them the confidence to sell it with such ability. The makers, Goodlass Wall, were acquired by Macphersons in 1988, who in turn were acquired by Akzo, owners of Permoglaze, Sikkens and Sandtex brands. By now ICI was back on good trading relationships with its independent merchants, and the Dulux brand began to move forward again, naturally affecting Albany’s sales. Mainly responsible for this improvement at ICI was Philip Hanscombe, now the Paints Division Chief Executive, for whom Brewers’ people over some 30 years always had the highest respect. But Albany had achieved a most important objective in its first decade and would go on to be a very strong regional brand over the south of England.

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1987–1995 Lessons from the Recession

Duke of Albany At the meetings held all round the Company to put across the Albany message, a set of Albany ties (with scarves for ladies) in different colours, was given to all staff. A picture had been found in a library of one of the early Duke of Albany on his horse and this was used as an emblem, which gave staff a strong sense of belonging to the brand and the ties were proudly worn.

In 1989 it was decided that the Albany can livery should come away from mimicking our corporate image and be more like that of the national brands. By now the UK decorative paint market was shared by very few manufacturers: ICI, which had just taken over Gliddens in the US, making it the world’s largest paint manufacturer; Akzo with headquarters in Holland; Crown Berger and Kalon (with brands Leyland, Johnstones and Manders); and Sigma, owned by Petrofina of Belgium, which had built a new factory near Buckingham and for a while made Acrylic primer undercoat and Contract emulsion for our Albany brand. An addition to this Trade market had been decorative protective woodstains: here the major players were Sadolin (Denmark) and Sikkens (Holland) with ICI trying hard to gain their share with Dulux Woodcare. In all, this woodstains sector represented about 8% of the

decorative paint and woodstains Trade market in the UK. Increasingly, the large European paint manufacturers were making inroads to the UK market and there were more to come, though surprisingly none from the US at this time. The London market and beyond

Putney branch with its rather old style, but most effective premises, right by Putney Bridge, had very successfully developed business in London’s West End. The London market was different: London itself was difficult for customers who, wishing to avoid the traffic, welcomed the personal service, especially the free delivery we offered them. It was also exciting because enquiries could come from anywhere: hotels, clubs, banks, museums, concert halls, as well as painters and larger contractors. This mix soon made a very profitable branch; added to which many customers of other branches were using Putney when they had work in southwest London. With the success of Putney we had been thinking for some years how we could progress into northwest London, partly because customers wanted us to deliver to sites there. But congestion, especially across arterial routes through West London, made it impractical to try to link a branch there with Putney. However, the opportunity now arose to look at the problem another way. When we acquired Turners in Romford, they had many customers in Hertfordshire. A new branch was needed there so perhaps it could also support a smaller unit not too


Right: The Albany can design, 1993.

distant in northwest London? But in these times before the recession vacant properties were almost impossible to find and leaseholds fetched premiums (‘key money’) which were often exorbitant. In 1988, premises thought to be too small were found at Colindale in northwest London, but which have since proved to be of perfect size. At the same time, new, much larger premises (8,000 sq. ft) were taken near St Albans from which to grow new business throughout Hertfordshire. For the last time a new branch was established big enough to hold stocks that included doors and boards. The trigger for recession

Establishing two new branches in almost completely new territories represented quite an outlay. Unfortunately, no one was able to tell us that one of the triggers for the most serious recession since the war had already been activated on 31 August 1987. It is strongly believed to have been started in the housing market which had just seen its largest ever boom. The Chancellor in his budget speech that April had decreed that, after the end of August, two people living in one house could only obtain mortgage tax relief on one salary, not both, and no relief would be allowed on funds raised for extensions. People queued outside building societies trying to fix up loans before the deadline. Houses, particularly at the lower end, were in strong demand and prices shot up, but artificially, and after the deadline prices fell sharply and with them the whole housing market fell too,

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creating ‘negative equity’ for many house owners and generally prompting a cutback on spending money. The lull before the storm

The recession, exacerbated further by the Black Monday Stock Market crash, was not apparent to Brewer branches until the spring of 1989 – but then it lasted for more than three years. However, before heading into recession, two other projects were completed in 1988. First, a brand new vehicle maintenance depot was built near to the Eastbourne branch with, additionally, the Central Wallcoverings Distribution operation at one end – releasing space at Head Office. From the 1920s, the Company policy had been to own and maintain, where possible, its fleet of vehicles. The previous accommodation had always been cramped; this new purpose-built garage was fitted with all the latest equipment, including spray booths, and employed five skilled workers operating under a full-time manager and foreman. They carried out the maintenance of all 70 goods vehicles and some cars, and offered out the service to other commercial firms, schools, and Local Authorities in the area – thus becoming in part a profit centre, helping to offset the cost of the Company’s own vehicle maintenance. Second, a high-class wallpaper and fabric showroom was opened in Eastbourne under the


1987–1995 Lessons from the Recession

Left: Cornfield House, Eastbourne, 1990. 100

trading name of Cornfield House (it is in Cornfield Road). From the outset, Brewers had nurtured its wallpaper trade to the many hotels and boarding houses in the Eastbourne area. As fewer holidays were spent in Eastbourne with people choosing sunnier places abroad, this business began to decline and by the late 1980s no one else sold wallpaper in the town. It was felt that with the growing practice of buying fabrics alongside other decorating materials, a showroom offering high-class materials and a measuring service near to the town centre could attract much of this remaining business. There were other perceived benefits: one, that the showroom would demonstrate to some of the more exclusive suppliers of wallcoverings and fabrics that Brewers was selling to their class of customer and therefore could expect their assistance with pattern books and general support; and two that, whilst offering a curtain-making service on the premises for local demands it could, with some extra labour, be made available to all branches via the daily inter-branch delivery service. It was thought that if the Cornfield House experiment succeeded, other similar separate high-class showrooms could be set up in suitable towns. In fact, this was the time when

wallcoverings began to decline in popularity and though a further attempt was made in the centre of Guildford, its viability was soon in question. Before the recession effectively placed an embargo on all new projects, four new but important smaller branches were established: a small merchant operating from a former army drill hall in Winchester was acquired for Southampton, a long-awaited branch at Woking for Guildford, a freehold unit in Tonbridge was purchased to keep competition out of the town and an extension to the east of the Romford area was started with a unit in Chelmsford. The tinting era

Our initial reaction to the threat of the recession was to batten down the hatches. Economists and forecasters were no better at anticipating its severity than businessmen. Decorating materials, unlike luxuries, are comparatively resistant to fluctuations in the economy. However, at Brewers two other concerns were impacting on our business. First, the computer installation programme had covered only a third of the branches and the hardware and other equipment was expensive. Second, ICI followed by other paint manufacturers had decided that accurate colour tinting by computerised machines on the merchants’ premises was the way forward. (For many years there had been tinting systems like Dulux Matchmaker which was only considered accurate enough for the retail user, because the purely mechanical system could not adequately deliver consistent quantities of tinter).


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A first for Putney The first ICI tinting machine to be installed in any independent merchant was at our Putney branch in February 1987. Its introduction to all branches was not without difficulty. It required an entirely different approach at point of sale and trade customers could now obtain large quantities of any colour on the spot as opposed to waiting for out-of-stock items to come from another branch or even supplier. The merchant would not have to keep stocks of 98 colours, only white, black and 6 to 8 bases; likewise the manufacturers would be spared tinting for every colour, allowing them to release a quantity of storage space and capital.

But this applied equally to the merchant who found himself over-housed and in the middle of a recession not wanting the space for anything else. Some area could be let off to other businesses, but where we had recently taken on lease commitments, as in Essex and Hertfordshire, with large areas for boards which were also not selling, the loss for these new ventures was alarming. At the same time, tinting helped our competitors, many of whom had previously carried only a limited range of ready-mixed colours; they now had access to the widest range of colours for a medium investment – the cost of the tinting machine. In effect, the job of tinting paint had been passed on from manufacturers to merchant and initially tinting and mixing, say, 20 x 5 litres of paint took much longer than today. Perhaps there was a silver lining though: had tinting paint for trade orders been introduced at a more buoyant time, merchants’ staff would have found it hard to cope with this new way of serving customers.


1987–1995 Lessons from the Recession Below: Trowbridge, 2004. Far right: Melvin Newton retires, 1988.

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The recession bites

As business slowed a stop was placed on any staff recruitment or replacement. Branch accounts departments, now computerised, needed only one person and overall we were forced to begin a general redundancy programme – a measure totally at odds with the Company’s beliefs and the values placed on staff. Initially, we were able to contain this to older staff who were prepared to go early, but sadly this was not enough and many others had to go – an unhappy end to what had been a good decade. Redundancy, though, was no longer considered a personal stigma, rather, an unpleasant fact of life. The previous chapter described how the customer base had been changing in the 1980s and the recession helped to accelerate that still further. Another worry was the burden of bad debts caused by failing businesses. At its worst in 1992 they reached over half a million pounds but it could be said that the agony caused to the managers trying to protect their profit line was matched by the tax on management morale. That year was the worst trading year for the Company when a loss of £700,000 was recorded, but thanks to very hard effort and to the action taken at the beginning of the recession a small trading profit was achieved in 1993. Despite the recession (exacerbated by Britain joining the ERM and the looming Gulf War) we recognised the need to continue moving forward at a time when properties and good staff were now easier to find. Between Swindon and Salisbury is the sparsely populated Salisbury Plain, but further west lies

Trowbridge, the county town of Wiltshire. This, it was felt, was the place for a medium-sized branch to begin opening a completely new area. It is pleasing today to see it as a very successful smaller branch, linked to Swindon, but now relocated near to Trowbridge centre from its first rather ambitious warehouse site outside. The recession effectively ended for us in early 1993. It had lasted nearly four years, during which lessons were learnt which would help us to be more competitive in the future. Fortunately, we had a big financial advantage: we owned over half of the properties we traded from, thanks to the discipline of ploughing back profits begun by our predecessors, so we had enough financial muscle to counter the competition and give ourselves time to adapt to the new environment, marked by the UK’s withdrawal from the ERM the previous September. Painful as it was, we can look back and say the recession was a useful experience for us – and probably necessary.


Company changes

Albany Colour Scope In 1987 Albany’s ten-year success had been celebrated, but in the new tinting era, the brand would suffer unless we could provide a colour range as wide as that of Dulux. We joined forces with Goodlass Wall to research the tinting machine market and then when we were on the verge of trialling our own system, Tikurilla, the Finnish owners of Macphersons, bought Goodlass Wall. As luck would have it, shortly after, we were able to use their experience and expertise in tinting to launch our own unique colour range using Goodlass Wall’s Omnimatic machines which were now surplus. The range of 700 unique colours was named Albany Colour Scope which was registered for use on Albany colour brochures and selection stands in all our shops and sales areas.

During the period 1988–93 the Company saw many retirements and changes in management, which if I now describe may seem complicated and make tedious reading to some but were very important for the future prosperity of the Company. In 1988, Melvin Newton, who had been Sales Development Manager for 16 years and completed 40 years’ service, decided to retire. He started at Head Office when both it and he were very young and immediately began to make his mark. After two years he was asked to help set up and open the new branch at Chatham giving him valuable branch experience, before returning to Eastbourne as manager of the Company’s Transport Department, concentrating on buying and selling (in those days there were over 100 delivery vehicles) while Eddie Allchorn ran the workshop. Melvin’s greatest contribution was from 1972 when he was appointed Sales Development Manager, a title he chose himself because he felt it related more to the job he believed he needed to do. He was a natural leader, perhaps aided by his love of sport – he played rugby for Sussex – and was a great ambassador for the Company, respected by everyone he met. In 1976 when the complete Albany paint range was to be introduced as our comprehensive own brand, for Melvin it was a crusade and through the meetings with all the staff he gave it a lead which is still felt in the strength of the Albany brand today.

