Our independent DIY retailer looks back at a time when ‘special deals’ and ‘limited availability’ products offered a way of sharpening profits and ponders on what would have happened if Covid-19 had struck in the 1980s.

it might have been Castle Hardware in the Midlands – had some special lawnmower deals, strictly limited in availability. One was for a pallet of Qualcast Concorde mowers, and the other was a pallet of McCulloch Mac33s. Both were priced well below the usual. I fancied having a go at the Concordes as we’d had no experience of them, apart from being constantly asked for spare drive belts. But we could only state a preference and accept the one alternative should our first choice be unavailable (if there were any of those left, I assumed). What turned up was a load of Mac33s and when I took one out of its box to assemble it for display, I sort of (please don’t laugh) fell in love with the livery – yes, the absolutely stunning yellow and black, beautifully enamelled. These were part of the Black & Decker range, and I assumed they were running this model as they didn’t yet have their own cylinder mower (the later B&D model would be a copy of this but in blue, which lacked the classy looks). And I got

B to thinking about

the servicing of mowers and that providing this could very well become a profitable addition to our wares. But how the hell did you, me or anyone, actually sharpen the cylinder with all the twirly blades?

Biscuit friendly Well, a typical mower cylinder had only three blades, but needed to be sharpened on a specialist cylinder grinding machine, which I was told would cost well over a thousand pounds and back then was something we couldn’t afford. So I began ringing around for a second-hand unit. Remember, there was no internet and all research was done the hard way. Fortunately, directory enquiries was free to use,

26 DIY WEEK MAY 2020

y this time in 1984 our expanded shop had been operating for a couple of years, and one of the wholesalers – I think

and I believed in ethical trading. It was a pity that, as time went by, I discovered that many other fellow traders believed that ethics was a county just outside London. These

insights into another

trader’s practises didn’t end there: he also had stocks of the B&D R1 mower, a bog-standard rotary without grassbox. We also stocked this one (it sold for £30), only his were in boxes labelled Tondeuse Electrique and I wondered how on earth he’d acquired some French grass-cutting kit that he was able to sell in the mid-£20s. Hmm, curious.


but was still a bind when compared with simply typing into a search engine. Very few people I spoke with had any clue about what I was asking for and the nearest I came was a hardware shop in a village around five miles away that specialised in mowers and did, in fact, service them on the premises. He offered to grind any cylinder and bottom blade that I took to him and was most insistent about the bottom blade that was fixed to the underneath of the chassis. Over the years he’d had customers who fancied they could save servicing costs by stripping out their own cylinder and just taking that to be sharpened. I was unaware of this but, if you think about it, it’s common sense that blades need something against which to cut. When I took him the first job, I was amazed at his set-up. He had an outhouse stuffed with Honda petrol rotary movers, each in huge boxes (I’ve since joked that these must have been the same engines

“I discovered that many other fellow traders believed that ethics was a county just outside London.”

Honda lumbered the McLaren F1 team with in 2015). He also sold lots of butane gas and – wait for it – pet food that customers bagged and weighed themselves. I remember him telling me that making space for a range of biscuits would make a whopping difference to our turnover. Alas, that was something I never went with, partly I think because, unlike him being a sole village shop, we shared a town centre with two other pet stores

I’ve been wondering how my boss and I might have coped if the current Covid-19 had been allowed to escape and pose its threat to mankind back in the 80s. Certainly I believe that the death toll would have been much greater, even with a smaller population (by around 11m) as communication was nothing like it is today. We had only four TV channels, no mobile phones (let alone smartphones), no video messaging nor means of accessing information quickly. Warning people of the dangers would be down to billboard posters, public information films on TV, and actual newspapers. No doubt responsible shops such

as ours would display posters in their windows. There was no online shopping and working from home just wouldn’t be an option for most people. But I can imagine that some would be blissfully unaware of a lockdown and find themselves wandering around the tumbleweed- strewn streets and wondering why none of the shops was open. I think that as a shop we would have offered an all-day delivery service to keep our customers busy and their homes in tip-top order, and as lockdown eased we’d need to get hold of a nuclear fallout suit so we could catch the shoplifters. On reflection, I think it’s better that this horror has happened now and not then.

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