Saturday, 8 January 2011

"I've driven every kind of rig thats ever been made..."

So, back to the tales of the road.
It's the late 80s economic miracle.
If you haven't bought a house, if you haven't started your own business, well, you are nothing. This is the time for chancers.


I was working by this point out of the parcel company's South Wales depot, and looking to buy a house in the valleys. Been promoted to depot manager, (Which essentially just meant longer hours for an extra thirty quid a week,) Me and the missus signed up to a mortgage on a Valleys terrace, which was great, cos we'd never have afforded a house in Bristol. And two days after we move in my bosses tell me they're selling up in Wales. Gulp.

Wales was full of opportunity once the mines closed

But all's not lost, because to be fair to them, they are honourable men.
They offer me the business, for a pittance. Contracts, franchise, the whole shebang for a couple of thousand.
Of course I'll need start up capital, vehicles, etc, but they give me the cushiest patch, with (apparently) the best contracts.

But where can I find start up capital?

Well, watch while we play "find the lady"... And you should not try to use this method of raising finance. Its very naughty indeed .

First to my bank to borrow £2,000 to "buy a car".
Then a chat with my soon to be ex-boss, where we create a splendid work of fiction dressed up as a business plan.
Then off to the Welsh Development Agency who at that point are handing out money like confetti to anyone who'll start a business in the Valleys, depressed as they are because someone closed all the coal mines.
I've got my £2,000, so they give me a development grant of £2,000 and a promise of a development loan once I'm ready.
So its off to a different bank.
I've got £4,000 start up capital, so they give me a £4,000 business overdraft free for 12 months.
Now back to the WDA, who, as I have now got £8,000, give me a low interest loan of £6,000 re-payable over 10 years.
So I've now got £14,000, all  unsecured, and I had no assets anyway, apart from a Moto-Morini 350 and a half chopped BSA A65.

Most of this cash gets swallowed up in start up costs, and there's no money for vehicles, so its off to a new local hire company, who rent me a virtually brand new Mercedes 814 curtainsider lorry. This is gorgeous - and stupidly cheap. The rental is less than it would cost to buy one. What I don't know is that the rental company is trying to crush all local opposition, by offering vans and trucks at stupid prices.

"Give me 40 acres, and I'll turn this truck around..."

Lovely truck, the 814, easy to drive, comfy, fast and built on a ten-tonners chassis, so that if you did have to put that little extra on it, it didn't show.
I did drive it through the Forest of Dean on back roads with quite a lot of weight on board a few times after being warned the Department of Transport were waiting at the weighbridge at Ross on Wye.

My apparently profitable contracts promise an turnover of £12,000 a month, and there's plenty of other money to be made. Can't fail, right?
So I become the newest part of a fifty company parcel delivery network.
And the first of the fifty goes bust seven days later.

Still, no matter. I put in 18 hour days on the road, breaking every rule in the book, and the missus does the paperwork and drives as well.

The end of the first month comes. Off go the invoices. I wait a month, and there are no big payments.
I contact my big customers. "Oh," they say "we only pay on 90 days. We can pay earlier, but we'll want a 15 per cent discount."

Ah. I hadn't been told this. So I'm going to have to wait four months for the first payment, and buy fuel, and rent the truck in the meantime. Good job I didn't spend all that £14,000, eh? Just most of it.
Then the neighbouring member of the network goes bust.
This isn't so bad, actually. With a hole in the network I get offered his area. I can't afford it, but the other 48 companies cant afford a hole. Telephone calls are made, faxes despatched. A few invoices are paid on time for the first and last time. A grand is raised. I go down the truck auctions and buy a Freight Rover former bread van for £800.
I think they made Freight Rovers out of bits of old Battleships. They had the turning circle of HMS Hood and could be more easily driven through things than round them. Robust is one word for them. Sluggish is another.


Parcels are hauled round Swansea in this van by a neighbour who needs a job on a "self-employed" basis.
We're getting by.
The first big cheques come in. We're rolling. A couple more network members go bust. A couple join. My accounts say I'm making more money delivering than collecting. But it's quite difficult getting anyone to actually pay me on time.

Then one day I sit down with a sheet of paper and do a little maths. My biggest contract takes £8,000 a month. But, I'm paying the rest of the network £7,200 to deliver it all. And then there's renting the Merc. And fuelling it. ah. The contract is costing me £1,000 a month to service.
This is foolish. I ask them for more money. They refuse. I ditch the contract. My bank manager is appalled, and can't quite understand why I'd give up an £100,000 a year contract...
I keep going, with the Sherpa and a rented Iveco 45-10 to service the profitable contracts.
The overdraft grows.
More people go bust, owing me money.
Things start to bite, recession-wise.
Thatcherism withers on the vine.
There's a baby on the way.
Winter approaches.

It's all going to horribly wrong.

You can tell, can't you....

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