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it was vital that this appointment The other long-serving member to should be made from inside the retire in 1988 was Alan Lambert. At the Company. Brian had joined at 21, age of 8 he and Stan Apps had been worked in Sales Development and then classmates. He had as much a ran the Transport and Reprographics commercial as an accounting mind, Departments before becoming exactly what was needed in the early Commercial Manager. His new days, and when the business became appointment gave him responsibility larger and Godfrey Barber became for the managers of most Head Office Company Secretary, Alan naturally departments and all 21 area branches. filled the position as Chief Accountant, He would need help from them all, but ably looking after the Company’s that help was forthcoming, because the finances during periods of great managers unanimously recognised that expansion. Outside the office he and having one person responsible for all Stan joined forces again: as fast bowlers the operations of the business would for the Head Office cricket team. make their working life much easier Stan Apps, in the post of than in the past. Commercial Manager, was made a Also at this time, Roger Bradley, Director in 1986. This was partly in having been in charge of Internal Audit recognition of the fact that he and then Personnel took over as was taking, aged 60, increasing Company Secretary from John Grout, responsibility for all aspects of the who as a Director of the Company business. A year later, Brian Hislop took stayed on until 1999. Roger (or ‘Brad’, over from him as Commercial Manager. Above (from top): as he is known) had started aged 20 as a It was becoming obvious that, as Stan Brian Hislop, John Grout, neared retirement, the Company would Roger Bradley, Peter Richards. sales assistant at Crawley branch. Two ex-branch managers came into need a General Manager which Stan Head Office to take over the two vacant posts: Peter performed in all but name. In 1990 Brian was Richards, who started at Chatham branch aged 16 appointed General Manager, becoming a Director in (he was offered ‘four guineas’ for his first week’s pay!), 1992. It was to be one of the most important later becoming manager at Dartford and then the appointments in the history of the Company. Since Gillingham area, took over as Commercial Manager; the culture of the business took a long time to grasp,


Below right: First issue of the ‘Inter-Branch Traveller’.

and Bob Salmon, having been manager at Maidenhead and then the Guildford area, replaced Brad as Personnel and Training Manager. Shortly before, Bob Stevenson, former branch manager at Southampton, had been appointed Sales Development Manager, replacing Melvin Newton. This infusion of long-serving branch managers brought a good balance of experience to the new team of senior managers in Head Office. Another 1988 appointment but from outside, was that of Richard Dobbs, taking up the new role of Company Solicitor. So much conveyancing work had had to be put out to local solicitors that it was felt it would make economic sense to undertake this ourselves, adding to it the job of collecting major outstanding trade debts up to a certain level. (We had not realised, at the time, how very useful an in-house solicitor could be on many other legal and property matters, as we soon discovered.) In 1991 the fourth generation of the family in the business was strengthened when Stephen’s son, Mark, joined in his thirties having spent some years in theatremanagement and with theatre touring groups. Like Stephen he had an interest in wallcoverings and fabrics and took over the Head Office department when his

Inter-Branch Traveller The year 1991 also saw the introduction of a bi-annual company newsletter christened the Inter-Branch Traveller. It includes sales progress, news of products and the industry, happenings around the branches, and news of existing staff and retired staff. Fifteen hundred copies are distributed to staff, pensioners and shareholders. Roger Lee started as producer and editor and had no idea he would still be in the editor’s chair 13 years and 30 publications later. He has been assisted by Kelly, Catherine and Mike, in the Reprographic Department. All who receive it and retired staff in particular must be saying “Well done Roger, please keep it up.”

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The development of Brewers logo By the early 1930s, the use of trademarks as we understand them today had become standard commercial practice. It is attributed to Gordon Brewer that at this time Brewers adopted a black triangular monogram on a red background. This device would remain the Company symbol for the next fifty years – albeit in a number of guises. When a complete corporate image review was developed in 1993, the presence of the red triangle in any new scheme was never in doubt, as a reminder that this modern, contemporary organisation had a clear and distinguished past.


Left: David Brewer. Below: John Brewer.

father decided to take a back seat. In the same year, my brother David took the decision to become a nonexecutive director to give himself time to write the book on the Greek War of Independence (1820–1832) which he had been researching for a long time. He remains closely involved in the Company and his contribution on the Company’s wider policy and longer term strategy continues to be very helpful. The achievements of John Brewer

John Brewer at 71, retired from the chairmanship of the Company in 1993 and I was appointed in his place. John had been the bridge taking the business on from those who had been there at the start to those running the complex modern business it is today. As the first director of the third generation of the family in the 1950s, he didn’t always find it easy dealing with executive members of the older generation who were busy doing their own thing at old and new branches some way from base. But John himself was very involved in the opening and development of such new trading areas as north Kent (Chatham and Dartford) and Wiltshire (Swindon) and kept a very keen Area Director’s eye on two of the prewar branches, Bexhill and Guildford, which

had been opened for and run by our uncles Gordon 107 and Geoff respectively since the 1930s. However, John’s principal achievement was the establishment of our Head Office which, although at times had been seen from the field as bossy and interfering, had from the outset been conceived as a service support for branches and a disseminator of Board policies. As Chairman he had seen us through the very difficult times of the last recessions. Sadly he died in 1996 aged 74 after only three years of retirement – a period he found rather irksome, having been so heavily involved in the business for nearly fifty years. John never suffered gladly those he considered to be foolish or lazy or incompetent but under an apparently cynical exterior and behind an acerbic wit he had, like his father, a quiet concern for others – whether members of staff or through the charities which he supported. During the early days John spent his leisure driving his much-loved Bentley, then became a keen horseman and, in his later years, bred cattle on his small farm. In the Company John had provided the leadership for the younger members of the family, when they joined the business; and on them becoming directors he liked to think of himself as ‘Primus inter pares’ which precluded him from being dictatorial – though he really enjoyed a good argument. But he also treasured the many good friendships he made within the industry.


1987–1995 Lessons from the Recession

Below: Bristol branch (interior) and staff outside the Bath branch.

Below right: Albany in the Irish Republic.

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A return to prosperity

By the end of the recession in early 1993 we could look back with some relief that the storm had been weathered quite successfully. Only one branch closed and there had been no retreat from serving customers in all the territory we had covered during the 1980s. In fact, in 1991 there was one unlikely opening in a completely new territory. Akzo’s distribution in the Bristol area had become weakened by amalgamations of merchants there. They had found suitable premises in the south of the city but rather than open up a depot themselves, had asked whether we would operate it while concentrating on stocking of their products.

Swindon, the nearest main branch, had been started only five years previously and Bristol was just 40 miles away, linked by the busy M4, but it was felt that this was an opportunity that even in difficult times could not be missed. Twelve years later it has become a fine branch, now sited in new premises built on freehold land, with another successful branch growing up nearby in Bath begun five years later. With the easing of availability of property, we were at last able to open a small branch north of the Thames at Twickenham improving the service to customers there who had previously been reliant on the Surbiton branch. In 1992 Macphersons introduced us to a group of Irish independent distributors who were looking to develop an own brand. Aware of Albany and its success in the UK they enquired about their having exclusive rights to it in the Republic of Ireland, a proposal to which we eventually agreed. Since then they have grown to a group of 29 outlets with many calling themselves Albany Home Decor Specialists.


A new corporate image Corporate change

Anticipating the end of the recession and a new era of prosperity it was decided to change our corporate image, to include new shop fascias and interiors, letterheads, vans etc. The time had come at last to give in to our customers who had for so long called us ‘Brewers’; but for reasons of possible mistaken identity as well as sentiment we had clung to the title of C. Brewer & Sons Ltd. Our corporate design consultants neatly fitted two triangles into the W of Brewers and introduced a yellow scroll to denote the wallpaper side of the business. Later on, a brush making a stroke of paint, giving the effect of an opened roll of wallpaper, was added underneath. To replace the brown below the previous cream top, a medium blue was brought into the corporate colour scheme, not only for vehicles and shop fascias, but later on as the dominant colour in our shops. New fittings were to be set against a blue backing and new counters faced with the new logo and at the same time adapted for the computer age. Staff uniforms were provided to coordinate with the new blue livery and the old brown and later white overalls were consigned to history.

The change in our corporate image in 1993 marked a defining point in our history. It was introduced to staff at six evening shows around the Company area. As befitted the still difficult times these were held in college halls – some even in village halls – not hotels; but with Mark Brewer’s theatrical experience the presentation was staged most professionally and it was pleasing that nearly all the staff attended. There was another key message at the shows: our determination to be price competitive. Throughout the recession the trend for larger customers to drop out and for one- or two-man bands to grow in number had a further effect on the market. Manufacturers were determined to target this ‘small customer’ market through their own depots, even though the Trade paint market had decreased by 17% between 1989 and 1992, so they were also fighting for slices of a smaller cake. This led to an industry-wide reduction in prices; but of course, a reduction in prices is a two-edged sword: it improves competitiveness but reduces the monetary value of margins, leading to the need for further cuts in costs. Our new image and competitiveness set the scene for the next ten years of rapid growth. Paint and also wallcoverings were to become the main products of the Company and stocks of boards and doors were gradually reduced except at five of the older branches, where these items maintained a strong

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1987–1995 Lessons from the Recession

Right: ICI with two main brand names. Below: Akzo Nobel with seven major brand names. 110

tradition with their customers and still sold well. It was natural at this time for all merchants to think hard about where they were strongest and to focus on that for the future. With the market trending to greater numbers of smaller decorator customers for whom our service was so important, it was obvious we should concentrate on satisfying their particular decorating material needs.

Consolidation: two big players left In 1994 the Dutch group Akzo acquired CascoNobel, Sweden’s largest chemical manufacturer. Casco-Nobel had not long before bought Crown Berger from Williams Holdings in the UK. The acquisition meant that the combined Akzo Nobel Coatings Division in the UK now embraced two extra paint brands with Crown and Brolac in addition to Permoglaze, Macphersons, Sandtex from their previous acquisitions and Sikkens, their home product. Essentially there were going to be three major players in the UK trade market: ICI, with

possibly too few brands, Akzo Nobel, with too many, and Kalon. Akzo Nobel immediately became the largest supplier for the Trade paint market in the UK with 42% compared to ICI’s 18% share. A further reason for this was that ICI had not wanted their premium brand Dulux to suffer price debasement by becoming a large contractor brand whereas Crown had had much more presence in this area of the market. ICI now decided to enter more fully into this market in a bid to increase their share. Having picked up the Glidden brand name from acquiring that business in the USA they now used it to produce a range of paint specifically for the contractor market in the UK, thereby helping Dulux to remain a premium brand. Crown had been a leading brand which for some years we had refused to stock because their policies were influenced by the possession of their own merchant chain. Under the control of Akzo Nobel this changed and the Crown brand was soon in all our branches. We could then show our customers that we were the ‘one stop shop’ for most of the main brands of paint. Casco-Nobel also owned Sadolin so Akzo Nobel found themselves with two competing major protective woodstains – Sikkens and Sadolin.


Left: Happy staff again: the picture says it all. Below left: Peter Richards demonstrates the need for clean and tidy sales areas! Area consolidation

So much had been happening in and outside the Company between 1993 and 1995 we felt it important to hold evening meetings again for all staff. In 1993 the message had been ‘but don’t forget to tell them’ (tell our customers about how competitive we were); this time in 1995 it was ‘making the difference’ (between our service and our competitors). The effect was to invigorate the staff with a new feeling of optimism and belief that the bleak years of the recession had been left behind.

