“Cowboys no longer rode horses”

New deals, tall stories, and shysters. Our independent hardwareman takes a step back in time with part 37 of his stories from the shopfloor.

of Curtis Holt I

mentioned our pitiful Black & Decker supplier


the Toolbank rep, suggesting that maybe the likes should become a

B&D stockist. He laughed, rather cynically I remember, and said it would be a cold day in hell before Curtis Holt stocked such crap (his words, not mine). A quick fast- forward to the ‘90s and Toolbank did indeed become a B&D wholesaler but that’s another story. So, back to 1983…

Power profits

I was looking for a supplier of Bosch power tools, to satisfy demand and, hopefully, improve the margins. In those days, all we had for research was a fat Yellow Pages (which was provided free for our own area; other areas were chargeable) and the trade magazines, of which I thought Hardware Trade Journal was the best. In fact, you are reading a copy of it right now but under a different name. With no internet search engines then, anything we needed to know had to be found the hard way. However, I think it was another rep who tipped us the wink and the salesman came, talked-up Bosch, talked-down Black & Decker, and I placed an order. And, guess what – all of it arrived the next day, no messing,

and certainly no keeping back stock for their favourite customers. I was impressed, bunged it in the window and began selling that very same day. The profit margins were better – nothing at all like the usual 50% on cost that we got with other stuff, but it looked as if we may have solved the conundrum: how to sell power tools and still afford to eat.

Quick preview The shop next door sold televisions, which in those days tended to resemble extra-large goldfish bowls inside wooden cabinets; many of them sheathed in sticky-backed plastic to provide a sensation of opulence and good living. Yeah, I know what you’re


around this time, the Ferguson TX came out, advertised by the world- famous Andre Previn (or should that be Preview? Maybe I’ve been watching too much Morecambe and Wise, if that’s possible). He told us the TX was “the best picture of all time”. Well, maybe it was then, long before HD was thought of. These old adverts are on YouTube, by the way; along with one I’d forgotten about - showing the new Black & Decker planer, smoothly waltzing along hardwood to Strauss’s Blue Danube, churning out sawdust all over the carpet. Anyhow, I bought a TX from there, but this story is about the TV shop’s roof mender who told us that we also had a

problem with ours. He was around five feet tall,

barrel-shaped, drove a new Chrysler Sunbeam (hatchback) and was armed with one of those ubiquitous Wickes catalogues, which he said allowed him to ridicule customers’ attempts to get him down in price by saying they could get materials much cheaper at Wickes. Well, that wasn’t true then and it’s certainly not true now, 36 years on. He seemed knowledgeable and open, and we believed him when he explained why we needed a new roof (it had occasionally leaked). He offered to use cheap tiles that could very well be new and had merely been surplus to requirements on another job. The price he quoted was acceptable, if still a bit beyond what we could comfortably afford. He turned up with a couple of wooden ladders, no scaffolding. I asked if he’d ever had a mishap whilst working on a roof, and he told me about the time he fell four storeys and landed with his leg spiked on a railing. He rolled up his trousers to let me see the scar. The crowd had asked if there was anything he wanted until the ambulance came. “Just give me a fag,” he croaked (no, I don’t mean that he died). He told it as a joke, though it still makes me cringe. “Common or garden trainers,” he said he wore. Maybe he should have taken precautions.

He never actually showed us the tiles he was putting on, and he was bloody quick at whisking away the old ones. Then he ran out of tiles and both he and his reticent oppo disappeared for half a day trying to source more of them. They returned empty handed and he mumbled something about being able to work around such things.

Stretching the point The job was done, we paid him and he went. And when the rain came we had even more water pouring in than before. So the boss brought down his own triple extension ladders and we took a look. The old Yorkshire stone tiles had been replaced with second-hand orange concrete ones (unacceptable for the locality) and, although they sort of covered the roof, they had been “stretched” so as to make them cover a bigger area, though at the expense of there being enough overlap, hence the leaks. To sort it we had some sheet aluminium slid beneath as a temporary stopgap. The dodgy roofer will have sold our Yorkshire tiles for far more than the cost of the concrete ones which, we were told, he may have actually stolen from someone else’s building. Trading Standards officers confirmed that the car he was using was hired. Those were modern times and cowboys no longer rode horses.


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