Climbing the foothills.

Our house in Formby had sold as quickly as the Lee-on Solent house had been purchased with the aide of  the Bristol & West Building Society, but unfortunately the lawyers hadn't kept up. When I moved my family - including our Burmese cat - south from Lancashire to Hampshire we had to take up temporary residence in the Bellevue Hotel while  awaiting completion. After a few days of this and with the imminent arrival of our furniture van I borrowed the keys to 45 Raynes Road from the estate agent and without further ado we all moved in. Word quickly spread back to the seller, the solicitor and the agent; much consternation all around! However, possession really proved to be nine tenths of the law. It's amazing how our nation's legal machinery can grind into fast forward when it sees no reasonable option!

So, within three weeks of first seeing Raynes Road we were fully ensconced in our new home and all the children had 'signed up' at their new schools. Karen would then have been fifteen, Julie twelve, Robert nine and Stuart six years old. Joan was talking about getting some sort of part time job. As with many women who've been a number of years out of circulation bringing up their families, and even though she was an extremely capable woman she was nervous about the prospect. However what she lacked in confidence she made up for in good old Yorkshire grit. It wouldn't be long before she was doing the rounds of housing estates selling freezer meals on commission. How was I feeling about that? Not very good, I'm afraid. Not entirely supportive. I saw no need for her to work other than at the arduous task of running our household and the lives of all who lived in it. Also we had decided that our new abode should be seriously upgraded. As I was away for much of the time I thought the work would need close supervision. Upgraded? For a start we wanted an open fireplace and that entailed running a chimney flue up from the living room right through the middle of our chalet bungalow then chimneyed out through the roof. Then there was the little matter of the derelict swimming pool at the bottom of the garden. And so on ... As I've indicated I had to give way on the issue of Joan's employment but circumstances would soon enough cruelly conspire to scupper her ambitions.

Meanwhile we were moving into our new offices at 26 High Street, Fareham. Mine was the second best / biggest office after Alan's, the managing direcor's, on account of I would be the one entertaining our visiting customers. That wasn't bad, considering we hadn't yet acquired any! Nevertheless I interviewed and hired a secretary, Irene Smith, and began the task of planning our first trade exhibition at London's Alexander Palace; also, finding and recruiting a pair of salesmen, one for the north of the UK and the other for the south. Enter Alex Matthewson and Ted Pool, respectively. Both were a few years my junior and both would be with me and Sweetheart International for the next seventeen years. They were top class industrial salesmen (and company men). They were also my friends and I still correspond on occasion with Alex and with Ted's widow, Jane. Straight away I sent them to follow in my footsteps at Sweetheart U.S.'s  Baltimore College of Product Knowledge. After a while I phoned the boss there to ask how they were doing. There was a pause then, not without humour I trust; Hey Bryan, is this your idea of revenge for our GI invasion? Lively lads they certainly were.

I had begun making field sales contacts, some of whom I knew from my past at Lily Cups and some who'd never heard of me or this weird sounding new Sweetheart Plastics potential supplier of packaging. That's when I and my colleagues suffered our first major shock. It transpired that Henry Shapiro, before investing his money with Sir Julian, had met in the States with the UK's Walls Ice Cream head buyer, Vic Jones. He (Henry) had assured me that an order for millions of our initial product - the fluted mousse cup - was just awaiting my first visit to their immense Gloucester ice cream factory. When I arrived, unfortunately I was informed to the contrary. There was no such order for us!

(*********** To try to explain the commercial situation I've just written and and have now eliminated a complete summary of the history of Sweetheart and the world's cups and containers industries. It is marginally relevant and a truly fascinating story but one for another time and probably another voice.)

So, at our first Board meeting  I was confronted with having to tell Henry Shapiro and the rest that, if their venture had been based on a great big Walls Ice Cream order, forget it. Vic Jones has told me there had been no such agreement, verbal or otherwise. Some misunderstanding! We had a factory and an office, skeleton staffing, heavy machinery on its way over the Atlantic complete with said mousse cup tooling, and no orders. To their eternal credit neither Henry nor Sir Julian walked away, switching off the lights and closing the door behind them. These multi-millionaire businessman, both of them now long departed, were made of sterner stuff. After something of a pregnant silence, Henry said, OK, so so how  you going to tackle it? I made one of the best presentations of my life, including a complete digest of the UK dairy and ice cream industries and the parts of its weak underbelly that I thought we could profitably exploit.

Henry always hosted dinner for the management and Board at one of the better local restaurants when he came to the UK, then south out of his home from home at London's Connaught Hotel. That first occasion the food was deemed excellent. Expensive wine flowed freely as he told us about his father Joe Shapiro, a Russian Jew emigre arriving in the States during the 1930's, penniless and without a word of English either spoken or written. He obtained a job making ice wafer cream cones by cooking the mix on flatplates before rolling them by hand. For years he saved every penny whilst designing a machine to do the job much faster and with no hand blisters! Rather than sell his invention he rented a tiny factory and the rest, as they say, is (typically American) history. After he'd finished Henry looked around the table. You guys have it easy, he said. It's all out there for us. Go get it. He also said something else that I can never forget. It may well be the fundamental secret of American business success over the rest of the world. Remember this, he told us; everything inside this company's office and factory creates nothing but costs. It's your job to manage those costs, but all profit comes from outside; from the customers paying our invoices.

Two months after switching on that first extrusion - thermoforming line we had forty - yes, forty million unsold 4 ounce fluted mousse containers FM100 stacked up in a specially leased warehouse. For me that was a time of nightmares as that damned great machine churned out the buggers at the rate of half to one million a 24 hour day. And then at last we secured our first sale - to Lyons Maid in Liverpool.

We were finally up and, if not exactly running, at least staggering forward.

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