With the end of the recession it was clear that we needed to consolidate the 21 areas in which we operated and to reorganise the business for a future which was going to be far more competitive, and one where customers preferred to collect goods rather than have them delivered. This would mean creating larger areas with more smaller branches controlled by fewer managers; and making the larger branches smaller, letting off warehouse space no longer required for the wide colour ranges or, if this were not possible, even relocating. The reorganisation meant that the assistant managers at the larger parent branches could be given full responsibility for managing their outlet, allowing the new Area Managers more time to drive on sales through their representatives and branches. This process, which began when we combined Southampton with Bournemouth, and Lewisham with Croydon towards the end of 1992, has enabled us virtually to double the number of outlets, but with 15 Area Managers not 30, which would have been the case with the old structure. This new pattern of working provided several advantages: it gave the Area Managers the more senior and challenging job and a stronger working relationship with their representatives; it gave the new branch managers of parent branches a proper management job instead of just assisting the managers who had not yet become Area Managers; and those looking after branches whether large or small could rightly be termed Branch Managers, not supervisors. As a result, everyone at

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Wallcoverings: a victim of fashion The 1990s saw a continuing decline in the wallcoverings market throughout the UK. Perhaps the new TV programmes encouraged people to use paint effects such as rag rolling and dragging, rather than wallpaper designs? Had the vast range of colour available through computer tinting made it possible to personalise homes with paint; or was it the perception that “painting is much easier than wallpapering” or “paint is cheaper and anyway wallcoverings are for the more traditional ‘older’ people”? Wall-coverings had represented about 12% of our sales but were the more profitable part. The business had started in 1904 selling mainly wallpaper; so why should we just let our sales drift down as was happening everywhere else? But clearly wallpaper showrooms were not going to be viable selling wallpaper alone. For some years manufacturers had been co-ordinating curtain fabrics with wallpaper in their pattern books. We decided that by offering staff training in fabrics, strengthening the make-up service

organised at Cornfield House in Eastbourne, and by showing an attractive display of materials in most showrooms and selection areas, we could aim for a far larger share of the fabrics market. We had just employed a retail co-ordinator, Melanie Adams, one of whose tasks was to go round all branches and upgrade the old style of showroom and introduce displays of curtain fabrics and blinds alongside the ranges of wallcoverings to offset their subdued sales. These measures to lift the retail side of the business were included in the presentation to staff at the 1995 series of meetings; and a bottle of champagne was promised to those taking a significant order for curtain fabrics for the first time. Nine years on, when annual sales of fabrics have increased to three quarters of a million pounds, we can say it has been a success, though it has been impossible to offset completely the decline in wallcovering sales. The fashion for paint effects has even influenced the type of wallcoverings people are buying so that mainly plain colours containing little pattern (or effects) account for the majority of sales, and patterns such as the traditional larger florals are out of fashion.


Below: Mark Brewer. Right: The Brewer 1994 Christmas card. The interior of Horsham, with the new-style refit.

management level was satisfied they were doing a fulfilling job and with the right title. Mark Brewer was appointed to the Board in 1995, the third member of the fourth generation to become a Director. Continuity of the family in the business is not only important on the Board but also amongst shareholders. By this, I mean retaining shareholders’ interest in the Company’s activities and progress. The young fourth generation of the family, before they became shareholders, had been given presentations by senior managers on how the business worked, usually on a Saturday morning in a suitably located hotel. Once they had become shareholders, they were able to attend Annual General Meetings. From 1992 onwards it was decided to stage the AGM in a hotel at a time and place to suit as many shareholders as possible and to spend an hour beforehand presenting any new information, either on branch developments, products, or on matters in the accounts. It has now become a practice to meet on Saturday mornings finishing with lunch to fit in with those shareholders who work during the week. In anticipation of the Centenary a muted celebration of 90 years was tried out. The 1994 Christmas card to staff and pensioners sent a message

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of confidence in the future. By 1995, continuing the introduction of the new corporate image, much research had gone into the new design for the interior of the shops and we were ready to roll out the first prototype. Horsham branch, which was to move from its 1930s location in the town to warehouse premises on the edge of town, presented the ideal opportunity. The new style not only involved the shop area but also an open plan office next to the counter and a new layout and design for the wallpaper showroom to one side. So in a good square building, with the warehouse nearby, all staff were now working close to one another and could work as a team, rather than as separate departments.


1995–2004 West, North and East Left: Stan Apps.

1999 Ra Hu in bo rst w s( P Bo ur C aint ne ol s ( mo lin N g o Op uth a s (B rwic en nd asil h) in gs Tau don) acqu in i n W ton acqu red est ) a ir Co cqu ed un ire try d be gin

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1998

face at Head Office rather than pass by without a word. Many fairly junior members of staff benefited from Stan’s fatherly advice. For 15 years he and Melvin Newton were the double act in negotiating with our suppliers, gaining the respect of so many in the industry as well as increasing kudos for the Company. Having had Stan as such a central figure in the running of the Company we wondered what ‘life after Stan’ would be like. He had stayed on long enough to see Brian Hislop settled into his new job in the new role of General Manager. With most of the Head Office managers as well as the Area branch managers reporting to Brian it was a demanding weight of responsibility. But coming out of the recession had been exciting and the fact that we had forced ourselves to become leaner and fitter, made it possible to expand and take opportunities again knowing that we had a more secure base from which to work. Nonetheless, although now wiser, we knew we had to set standards if we were to grow successfully with the recession behind us.

1997

1996 C 6 b ane ran Ad ch am es a in cq Su uir r e Ha rey a d, mp nd shi re

1995

IN 1995 STAN APPS, AGED 69, RETIRED COMPLETELY after 48 years with the Company and 9 years as a director. At the age of 18, he had received serious war injuries in 1944 and it was not until three years later he was able to start looking for work. This catastrophe in his young life might have given him an early maturity in his sense of values. He soon saw things in terms of what was best for the Company, perhaps rather than for himself; he was another who learnt by experience the skills that were needed as he progressed up through Head Office and the Company. In the late 1970s and throughout the 80s when John Brewer had been looking for strong support in running the Company with an increasingly sophisticated and sizeable Head Office, Stan was his right-hand man. “Let’s have it straight” used to be one of his favourite expressions when he felt someone was trying to get away with it, yet he was the kindliest of people – always ready for a friendly chat with a new

aft Stan er A 48 pp yea s re rs tire ser s vic e

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A working party was set up to determine the 115 standards we should set in our shops, whether serving customers in person or over the telephone. These included: greeting customers, time to answer their telephone calls, dealing with their complaints, goods returned and even helping to load their vehicles; also how the branch looked both outside and inside. A booklet setting out the standards expected in these areas was produced for every member of the staff. Before this, though, the Company’s aims had to be established. They were: • To achieve recognition as the leading supplier of decorating materials with a reputation for being the best for choice, quality, service and value for money. • To achieve a continuing improvement in profitability, thus ensuring the long-term strength of the Company

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• To be recognised as a good employer and as a respected business in the community.


1995–2004 West, North and East

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Brewers today: Customers Brewers staff require many skills – a good knowledge of the products we sell and an understanding of practical decorating are essential. In addition and just as important is the ability to adapt to different types of customers with different needs. Serving on the counter most often requires quick and efficient service to the tradesman who knows what he wants. Customers in the ‘showroom’ on the other hand are invariably looking for a slower more sympathetic service demanding patience and sensitivity. Our sales Representatives meeting decorators ‘on site’ face a different challenge; striking a balance between selling and service he needs to respond to customers’ immediate needs. To do this effectively, he relies on the support of the team in his local branch.


Below: Rose & Crown, Peckham.

Standards go hand in hand with systems. Systems for running the business were learnt by word of mouth in the early days; but with the business spreading far and wide and communications becoming so important steps had been taken to document company systems. So by this time every company system was written up in a Staff Systems manual, loose leaf so that it could be updated. In addition each manager had a Staff Management manual, his ‘bible’, covering pay, performance, employment legislation, insurance, security etc., and there was yet another manual for staff training. Another company ‘first’ In 1996 another company ‘first’ was achieved when a small branch was opened in a high street position in Welling, southeast London, and went on to record a profit in its first year of trading. (It should be explained here that for management purposes, each branch is accounted for separately with all the normal costs of a business, including rent – internal if a freehold, interest, depreciation and HO administration, charged against it. These accurate accounts give the branch manager and staff the

motivation to compete with other branches; but of 117 course, to be fair, trading conditions and costs vary from one area to another.) Then, in 1997 a business called Rose & Crown on the main road through Peckham into London was acquired. It sounds more like a public house but in fact was owned by Ron Rose, a contractor who had decided to open up a shop which would also act as his store, mainly stocking Crown paint – a clever play on words! The Rose and Crown trading environment was real ‘southeast London’ – very different and more difficult than areas we were used to. But difficult conditions mean fewer competitors and in a freehold property the business has thrived. Cane Adam Also in 1996 Cane Adam joined us. This decorators’ merchant with six outlets in west Surrey had been established by Jim Sandison in Guildford some ten years earlier. Jim had run his own business as a painting and decorating contractor and then worked as a buyer for a large building contractor. Over recent years Guildford branch had been a wonderful success story under Derek Fallis and then Bob Salmon, but with little competition and so the arrival of Cane Adam hurt. Jim had had one or two unfortunate experiences at Brewers of Guildford and thought he could offer the decorators around Guildford something better. He based his idea on low costs, good stocks and an inviting personal service. The formula worked and to Brewer’s irritation another


1995–2004 West, North and East Far left: Cane Adam, Weybridge, 2004. Left: Jim Sandison with sons Mark (left) and Paul.

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five small branches (all in west Surrey) were opened. Other Brewer branches, like Surbiton and Aldershot, were also feeling the wind of competition from Cane Adam. Jim had two sons, Mark and Paul, both in the business and his wife Margaret running the accounts, but the sons were still young so he had been thinking it might be wise to try and sell the business, then possibly at its peak value. When Brewers heard that ICI had been approached the message went to ICI that there would be strong opposition if they took over the Cane Adam branches so a backoff was agreed and Brewers were introduced to Jim Sandison by ICI. Brian Hislop, on first meeting Jim whose business had been such a thorn in our side, shook his hand, turned him round and asked him where were the horns and the red tail. From that moment on they became good friends. Jim said that he might perhaps stay on for six months if he could be of use. Seven years later he was still working, but in Brewers opening up the west country, eventually with nine branches. But that is jumping ahead. Jim’s two sons were equally happy to stay in the business. When it was discovered that Jim had never been able to go on holiday with his son’s family, because they could not be away from the business at the same time, a Brewer’s manager, Laurence Zing, was asked to lend a

hand for two weeks and shortly after the takeover Jim was building sandcastles on the beach in Tenerife with his grandson! The six branches were left to trade under the Cane Adam name exactly as they had done before, because that was the image that their customers liked; and before six months was up Jim was asking if another two years might be all right and “By the way I think we should open another branch at Alton…”. We had thought that Cane Adam might perhaps be useful as a ‘vehicle’ in the sense that it would lead us to other projects and so it turned out. Jim had many contacts, both in the industry and in the area, and Mark and Paul were buzzing with ideas, some of which were easier to move forward under the umbrella of a larger company. Mark had taken an interest, encouraged by an enthusiastic supplier, in coatings for light industrial use, what we now call Protective Coatings for industrial floors, hygiene and anticorrosion specifications. Brewers had also been exploring the potential for what we had been calling High Performance Coatings, led by our Portsmouth branch, but as in all bigger businesses progress into the unknown tends to be slow. The decision was taken to ask Mark Sandison to move over to Brewers and to lead a new Protective Coatings


Left: Protective coatings for the great outdoors – and for the food and health industries.

Biosan breaks the mould! Brewers are ever conscious that the world is changing and that we have to be prepared to change with it, searching out parallel markets and new opportunities. The Protective Coatings division introduced Biosan as one such market opportunity, enabling us to diversify into Hygiene Coatings, without doubt a fastgrowing area in the global paint market. Bacteria are all around us and contribute to the biodiversity of our environment. However, certain micro-organisms can pose real problems to public health, particularly within the food and health industries. Biosan can help in the war against harmful bacteria. In particular it is effective against antibiotic-resistant ‘Superbugs’ which have become a wellpublicised hazard in our hospitals.

division. Mark’s 119 qualifications enabled him to write specifications for customers using these materials and he passed on his knowledge to a small group of Brewers representatives capable of covering the whole Brewers area. A base was needed to keep stocks of these special coatings and the machine for tinting them. Initially this was in a corner of the Portsmouth branch warehouse but as staff and stocking needs grew, part of Maidenhead branch was hived off to become the new Protective Coatings Division in a location much better suited to serving the south of England. The Cane Adam ‘vehicle’ was useful in other ways, too. By 1997 Eastbourne branch had also been feeling a thorn in its side from a firm based in Hastings, but now also trading in Eastbourne under the name Decorators’ Warehouse. The Eastbourne unit was offered to us but its product offer and style of trading was more akin to Cane Adam so, on acquisition, rather than jeopardising its successful image by bringing it under Brewer management, Jim was asked if he could run it as part of Cane Adam and despite the distance factor, this was successful. It has to be said however, that sometimes disconcerted Brewer managers had to be reminded that Cane Adam and Decorators’ Warehouse were no longer competitors even though all their areas overlapped


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with Brewers. Today Cane Adam still operate their own pricing, negotiate with suppliers, even run their own PC-based sales accounting system and are almost totally undisturbed by Brewer influences. Bigger – but branches smaller

Then came a piece of good fortune. The Redhill premises had grown massively since the branch was started in leasehold premises in 1921. In the post-war period it had supported the new branches in the south London area and had been the centre for a regular inter-branch network operating twice a week to make the wide variety of stock at all branches available within two days to any customer of the Company. A third of its business was in glass, boards, doors, roofing, etc, so these products (except glass) had to be shifted around when necessary. However, by 1990 most of these demands had diminished, branches had become more independent and the heavier side (boards and doors) was declining. Palletisation was commonplace, making storage easier so not only were Redhill staff rattling around in housing much too large for them but the branch manager knew that he would never be able to make a profit again with such high rent and rates. The freehold had been purchased in 1952 and it was obvious that, the land now being very valuable partly because of its easy access to London, the branch should move to smaller and more economical premises. Having been in Redhill for so many years it was important to remain in the town if at all possible.

A site divided into triple ownership that other purchasers had fought shy of was acquired after a series of tangled negotiations carried through by Richard Dobbs, the Company Solicitor, who after ten years in the Company, now had the bit between his teeth and was ready for any challenge. Smaller premises to suit the branch’s current needs were built on the site and the old Station Road premises were sold (not without a few tears!) for a substantial sum. The West Country – and Essex

Though the new premises and land at Redhill had been costly, the net benefit to the Company from the sale assisted the investment in two new acquisitions. One of these, Hursts in Bournemouth, had been a very well-respected merchant, now particularly for wallcoverings, since its beginnings in 1947. But the sons of the founder who were now running the Company had other interests and wanted to sell. They had six small branches in the Bournemouth area where we were already firmly established too, but also a branch at Taunton, which they acquired by buying a firm called Knapmans some years before. This was in a good location right by the county cricket ground in the middle of Taunton and it was in this town that we had been looking for a site as a first step towards the West Country area for which we had plans to open branches in the next few years. By buying Hursts we acquired the branches in Bournemouth which really gave us more here than we needed, but immediately we had an established business almost on the edge of Devon.


The Mollie Brewer Centre The new premises at Redhill, once most of the first floor had been let as offices, did not have the space with which we could honour our historical commitment to St John Ambulance to provide them with a room for the meetings of their local Division. A chance conversation provided information that St John County Headquarters in Guildford were looking for suitable accommodation in eastern Surrey for providing First Aid Training to outside organisations, mainly industry and commerce, in that area. Could we perhaps combine the two needs in premises funded with assistance from Brewers who would not now be bearing the cost of space in their own premises? An excellent single-storey building was found in a small industrial estate in Redhill and the Company’s assistance of £100,000 contributed to the freehold being bought and fitted out. It is named the Mollie Brewer Centre in memory of the one daughter (pictured above) amongst the seven Brewer children of the founder of the Company who had been a devoted member of the local St John Ambulance

The seeds of a future West Country area 121 were sown but as yet we had no experienced person to manage the proposed new area. By a stroke of luck, Cane Adam came to our aid again: Jim Sandison had spent his early working life in Devon and suggested, if we wished, that he might switch to Brewers, find a flat in Taunton, and begin the West Country expansion for as long as he felt able. His son Paul was ready to take over the running of Cane Adam and so it suited everyone. It was now possible to look back at the slightly hesitant acquisition of Cane Adam which was now running quite profitably as an ‘area’ in itself, and to say that this must have been one of the most perfect takeovers we would ever make. Everyone gained: both companies, the staff at Cane Adam, all of whom stayed, and each member of the Sandison family. In the next few years Paul would be adding another four branches to the Cane Adam venture, while his father Jim, between 1999 and 2003 virtually completed the opening up of Devon and Dorset by adding eight branches to the original starting point at Taunton. His initial ‘six months’ had extended to seven years of very useful service. Meanwhile, his elder son Mark had found a very important niche in the Company in developing the new Protective Coatings division. So many business takeovers end up in disaster with little benefit to either party; it is pleasing, therefore, to record the story so far of a very successful one. The other acquisition that was assisted financially by the selling of the Redhill site was Collings in


1995–2004 West, North and East

Left: Portsmouth branch interior. 122

Brewers today: Stock In difficult economic times, such as the early 1990s, stock immediately appears to be the area where cash can be saved. But, rather like the sensitivity of pricing, experience quickly shows us that reducing stock levels a bit here and a bit there, which wouldn’t surely be noticed, is soon detected and the word gets round that Brewers has cut back on its stock. The picture above is a typical view from the shop of a Brewers branch showing a large amount of stock in the warehouse behind. It tells the customer instantly that Brewers is prepared to invest heavily in stock for its customers and reflects the size of the business, giving them a measure of guarantee of satisfaction.

Basildon, Essex. Started as a shed in a field by the railway line some generations ago, Tony Colling with his father had later built a sizeable business in decorating materials all out of one warehouse unit, partly supplying other shops and merchants around Essex and east London. Collings were strong competitors to us in Essex and, like Cane Adam, ran a different type of operation for their customers which we would need to continue. Again like Cane Adam, Collings’ business would overlap Brewers’ business in the area; but it was a large turnover to fall into the hands of perhaps an even more aggressive competitor, so it was acquired and the assistant manager at Romford, John Mortimer, took over the running of it from Tony Colling under the Essex Area Manager, Paul Munday. Even though its type of trading represented an anomaly it soon became (after a move into a new building) the branch with one of the largest monthly sales of any unit and was to be another element in the diversity of the Company’s operations. Steps north

In 1998 the purchase of two other businesses took our whole operation further north. At Oxford, a very difficult town to get into, an ex-ICI representative had been running a business called Milners in the Cowley area with branches at Abingdon and Banbury – almost into Warwickshire. Both the Oxford and Abingdon premises were like something out of a Dickens’ classic but Oxford was well located within the city, which for years we had been trying to cover from Newbury.


Right: Examples of Farrow & Ball colours. Below: Selection of ‘Designer Paint’ ranges.

Banbury was growing fast from its old market town status owing to its proximity to the relatively new M40. Abingdon’s importance was also growing due to overspill from Oxford and relocation from the centre of the town was necessary. With acquisitions, staff are always the critical factor and in this case the owner wanted to retire immediately, but he left a good team. For two years these new branches were run from Maidenhead branch but they now sit comfortably, though with something of a stretch into the Swindon area under its Area Manager Graham Turner. The right mix

New businesses always bring opportunities: Oxford was a large stockist of Farrow & Ball paints and also Jotun woodstain (from Norway) which was widely specified in the Oxford area, and this immediately improved Brewers’ relationship with these suppliers. A few years before, Farrow & Ball, a small paint factory in Dorset had been acquired by two people with the right mix, one from a career in the City and the other in interior design. The factory had been supplying the National Trust since the 1950s, but it was their idea to make up a National Trust range in a dead matt finish available to anyone. On the basis of “what is good enough for posh people is good enough for me” the National Trust range caught on amongst the slightly upper middle classes. It soon became the leader of a number of brands with appealing colour palettes endeavouring to satisfy the craving for what are now generally called ‘designer paints’.

Designer Paint ranges The enthusiasm for choosing colours from designer paint ranges may in part come from a reaction to the almost infinite number of colours that can now be produced from colour tinting machines. Before the latter’s introduction, each manufacturer had a shorter range of colours with names that became well known and that people could easily relate to: County Cream, Jonquil, Dawn Pink, Narvik Blue, Eau de Nil, etc. There seems to be a natural desire to focus on a personal choice of one colour which is perhaps over satisfied by the huge selection from computer-generated ranges. The new ‘designer paint’ ranges attempt to provide the excitement of colour choice again, partly, as in Farrow & Ball’s range, by a clever selection of new imaginative names and partly by presenting an attractive palette of colours with a traditional theme.

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1995–2004 West, North and East

Below: Dereham staff with the Brewer family dogs, Toffee and Inca.

Paul Munday, to cover. Two years later, in 2000, a new branch was opened in Cambridge – beginning a network of branches around East Anglia. Opening cold, as in Cambridge, with no established business in the area is always hard but it helps to have people in charge who know the industry and who know that the firm is there for the long term.

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Cold starts v. acquisitions

East Anglia

The other big step north came with the acquisition of Rainbow Paints with branches in Norwich, Dereham (12 miles to the west) in Norfolk, and Sudbury in Suffolk. The origin of this firm was another contractor wanting to run a paint store for his own use and to sell out of it to other tradesmen to make money both ways, whilst strengthening his buying power with suppliers. Sudbury, where he had a store for his own contracting side when they were working in the area, was not far away from Chelmsford, our furthest branch east at the time; but Norwich and Dereham were a lot further for the Area Manager,

The difference between opening cold on ‘greenfield’ sites and acquiring businesses with the extra cost of goodwill was typified in Devon as Jim Sandison continued his search for new branch opportunities. In Barnstaple, on the thinly populated north coast, a small business close to the town was acquired in 2000 which was so run down, it didn’t even have its name (Crowncraft) over the door and not even Dickens would have felt at home there. The owner wished to retire and Stuart Norman, the new manager brought in by Jim, had been in firms supplying decorating materials in Barnstaple for 40 years so there was little he didn’t know. Today, having moved to a new location, it is quite transformed and has become a successful branch. Exeter was another branch that had to be started from cold and the new manager prevented from being discouraged by the slow buildup of customers who naturally have their loyalties with their existing suppliers. That is the way of the Trade; it will take some years for Exeter to catch up with Barnstaple, the purchase price of which included a ready supply of customers.


Complete London coverage Another shorter push north at this time (1999) was from northwest London where Colindale and St Albans branches had been struggling against very strong competition for 12 years. Two small businesses were bought with branches at Stevenage, Dunstable and Harrow giving that area better coverage for its customers and at least reducing the competition slightly. But the growth of the Colindale branch area in west London and Romford’s in the east did mean that the Company now had coverage over the complete London area, so that customers of other branches who were working in the London area could receive a delivery service to site or pick up from a branch not far away. For a decorators’ merchant that still had its Head Office in Eastbourne where it was founded 95 years ago it was quite an achievement! A little later, in 2001, it was possible to acquire two businesses in the centre of London which as Trade and Retail collection points would, in time, provide new opportunities. Simpson’s

Paints, sited off the Edgware and Marylebone Roads takes its origins back to a few months before the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, while Lomax Wallpapers in Islington is distinguished by a fivewindow frontage onto a main road out of the City. Their stories will be best told when the next hundred years comes to be written as their potential is barely measurable at the moment. Below: London branches 2004.


1995–2004 West, North and East

Below: The Practical Training Centre at Head Office, 2001. 126

Product and skills training

Adding all these branches meant the need for staff training was even greater. We have always felt that one of the best ways to build staff confidence in selling to our customers is to let them try out the products themselves. Hitherto, we had relied on paint manufacturers to run courses for us at their training centres and factories. When Akzo and Casco-Nobel amalgamated in 1995 rationalisation in the UK led to their manufacturing being centred in Darwen, Lancashire. In early 2000 the training centre at Didcot, Oxfordshire closed and the Akzo Nobel training team also relocated to Darwen. Although ICI still had their centre in Slough, Darwen was too far for our staff to go for training in Akzo Nobel products and most importantly in our own brand, Albany. It had long been an ambition of the training team to plan, design and deliver its own product training alongside that provided by our suppliers. Therefore, in 2001, it was decided to set up our own practical training centre at Head Office. We have always had a reputation for giving staff proper training in all aspects of the business and this new facility, coupled with the assistance of an excellent team of professional decorators, was, we believe, a first for any merchant in the country. About 550 staff serve customers in the shops, on the telephone or in the field. From these courses they learn both practical and selling skills in such products as paint, wallcoverings, curtain

fabrics, woodcare and protective coatings. New staff learn the basic knowledge of products at their branch before being invited to these courses at Head Office after being with the Company for six months to a year, by which time they would normally have been on the ‘Welcome to Brewers’ course. A vital role of the training department is to provide managers and supervisors with the opportunity to develop their skills and enable them to succeed in the business. Frequently run courses include Team Leadership Training, of which there are several stages focusing on the management skills of communication, inter-personal, team working, planning, organising and coaching. Other centrally run specialist training courses cover security, health and safety, transport and debt collection. Effective training, be it on the job or centrally administered, is one of the factors that gives


In 1998 both Stephen and Michael Brewer became non-executive Directors after working in the Company for 46 and 43 years respectively. Their great contributions had been in their specialised fields of Wallcoverings and Premises, and it is so gratifying that a son of each has followed into their roles.

our staff the edge over our competitors and another aspect of our business that continues to develop alongside the growth of the Company itself. New livery for Albany

Our own Albany brand paint had, since 1976, been an extremely valuable part of the Company’s brand strategy, but increasingly we were opening or acquiring branches in areas where the Albany brand was not known. It takes time for new customers to gain confidence in the staff of a new outlet, let alone be encouraged to buy an unknown brand of paint. This was facilitated in 1998 when the design for the Albany can was given a facelift and a smart curving wave of colour replaced the coloured circles still used in other paint can liveries (notice that the old triangle has still not quite been lost!). The staff knew the quality was first rate from working with it on their training courses, the price was

Below: New livery for paint and transport. 127

competitive and now the livery was modern and smart. So customer confidence in the Albany brand was built a lot sooner in places where it was new. After the change in livery of Albany paints in 1999, the design of the vehicles was also reviewed. While the blue and white was smart it didn’t easily tell all those potential customers in new areas who we were. By changing to an all blue vehicle, images and wording were more easily introduced. The brush painting a scroll with the tail end appearing like the end of a rolled-out length of wallpaper could now be portrayed under the name, and the logos of the main brands of paint and woodstains fitted in too. It was the first time Brewers’ vehicles had been painted in a single colour, and some said they weren’t as instantly recognisable as in the past – so you obviously cannot have this one both ways.


1995–2004 West, North and East

Left: 1959 Advertisement for Hamilton brushes. Below left: Page from Brewers Trade Catalogue 1963/4. Below right: Bristle characteristics.

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Bristles for brushes The Albany brand name or derivatives of it had also been applied from early times to another product important to the Trade – paint brushes. The ‘Albanex 6’ Flat Wall with pure grey bristle’ sold for 10s. 6d. according to the 1933 edition of Brewers’ Trade list. Bristles for paint brushes have a built-in flag (or split) at their tips are slightly curved, taper very slightly along their length and have scales that prevent bristles lying close together. These characteristics enable the brush to be loaded with paint more efficiently and then help to reduce the brush marks when it is applied. However, the only animal that grows these specific bristles is the wild hog whose habitat is in central China, with a few in parts of Russia and India. With all the political upheavals in China since the war the long-term supply of natural bristle has been in jeopardy. Many attempts at making an artificial nylon bristle with a roughened tip and even an artificial flag have been made, but the natural bristle brush,

usually made up with a blend of different types of bristle to reduce the cost, is still the most popular in the Trade. The opening up of China has assured the natural bristle’s longer-term future, provided the Chinese prevent their hogs becoming domesticated, when they risk losing that all important flag, which has evolved to help them keep warm in the forests in winter. One of the few remaining manufacturers of paint brushes in the UK is Hamilton Acorn. Its origins go back 260 years and its Norfolk factory employs 150 people. It is a sign of their quality and the firm’s marketing skills that the brushes can still be made by hand and succeed against imports from low-wage countries. Hamilton Acorn, as well as making its own Perfection brush for the tradesman, has supplied Brewers with their Albany brushes for the past twenty years. Rollers too have now become popular with the Trade and the Albany roller is also made at Hamilton Acorn but mainly by machine. taper flag scales to help contain paint


Below: Brewers at the BBC Good Homes Show 2000, NEC Birmingham. 129

The world wide web

Promoting the ‘soft side’

In 2000 and 2001 we took a large stand at the BBC Good Homes Show at the NEC in Birmingham, showing wallcoverings, fabrics and blinds. Three suppliers helped with the cost and the manning of the stand though this was mainly achieved by our own specialist staff. In both years the stand was voted the best in the exhibition. Birmingham was some distance from our furthest branch but it was estimated there would be quite a number of visitors from the south of England. Another factor was the imminent launch of our first website, wallpaperdirect.co.uk which meant that we would be capable of taking orders on line and delivering to anyone in the UK, even abroad, a fact which was well promoted on the stand.

The Wallpaperdirect website went live in January 2001. All orders are taken at CWD (Central Wallcoverings Distribution) in Eastbourne and delivered to customers by carriers across the UK. The design of the site is unique in offering visitors the opportunity to see a range of wallpapers, hung in a ‘virtual’ room and selected by their own criteria i.e. colour and design style. Encouraged by the sales on Wallpaperdirect, a new site Designerpaints was launched in January 2004 offering a wide range of the increasingly popular ‘designer paints’ from high value brands such as Zoffany, Farrow & Ball and Sanderson.

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The Ideal Home Exhibition After two years at the NEC it was decided to give it a rest until exhibiting in our Centenary year at the Ideal Home Exhibition in London. Brewers was the only stand there combining wallcoverings and designer paints and it demonstrated that, in our Jubilee year, we were doing what we could to revive interest in wallcoverings. It is patterned wallpapers that have taken the knock, the current preference being for plain or near plain with pattern emphasis being kept for other materials in the room. This is a great pity, because the use of wallpaper in Britain goes back at least 500 years and during that time glorious floral, landscape, heraldic and abstract designs have been produced, sometimes to celebrate special events, like Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Designing and making wallpaper was as much an art as making clothes and for the greater part of the last century wallpaper adorned nearly every home helping too to keep in the warmth. Whether these larger patterns will come back into fashion is a question the manufacturers must have been asking themselves for some years.

Above: Ideal Home Exhibition stand, London 2004. Below: Wallpaper celebrating Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee of 1887.


Left: Alison Brewer.

In 2001 Alison, Stephen’s daughter, joined the Company, having spent time in various jobs including publishing only deciding later on, as the Company grew, that there could be room for her skills. She immediately filled an important role in Head Office Wallcoverings and staff training, and was appointed a Director in 2003. Safeguarding the future

Between 1997 and 2001 we took on some challenging puzzles in Southsea on Portsmouth ‘island’. In 1997 a business there called B.G. Paints was acquired for Portsmouth branch. Southsea has many lodgings, bedsits and small hotels. B.G.’s customers, many of whom maintained these establishments, needed somewhere to buy all their requirements under one roof. B.G. was therefore selling plumbing materials, glass, tools and electrical goods as well as decorating materials. If we were to continue to satisfy these customers we would have to do the same. The first problem was how to get all these new items on to an already full computer system; but in time that was solved. The second problem was the surprise decision of the landlord to redevelop the premises when the lease ended in 2001. Where could we move to? This type of operation required parking, access, ground floor space – all of which were in short supply in

Portsmouth. Eventually a merchant business, M&S 131 Discount, a short distance away was found for sale including the freehold of their property. Half of its business was similar to B.G. but the other half was sawn timber and sheet board. Here was an opportunity to acquire a freehold, to re-establish B.G. on the site, and attach yet a further product, sawn timber, to our business (alas, with all the further computer problems that entailed). Well, if the Company was distinguished by its diversity, this new branch would certainly be a contribution to that! A new member of the Premises Department and a qualified architect, Paul Dennington, was immediately asked to take this on as a project, and he might have thought he was being put to the test. However, by the time B.G. had to vacate their premises, all was ready and the three businesses of Brewers, B.G., and M&S Discount are now tidily knit into one, on a single freehold site, keeping all their customers happy. Meanwhile at Surbiton, the end of the lease and redevelopment also had to be anticipated. Steps were taken to set up new units around the area covered by Surbiton branch so that when the time came we would not be reliant on finding identical premises near to the present site. A long-standing firm in Staines, Peter Wildash, was acquired and north of Kingston a warehouse unit was opened at Ham. As it turned out, we were eventually able to buy the freehold of the Surbiton premises which we expected to have to leave and by letting off part of the space we were able to stay where customers knew us, with the


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Brewers Today: Head Office Since its inception in 1947 Head Office in Eastbourne has continuously evolved to meet the changing needs of an expanding company. A total of around one hundred staff in Head Office are focused on providing all Brewers branches with a comprehensive set of support services, enabling branches to concentrate on their customers. The many general administrative and specialist functions that keep a company like Brewers running smoothly are carried out by dedicated teams with special skills. Keeping up with the latest technology has made time-consuming manual tasks much simpler. For example we have recently introduced a new computer-aided design (CAD) system in the Premises department (below right). The new practical training room is an example of an initiative to improve services to branches and has already proved to be an invaluable facility. Head Office grew out of three terraced buildings over fifty years ago; its maze of corridors and steps are a testament to the past. This rather oldfashioned ‘make and do’ environment gives the staff the feel of a traditional family business while at the same time allowing for complete professionalism in every department.


Right: Brixham, 2003.

added bonus of a spread of smaller branches around the area for the long-term future. Milton Keynes now housed in a new building took over as parent branch from Aylesbury in 2000 as the business expanded north from there. Northampton, historically known for its boot making, was now full of other industry and housing estates, attracted by the convenience of the nearby M1 motorway. Milton Keynes had sourced many new customers in Northampton, so it was decided to open a new unit there looking straight on to a main trunk road. Two years on, almost exactly the same exercise was carried out in Bedford with its perhaps surprisingly large population of over 100,000. Both these new units, though in fine locations, will take time before they contributing any profit to the Company, but since we are in for the longer term, these units are our seed corn which, with good management and patience, are sure to produce a good return in due course. Having targeted to reach the hundredth branch by our Centenary, with the opening of Northampton branch we achieved our target by the Millennium. As if in contrast, that same year, another merchant in Milton Keynes, Colours, with a very busy trade, was offered to us. By now Milton Keynes town had grown so large, our existing branch was on the south side near Bletchley and Colours was in the new town but 5 miles north of the main Bletchley branch, so duplication was not an issue. Here was an opportunity to get into the heart (if there is one!) of Milton Keynes with a business that already had many customers.

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In the West Country two new branches again demonstrated the contrast between cold starts and acquisitions. A new unit at Torquay in an excellent location at the entrance to a small estate will take time to gain business from, amongst others, the many decorators working on the multitude of hotels in the area. At the same time (2001), a small business was acquired in Brixham near to the busy quayside and after a Brewers’ style refit it should always be a good small contributor to the business. Two further branches were added in Dorset, at Dorchester and Weymouth, with the acquisition of Wessex Decorators’ Suppliers, a business that had been built up over 20 years. In 2003 it was possible to introduce two new branches into parts of southern England where we knew we were being stretched to offer a good service. In Plymouth (Devon) and Ipswich (Suffolk) new medium-sized units (5,000 sq. ft) in excellent locations


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were started, which would take on the distribution in these areas and be large enough to earn the benefits of buying in bulk. Also in this year five small businesses in Andover, Colchester, Frinton (Essex), Harlow and Newton Abbot were acquired and there was a new opening at Watford; but it will be some years before any of their stories can be told. It is an indicator of the confidence the business has in its future that all these enterprises were started together in recent times. A job well done

By the time of our Centenary it is possible to say that the Company can deliver daily to any site in England south of an approximate line from the Wash to the Severn Estuary, but excluding most of Cornwall and the Isle of Wight. Two-thirds of sales are now collected by customers who are never far away from the 115 branches. In addition to this, the Protective Coatings Division aims to cover most of England with representatives also working north of the Wash–Severn line. Clement Brewer and his sons would certainly have been surprised that the business had extended so far. But their surprise would perhaps have soon given way to concern that the ways in which they looked after their staff might have melted away. We hope that they would have quickly been reassured. The same philosophy they had held so dear lives on: the environment surviving where new entrants can gain satisfaction from their work, develop their careers and in time perhaps become managers running their own

show, and experiencing the same excitement which the early Brewer family members had in establishing their branches. It is fitting therefore to finish the story by talking about the people who helped bring the Company to where it is now: our suppliers, our customers and our staff. The relationship with our suppliers has been very important ever since Clement Brewer insisted on paying on time to keep on good terms with his early suppliers. A mutual respect and willingness to work together has grown up, helping both parties to achieve their aims. There are not many industries where the distributor has his main suppliers as his main competitors, in this case ICI and Akzo Nobel with their own chain of depots; but in the main we have learnt to live well together. We thank all our suppliers for their fair-mindedness in negotiations, their help to our staff and for the many friendships made over the years. Our customers have not been mentioned enough so far because thankfully there are so many, all vitally important to us, and it would be invidious perhaps to be selective. From the decorator in 1904 who, watched by Kenneth, aged 9, made the first purchase when he bought those three rolls of lining paper to today’s 25,000 credit customers plus many cash customers, both Trade and Retail, there has existed over the intervening years much goodwill, loyalty, friendship and many plain good business transactions. Inevitably there have been mistakes from time to time, but it has


The Company’s locations in 2004 ABINGDON ALDERSHOT (Brewers & Cane Adam) ALTON ANDOVER ASHFORD AYLESBURY BANBURY BARNSTAPLE BASILDON BASINGSTOKE (Brewers & Cane Adam) BATH BEDFORD BEXHILL BOURNEMOUTH (Hurst) BRIGHTON BRISTOL BRIXHAM CAMBERLEY (Cane Adam) CAMBRIDGE CANTERBURY CHELMSFORD CHICHESTER CHRISTCHURCH COLCHESTER CRAWLEY DARTFORD DERBY (Protective Coatings) DEREHAM DORCHESTER DUNSTABLE EASTBOURNE (3) (Head Office) EXETER FAREHAM FARNHAM (Cane Adam) FOLKESTONE FRINTON-ON-SEA GILLINGHAM

GORING-BY-SEA/WORTHING GUILDFORD (Brewers & Cane Adam) HAILSHAM (Cane Adam) HARLOW HASLEMERE HASTINGS HAYWARDS HEATH HORSHAM HOVE IPSWICH LEATHERHEAD (Cane Adam) LOWESTOFT MAIDENHEAD (Brewers & Protective Coatings) MAIDSTONE MARGATE MILTON KEYNES (2) NEWBURY NEW MILTON (Hurst) NEWTON ABBOT NORTHAMPTON NORWICH OXFORD PETERSFIELD PLYMOUTH POOLE PORTSMOUTH (3) REDHILL RINGWOOD (Hurst) SALISBURY SEAFORD SEVENOAKS SITTINGBOURNE

SOUTHAMPTON (3) SOUTHSEA STAINES ST. ALBANS STEVENAGE SUDBURY SWINDON TAUNTON TONBRIDGE TORQUAY TROWBRIDGE TUNBRIDGE WELLS UCKFIELD WATFORD WEYBRIDGE (Cane Adam) WEYMOUTH WINCHESTER WOKING WOKINGHAM (Cane Adam)

LONDON AREA BROMLEY COLINDALE CROYDON ENFIELD HARROW ISLINGTON KINGSTON LEWISHAM MARYLEBONE PECKHAM PUTNEY ROMFORD SURBITON THORNTON HEATH TWICKENHAM WELLING WOOLWICH

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always been part of the Brewer philosophy that there is no better way of securing a customer’s loyalty than by putting right promptly and efficiently something that has gone wrong. We just hope that we have matched our customers’ loyalty with the willingness on our part to go the extra mile whenever needed. If you are reading this as a past or present customer, large or small, longstanding or recent, please accept our gratitude for your valued contribution to the success of our business. Finally, to our staff who are our business. When new staff join from other businesses they often say, after a few months, “it’s like working in one big family”. It is this sense of belonging that is such an important part of the culture or, to be more prosaic, the fun of the business. It encourages staff to feel their work is fulfilling and hopefully enjoyable and to want to make their way in the Company; but nothing is taken for granted as is amply demonstrated by the introduction in 1999 of a Staff Profit Sharing Scheme. Every member of staff (except casual workers) receives an amount related to the trading profit of the Company in two parts: the first at Christmas and the second in early April when the trading results from the previous year are known. In recent good years the total sum has reached three and a half weeks’ pay but if there were to be no profits no sum would be paid. The number of staff has increased from 660 at the end of the recession in 1993, to 965 in 2003. This includes 32 Area Managers and Head Office managers, 55 sales representatives and of course, 115 branch managers. There are so many staff doing


magnificent work supporting the selling operation 137 that I hope they will allow me to use these last paragraphs to talk about the staff who are dealing with our customers hour by hour and day by day. Our representatives are our ‘ambassadors’ and the team of over 50 is large for a family company. But they are almost our sole means of promoting sales in contrast, for example, to the large DIY multiples whose promotion costs are largely in advertising. As ambassadors they represent the Company but, as well as being knowledgeable, they have had to work hard for business in a very competitive world. Always in close contact with their Area Managers and major suppliers, their job is challenging work that has changed much since the times when calls were mainly on people in offices whereas nowadays it is more often reaching people on site, maybe up a ladder, while any customer is liable to ring on the mobile at any moment. But it is they and the vital work that they do so well which will always set us apart from those trying to serve the Trade on the cheap. The personal touch

Customers speaking to our staff in the shops or on the telephone often know them so well they think of them as being Brewers. Shop work has never been the most popular job but the comments from our customers are often overwhelming in their praise. “Everyone is so friendly.” “You never get that sort of service anywhere else.” “I just go and ask Tom, who always has the answer.” The work has changed in


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recent years and though it still means being on your feet all day it is now steeped in technology. To suit the tradesmen who want to collect on their way to sites, opening at 7.30 am is now the norm – even earlier in some places. Before then, the computerised tinting machines have to be prepared by cleaning all the tinter nozzles. Staff have to know exactly how these machines work, otherwise mistakes are made leading to mistinted paint. A customer may even want a colour matched to one already in the home; from a sample the computer can provide the customer with a personalised number for that colour; the paint is then tinted and the number stored for any future need. More complicated still is knowing how to work the central computerised sales system. Speed is important so as not to keep customers waiting but at the same time all the company systems have to be followed carefully. Products have become more varied and complex. Though there are fewer manufacturers there are more types of products made, each for different purposes, intended to make it easier for the consumer but making it essential for sales staff to possess a wide product knowledge. Some sales staff acquire special knowledge skills in wallcoverings, curtain fabrics and blinds, and here customers want the guidance and assurance that only familiarity with all the collections and styles can give. But they are fortunate in having an expert backup team of three to four people at Head Office who can always help with up to date information on these fashion products. It is perhaps fitting that these particular sales staff

should have the last words written about them, because it was with wallpaper that Clement Brewer started the business 100 years ago. Then, unlike now, nearly every home was decorated with wallpaper. Were he here today he would be thrilled to watch our wallpaper specialist serving customers with the same courtesy which he offered in his day; he might, however, have been a little shocked at how many customers were members of the public who would not have been seen in the purely Trade shop of 1904. Although he would have seen a vastly expanded branch network it would have made him smile to see how each branch had not lost the personal touch as is so common in larger organisations today. As well as this, perhaps with their excitement of being part of an expanding company, he would see staff all fired up to please customers and gain those extra sales which might help the branch get to a new record or beat another branch. So it is to all our staff, present, past and those sadly no longer with us, that in this Centenary year we wish to record a very big thank you for a job well done.


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Epilogue

Reflections and New Horizons

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MANY PEOPLE OUTSIDE BREWERS ARE SURPRISED that the Company, with its present size, remains an independent family business. We are extremely fortunate and owe so much to the wisdom and energies of our predecessors. Being a family business has many advantages: staff are happy in knowing who the owners are and that the Company is in safe hands; the business has continuity and consistency, both helping to give confidence to our customers – and suppliers too; there is the flexibility to grow at a natural pace rather than under pressure from outside investors; and, most importantly, there is the ability to retain total control and be able to react quickly to events, outside and inside the Company. A commercial rarity

In the commercial life of the United Kingdom we are very different from seemingly similar concerns like builders merchants and the modern large DIY multiples, but we occupy a niche, quite rare these days, in which the personal service and specialist knowledge of hundreds of first-rate staff are at the forefront of the business. To my knowledge nowhere in Europe or the USA is there a similar-sized private business concentrating on supplying decorating materials to the Trade – the route that other merchants often take to achieve size is by forming buying groups amongst themselves. It is therefore not an overstatement to say that Brewers is a national treasure today that must be preserved as long into the future as possible.

Christian faith and ethical standards

The founder and his wife had a strong Christian faith which permeated the early life of the business, was present in a number of the people who were brought in to help run the business, some of whom were active Quakers like Jack Brewer, and is evident today in the friendly and helpful staff and in the ethical standards affecting decisions at all levels in the Company. For much of what we see today, we have to be so thankful to those, whom many of us can remember, who worked so hard in their time, not just to earn a living for themselves, but also to establish with a sense of pride something truly valuable for the benefit of Brewers’ future employees, customers and suppliers. We in our turn have the responsibility of stewardship to pass on to others in good shape what we have developed in our time. The sons of the founder who were the first to expand the business often talked in terms of launching a boat. During and since their time we have been through some storms but we are now in a larger ship and have better command of the seas. A new, fourth, generation of the family is now aboard and confident that together they can make a success of the next part of the voyage. What for them will be the new horizons? Perhaps much of the same. Unlike in the 1960s, paint coatings are now by far the greater part of the turnover, around 68%. Paint for decoration or maintenance is very unlikely ever to become obsolete; for Brewers it is likely to become more


complicated as the business extends into more specialised coatings. However, with no increase in skilled painters the Trade market is going to remain fairly static, though always requiring the service of a well-stocked distributor. The future for wallcoverings is less sure, but being the product with which Clement Brewer started his business, it is of particular interest to us and we will encourage its return to fashion wherever we can. Not many distribution firms reach our size, often succumbing to takeovers by giant businesses and then losing in the process much of their history and identity, and valuable goodwill built up between staff and customers over many years. We ourselves have taken over many smaller businesses but always on friendly terms and with a willingness to welcome their staff into the Company and to value the history and experience they bring with them. Family involvement at branch level

Customers are often surprised to find that family directors are closely associated with the branch operations. The involvement of family members in their specific branches which has been such a central theme in the business over the past hundred years will carry on in differing ways as the Company grows, giving staff a feeling of care and security, and providing the personal touch which is so much appreciated. It is sometimes said that one of the pitfalls of a growing family business is that of becoming introspective and complacent. This could be

particularly true of a firm like ours, having its 141 operational centre on the south coast at Eastbourne with historically rather tenuous connections with the main commercial life of the country. However, this potential danger seems to have been avoided by such positive steps as expansion to new territories, keeping up with the latest technology and the communication revolution, negotiating more astutely with suppliers, and generally attracting more experienced staff, altogether creating a kind of enlightenment which will be of enormous benefit for the years ahead. Mutual trust: the fundamental for our success

A family business cannot operate without the working participation of the family and here we are so fortunate that now five of the fourth generation have chosen a career with the Company. We are also fortunate to have shareholders, all members of the family, who take a keen interest in the performance and progress of the Company. But, as in the past, the key to success will be the quality and dedication of the senior managers and the close working relationship they will have with the family members who, in their turn, will continue to maintain the links with all their branches, including the smallest and the more remote. In this way a feeling of mutual trust extends throughout the whole company and if carried on will ensure many more years of providing personal service to our customers and happy and fruitful working conditions for the staff in a fine business.


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The story of our first hundred years is now complete, but we thought these last few pages should be used to record how we have tried to say thank you for the Providence that has enabled our family company to reach the size and strength that it has today. We start with our commitment to a Centenary Charity F u n d . Planning for the centenary year actually started in 1999 when we first floated the idea of establishing a special charity fund which by centenary year might accrue to a large enough sum for seeking out a major charity project. Over the years before, charitable donations had been decided on by a charity committee of Board members who assessed any requests coming in and donations made were reported to the Board. Branch Areas receive an allocation each year based on their annual turnover but these sums are not deducted from their trading profits for the year. In 2000, anticipating reaching the target for the Centenary Fund of £1 million by 2004, Alison Brewer, in the year before she joined the Company carried out a survey of many charitable organizations in the Company’s area and assessed their needs. Her words on reporting back were: “The need out there is desperate.” However, she was able to make some recommendations for the major project and we

decided to support Disability Challengers who operate in Guildford. Disability Challengers began in 1979 in a private home, and were originally known as Guildford Adventurers. Sited on the edge of Stoke Park, east of Guildford town, they currently occupy some very cramped prefabricated buildings where they provide leisure and play time for mentally or physically disabled children and young people, many suffering from epilepsy or autism, at the same time offering respite to their parents and families. Disability Challengers focus on the vital importance of play for children. Their belief is that play is in no way a trivial activity. They ask: “What is childhood without play?” Through play, they maintain, we practise for the time when we will take our place as adults in society. Some severely impaired children need special facilities to make it possible for them to play at all. Among other aids, Disability Challengers have a multi-sensory room, where very disabled children can use remote controls to change their surroundings, create stars, or sunshine, or fantastical scenes which not only assist their disability but also give them great pleasure. The need in a large and growing population like Surrey is so great that chief executive Ric Law, in the late ’90s, persuaded his trustees that he should look for a much larger site on which to create a second unit. A former school, it was thought, would be ideal. In 2000 they had a programme and a business plan for taking over a disused school near Camberley. But


Right: The site at the time of purchase. Below: Disability Challengers site plan at Farnham.

they urgently needed a donor who could provide most of the money for the site. One reason why we responded to this appeal was that we realised our backing would enable the charity to begin contacting and encouraging other potential donors, to provide additional funds specifically for renovating and fitting out the buildings. Unfortunately the first possibility fell through, but soon afterwards, a former Surrey County Council school for children with special needs at Farnham in west Surrey was found to be for sale. The Company agreed with Disability Challengers that the 2-acre site containing two main buildings afforded an excellent opportunity for them to achieve their aims. If they were successful in buying the freehold from the Council, the Company would agree to grant funds of ÂŁ800,000 towards the likely purchase price of ÂŁ1 million. Challengers Farnham

The site of over two acres, in St James Avenue adjoining Farnham Park, has the advantage of being near Farnham town and close to many arterial roads; and for us it is near the middle of the territory we cover, allowing staff and their families, if they wish, to visit it without generally too long a journey. Surrey County Council agreed to sell the site to Disability Challengers partly because their Children’s Services Department had been using places there for many children and because expanding to another unit in Surrey would enable more children to benefit

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and at a saving in costs to the Council. Ric Law emphasises that what is on offer is not only for young children but also for disabled teenagers whose needs are so little provided for elsewhere. Altogether they have 700 families on the waiting list in Surrey and bordering counties, who have been watching patiently while the long drawn out negotiations progressed for the site.


2004: Centenary Year A Chance to Say Thank You Left: Outside play at Disability Challengers. Below: Disability Challengers youth band. 144

Extra funds needed to complete the refurbishment work to buildings, grounds and setting up total about £2.4 million, which Disability Challengers have every expectation of finding without holding up the works schedule on the site. Our donation is a very large sum for a family business to be making to a charity, and Disability Challengers are overwhelming in their gratitude for what the Company is providing. It needs mentioning that we see this gift as a sum of money that has accrued over many years from profits ploughed back into property and the acquisition of businesses that have now grown in value so that we are able to give such a sum to charity at this special anniversary. I believe those who worked so hard for the Company in those earlier years would love to have known that some of the wealth they gained for the Company would be going into a project such as this. This venture of Disability Challengers has two interesting consequences. Few smaller charities like Disability Challengers ever get a chance to expand

their organisation as they will be doing. Staff, of which there are 20 full-time and often over 100 part-time, have been filled with enthusiasm and excitement now this project is at last coming about, because they can see their work expanding in addition to providing so much more help for the children. Further, the charity’s vision is that Challengers Farnham should become a new national model for “the fulfilment of young peoples needs in line with Government Policy and new legislation”. Neighbouring counties have already been showing interest in how Challengers works and – just maybe – this could be a first of many around the country where surely the need is as great. Farnham’s site acquisition might be a useful piece of case history as well as the new unit when it comes into operation being a model for the future.


Right: Work on the new building made possible by the Company donation. Right (middle): Aurora Primary School. Right (bottom): Holy Rosary School. 145

Other Charities Supported

The Centenary Fund also allowed for local charitable projects to be chosen by Area Managers and their staff, and also for those of special interest to each family shareholder, though all of these would be for sums ranging from £5,000 to £20,000. Out of the sixteen Areas (including Head Office), a number chose adult and children’s hospices and one chose a hospice specially catering for the 18-40 age group, which is a gap in provision at this present time. In Central London, help for drug rehabilitation was chosen as the most urgent need; while the family members chose over a wide range from Care for Victims of Torture to Riding for Disabled Children. Two other charities chosen by the Company need a mention in some detail. It was explained at the beginning of the story that the founding of the business would not have been possible without the £200 provided by Clement’s wife, formerly Mary Pritchard. She, it may be remembered, was the eldest of thirteen children. Her youngest brother, number twelve, Hubert George, went to teach in South Africa at the time of the Boer War. His granddaughter Jean and her daughter Debbie and daughter-in-law Carol are all now teachers there. We thought it would be a nice and appropriate idea to ask them to select a charity in South Africa to which we could donate £20,000 as a gift of gratitude to the family for the £200 so crucially donated by a previous Pritchard those hundred years ago. In the new democracy of South Africa teaching of the new generation is seen to

be so important that they unhesitatingly chose two schools to receive half each, one close to Johannesburg teaching children from a squatter camp, the other in Limpopo Province near the border with Zimbabwe, started a few years ago by the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary, an order of Irish Catholic nuns.


2004: Centenary Year A Chance to Say Thank You

Left: Fairbridge, Kent; Their new home with training going on inside and outside. 146

important historic building. Funds were urgently required for painting the large expanse of walls and setting up training rooms, a kitchen and music rooms before Fairbridge’s imminent move. The Company, having served the Medway towns for over 50 years, was delighted to donate £20,000 towards this wholly admirable project; added to which the perpetuation of a piece of paint history was a further attraction. Celebrating the Brewer Centenary

Since 1950 there had been a Brewer branch in Chatham, which was later moved to nearby Gillingham. We were approached for assistance by Fairbridge, a charity working with disaffected young people, helping them back into society either into education or employment. Their Kent unit has operated in the historic Chatham Dockyard since 1985 but they urgently needed more space. They were offered by the Dockyard Trust the former Paint and Lead Mill alongside the much-visited Rope Museum in the dockyard. Built in 1817 it has large areas of space floored with thick stone slabs and it not only met the needs of Fairbridge ideally, it also needed an occupier to help preserve it as an

To arrange celebrations for nearly 1,000 staff and 300 pensioners and their spouses over an area covering the southern half of England is quite a tall order. But the Winter Garden in Eastbourne, built in 1859 after the design of the 1851 Crystal Palace, can seat over 700 people for dinner, more than anywhere else on the south coast; so to a degree we were fortunate. Only about half the total number of staff and pensioners could be invited on the 1st of May Bank Holiday. The Saturday was chosen so that if they wished to people could stay on in Eastbourne a second night. The weather stayed fine and sunny right the way through and the Winter Garden celebration with 600 people sitting down to dinner was superbly organized by Mark and Alison Brewer and others, so that everyone enjoyed the whole evening. Dinner was


Below: Centenary celebrations at the Winter Garden, Eastbourne.

followed by an address from the Chairman before the BBC Big Band Sound took the dancing through to midnight. A popular disco followed but for those who wanted other interests there were games and a continuous showing of the Company film of 1954 starring, amongst others, Stephen and Michael Brewer. As the happy crowd left for their hotels, many tied to a centenary balloon for their children or grandchildren, they passed a Brewers’ van of the fifties, floodlit on display outside. Our Transport Manager, Philip Marsden, had put out many feelers to find an engine, cab and chassis of that era. Eventually one was found that had come in from New Zealand two years previously. A new box body was fitted and the whole painted with the Company

colours and livery of that time. A nice touch was then 147 added by attaching the number plate FHC 626 the one that John Brewer had on his much-loved cars for most of his life. During the year this historic vehicle would be attending other Centenary events and Trade Shows, proudly driven by Dave Forward, retired Transport Department mechanic.


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I have mentioned that only half the staff could be accommodated in the Winter Garden, so we had to make sure all the staff had an opportunity to enjoy an event during the year. Each of the 17 Area Managers (including Head Office) with their staff arranged the most suitable type of party for their area. These ranged from boat trips up the rivers Dart and Thames, a day in Paris, to Gala Dinners at Beaulieu, Woburn Abbey and Leeds Castle later in the year. Before any of these events, in April all staff were given a special award marking the Centenary “in recognition of the importance of every single member of staff, past and present, and the part each has played in the continued success of the Company”. Whereas for staff the award was based on salary and length of

Left: Centenary staff award Below: Centenary branch events.

Right (from top): Horsham branch present a lucky winner with his prize. Children learning about Henry Moore. The Centenary summer gift to all staff.

service, that to all pensioners was based on a flat sum. We know from previous such awards that staff not only appreciate the generosity of the Company but also play their part in passing on their good feelings to their customers who they care for day by day. Springing Surprises

For our customers the Centenary year was marked with special offers and prize draws across the branches throughout the year. Pictured opposite is the lucky winner of the Sadolin Spring Prize Draw with the staff at Horsham branch. The best presents in any family are always those that spring surprise. In July large boxes were sent round to all branch managers with instructions “not to be opened until 2.15 p.m. on 21st July”. The surprise gift, labelled for each staff member, was a beach bag decorated with the Centenary logo, containing two specially made Centenary towels and a stick of Brewers rock to take on their summer holiday.


Sponsoring the arts

In an effort to shape a holistic pattern to our Centenary year, we were interested to sponsor the arts in some form. An exhibition of sculpture by Henry Moore was held in the Assembly Rooms of Lewes Town Hall throughout July and August. Our family and business have had a relationship with Lewes, the county town of East Sussex, that goes back to the 1920s. For this reason and in consideration of the significant prestige of this event we were pleased to accept an invitation to be the main commercial sponsor alongside local authority and European funding. The educational elements of this event were of particular interest with hundreds of children from across the county being introduced to new ideas about how to make art. Similarly, adults had the chance to explore their creativity at a series of sculpture workshops run throughout the exhibition period. To mark the success of this well-attended event, 45 Brewers staff, friends and family enjoyed a private view of the exhibition followed by dinner in the splendid Corn Exchange.

149


2004: Centenary Year A Chance to Say Thank You

Below: A celebration cake reflecting each period of our corporate identity. 150

Centenary Garden Party

Chris and Priscilla Brewer’s home and garden at Limpsfield was the venue for a special Midsummer Garden Party for the family and senior managers past and present and their wives. One hundred and fifty sat down to lunch in a marquee on the grass tennis court. During the lunch Ric Law from Disability Challengers thanked the Company for choosing their charity and spoke of plans for the Farnham site. We were fortunate that some of the Pritchard family came over specially from South Africa and so Jean Bailie (née Pritchard) was able to speak movingly about the two schools in South Africa that would both be receiving donations from the

Centenary Fund. Family members were spread amongst the guests’ tables, and so it was therefore an excellent opportunity for those shareholders not involved day to day in the Company to meet the people who are thanked for their hard work each year but who they rarely see. After lunch the guests enjoyed the warm summer day walking round the garden and meeting and chatting with other staff, past and present, members of the family or the speakers from the charities. An album of photographs of “People from the past who helped build the Company” was on show and was an appropriate reminder of the people to whom we owe so much. Over thirty family members formed up for a photograph in the garden and a Centenary cake decorated in the liveries of the past was displayed in the middle of the lawn during the afternoon before being cut for guests to enjoy with their


151

tea. The three layers represented the vehicle liveries of the periods 1930s–1960s, 1970s–1980s, and 1990s–2004. Three minibuses had brought many guests from Eastbourne and as they returned in the early evening the rain began to pour down, a reminder of how fortunate we had all been.

The Brewer and Pritchard family at the Centenary Garden Party: Back Row (from left): Mark Brewer; Philip Heasman, Mike Lawfield, Charles Brewer, Nick Brewer, John Spence, Matthew Potter, David Brewer. Middle Row (from left – standing): Nick McDowell, Angela McDowell, Penny Brewer, Marion Heasman, Caroline Whitticase, Alison Brewer, Catherine Brewer, Lucy McDowell, Above left: Arthur and Alf, both South London branch pioneers in the 1940s and 50s, meet up again.

Emma Spence, Penny McDowell, Selena Brewer, Simon Brewer, Sophie Brewer, Geoffrey Bailie, Malcolm Bailie. Front Row (from left – sitting): Stephen Brewer, Avril Brewer, Lotti Brewer, Audrey Pritchard, Chris Brewer, Priscilla Brewer, Sue McDowell, Christopher McDowell, Jean Bailie.

Left: Family and managers lunch together.


2004: Centenary Year A Chance to Say Thank You

152

Dinner at Greenwich

The third main event of the year was the entertainment of our suppliers in September. Brian Hislop had organized this at the former Royal Naval College (previously the Naval hospital) at Greenwich. 150 guests from our suppliers of both goods and services, past and present, along with 50 of our senior managers left their hotel near Tower Bridge on MS Elizabeth cruising to Greenwich while champagne was served. It was a fine evening and views of the changing London scene were enjoyed from the deck. When we stepped ashore at Greenwich a trumpet fanfare heralded our arrival through the embankment gates from where we had a fine panorama of the college buildings with the Observatory on the hill behind. Dinner was served in the magnificent Painted Hall, completed in 1704, with its magnificent paintings all over the ceiling and end wall. Our guests were then invited across to the

beautifully decorated chapel (1789) when after an address from Chris Brewer, an appropriate musical farrago was performed by a small group of excellent singers who asked everyone to join in for a Brewerised version of Old Father Thames as the finale. We all then returned to the hotel by coach, but for most the


Left: Centenary celebrations at Greenwich. Below: Chris Brewer addresses the Greenwich party. 153

party went on for much of the night in the hotel bar. Our supplier guests obviously much appreciated being able to take part in our Centenary celebrations and to have the rare opportunity to meet up with others in the industry and renew friendships. Our thanks to the industry

At the Centenary of a Company it is also right and proper to show gratitude to the industry to which one has been linked for so long. During the year, we have wondered how the Company might give something back to the industry. With the decline of the use of wallpaper there has naturally been a reduction in the number of decorators skilled in paper hanging. Now that the new practical training facilities are on stream at Eastbourne we thought we would try offering courses in paper hanging to our customers and their employees, starting with those near to Eastbourne. If this proves successful it could extend to other areas and even to other products. As this Centenary year draws to a close and we try to sum up the looking back and the contemplation of the future it is perhaps fitting to return to our Winter Garden event when in my address I tried to map out the past and point to the future. I invited everyone to come down Memory Lane with me but as it was to be more a history rather than a memory, shall we call it Albany Street. There are houses all the way down and as we call in at some of them we meet the people who worked so hard for the business in the past and to whom we are so grateful for giving us much of what

we have today. Starting at No. 16 we are in the middle of one war and at No. 48 we are just recovering from another. Calling in at No. 76 they are just organising the first Albany full product range. By evening all the lights in the houses are all on, reminding us of how much of what they built, not just in practical terms, but the standards they set of personal service are today as strong as ever and which must, of course, continue. We are reminiscing on all this when we turn the corner and find ourselves in Centenary Street and can see houses on either side of the road stretching as far as the eye can see, all to be visited in the years to come.


Appendices 155


Branch Chronology Index to opening dates

156

Brixham (TDS Colour Centre)

Businesses acquired are shown in brackets

Bromley (Smith & Owen)

Some branches which were opened and closed within a few years have been omitted

• A sequence of dates indicate change of location Abingdon (Milners)

1998/2000

Aldershot (Hall & Warner)

1971/1996

Andover (Wilson Meade) Ashford

2002

1972/1983/1990/1996

Aylesbury (Decorfare) Banbury (Milners)

1977/1982/1986

Barnstaple (Crowncraft)

Basildon (Collings Paints)

Basingstoke (Hall & Warner) Bath

1998/2004 2000/2001

Bexhill

Blackheath

Bournemouth

Bournemouth (Hurst)

Bristol

2000

Canterbury Chatham

Chelmsford

1961/1972 1950 to 1993 1988

Chichester (Smurthwaites)

1980/1986

Christchurch

Colchester (AES Decorating Supplies) Colindale

1988

Cornfield House - Eastbourne Crawley

Croydon

Dartford (Smith & Owen)

1989 2003 1988

1957/1965/1987 1948/1968/1999 1947

Dereham (Rainbow Paints)

1999/2002

Dorchester (Wessex Decorating Supplies) 2001

1971/1990

1999

1996 2002

1935/1982 1978 to 1999 1980 to 2001 1999

Bournemouth (Winton Colour Centre) 2001 Brighton

1947/1964

Cambridge

1999/2001

Beckenham (Smith & Owen) 1947 to 1983 Bedford

2001

1969 1991/2000

Dunstable (TradiPaints)

Eastbourne Head Office Eastbourne

Eastbourne - Birch Road

1947 1904/1909/1928 1972

Edgware Road (Simpsons Paints)

2001

Enfield

2005

Exeter

Fareham (Peter Challis) Fareham

Folkestone

1999

Gillingham Guildford

Hailsham

1979/1983 1928/1961/1968 1967 to 2003

Harlow (Capital Paints)

2002

Harrow (TradiPaints)

1999

Haslemere

1973/1982

Hastings

1970/1981

Havant

1976 to 1993

Haywards Heath

1972/1990

Hornchurch

1984 to 1991

Horsham

1932/1995

Hove (Perrys of Portslade)

1969/1997

Ipswich

Islington (Lomax Wallpapers) Kingston-upon-Thames

1985

Lowestoft

2005

Maidenhead

1983

Maidstone

Milton Keynes

Milton Keynes (Colours)

2001 2002

Lewisham

Margate

2003

1982/2003 1973/1981/1996 1986/1993/2000

New Milton (Hurst)

2002 1999

1971 to 1976

Newbury (Metcalfes) 1973/1975/1988/2000

1999

2003

1968/1987

Frinton-on-Sea (Castles Home Care)

2002

Newton Abbot (The Paint Store) Northampton

Norwich (Rainbow Paints)

2000 1999/2004


Oxford (Milners)

1998

Peckham (Rose & Crown)

1997

Petersfield

1978

Plymouth Poole

Portsmouth (Harold Seager)

Portsmouth - Farlington

Protective Coatings - Derby Putney (Shearns)

Redhill (Broughtons) Ringwood (Hurst)

1976 2000

1999/2004 1984 1988/1991

St Leonards

1965 to 1981

Salisbury

1988

Seaford

1965/1980

Shirley (Phippards)

1972/1989

Sevenoaks

1980

Shoreham (Perrys of Portslade) 1969 to 1982 Sittingbourne

1968/1984/1999

Southampton - Chandler’s Ford Southbourne (Hurst)

Southsea (BG Trade Paints /

Sudbury (Rainbow Paints)

1999

1975

1962

St Albans

1998

1995

1911/1919/1998

Romford (F.C & R.G Turner)

Stevenage (Promain)

Surbiton - Ewell Rd (Gortons) 1951 to 1997

2004

(Derby Decorators Supplies)

2001

2003

1972/1976/2003

Protective Coatings - Maidenhead

Staines (Peter Wildash)

1972 1999

M&S Discount Building Supplies) 1997/2001

Surbiton - Portsmouth Road Swanley

1972 to 1977

Swindon

1985/1996

Taunton (Hurst)

1999

Thornton Heath (Scratchleys)

1944

Tonbridge

1989

Torquay

2001

Trowbridge

Tunbridge Wells

1990/1993 1924/1929 to 1981

Tunbridge Wells - High Brooms Twickenham Uckfield Watford Welling

1971 1993 1964 2002 1996

Weymouth (Wessex Decorating Supplies) 2001 Winchester

(Hyde Decorating Supplies)

Woking

Wokingham

Woolston (Phippards) Woolwich Worthing Yeovil

1988/1998 1990 1979 to 1982 1972/1973 1999 1987/1995 1997 to 2003

157

Cane Adam Ltd (acquired 1996) Aldershot

1996

Basingstoke

1996

Camberley

1996

Farnham

1996

Guildford

Weybridge

1996 1996/2003

Cane Adam opened since 1996 Alton

1997

Decorators Warehouse - Eastbourne 1997 Decorators Warehouse - Hailsham (ex Brewers)

Leatherhead

Weybridge (Designer Paints) Wokingham

2003 1997 2004 2001


George

Penny

Neal

Nick

= Talitha = Catherine

b.1931 = Lotti

b.1894

Fan

David

b.1895 = Muriel

Kenneth

= George Eltonton (Joan)

Jack Lily

= Martin

b.1900

Lucy Penny

b.1901

Simon Charles

= Vanessa Brown

= Dick Knight (1963)

b.1880 d.1965

Jean

Jason

= Carole

= Justin Thomas

James

Donald Keith

Geoffrey Debbie

= Malcolm Bailie

b.1912

Mary Kathleen (Kay) b.1909 b.1910 = Audrey = Jimmy Nevay (Huskisson*)

Neville

= Florence Crumble = Maude Elena Grant (no children)

Graham

d.1959

Kathleen Frank George Hubert Ruth(Nina)

Geoff

b.1936 = Priscilla

Chris

Natasha Anna Rebecca Martha

= 1. Sarah 2. Angela

Emma SophieSelena Nick

b.1934 = Christopher McDowell

Blanche

Gordon

Clare

Susan

b.1898

Keith

= Katie (2 daughters & 2 sons)

Robert John

b.1932 = 1. Mandy 2. Elisabeth

= John Spence

Mollie

= Joseph Orme (Margaret & 4 sons)

(Farmer near Bristol) = Mary Ann Hopper Chaplin b.1840 d.1930

John Pritchard b.1838 d.1893

Esther Lucy

Harry Beth Jack Kazia Yale Dane

= Michael = Caroline = Philip Lawfield Heasman

Alison Mark Marion

b.1927 = Avril

Michael

Jack b.1892 = 1. Kay 2. Betty

Basil

= Mini B (in USA, 2 daughters & 7 sons)

Arthur Nel

b.1890 = Phoebe

b.1860 d.1920

Stephen

b.1861 d. 1940

Lily Clement = Mary Brewer Pritchard

b.1859

Anthony Benjamin Thomas

2. Giovanni Deluca

Jenny

b.1923 = Theresa

b.1921 d.2004

1. Lucianno Muroni

John

Monica

(lived only 2 weeks) b.1857 d.1941

Georgina

= Emma Roome d.1880 m. 1854

George Brewer d.1881

James (Cornfactor, London)

John (Farmer, Plymouth)

* Source Audrey Pritchard (nĂŠe Huskisson) and Aunt Nina

Sections of the Brewer–Pritchard Family Tree

158 Joanne

= Guthrie

Robert


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