This post was updated on .
When circumstances led to my company being taken over by the Clarke's group, I had high hopes for it's future. With their financial backing I felt great things could be achieved with my talented staff but about six months into my time with Clarke's, two conversations gave me cause to reconsider my initial optimism. They took place while visiting their Head Offices which was based in the small town of Street in Somerset. The first comment came from the head of another of their retail chains who had spent some time working with me during our merger with the footwear giant. "Everyone in your set up believes they work for Ken Tuffs, the person, and not for SupaSports, the company, Clarke's won't like that," he confided. The next line was spoken by the head of another subsidiary company who'd drank too much wine that evening. He implied, somewhat bitterly, "That no one could reach the top in Clarke's unless their name began with the letter C." Within three years I came to believe they were both right, for the loyalty of my staff to me as a person was not appreciated or desired. The man whose name began with the letter T, found himself out of a job and, at the same time, he found a new word for all those whose names began with the letter C.
Within months of my leaving, almost all that I'd worked hard to introduce was abolished. The popular holiday system, the various bonus schemes, and the unique awareness awards I'd created all became part of history. I must confess to being bemused by this. Why were the very things that made our company so attractive to Clarke's that they wanted to buy us, were the very first things they decided to jettison? But, 'sad regrets,' are the friend of no man and the lucky escape I spoke of in my Cosy No.50 had thankfully begun. This memory will tell of some of the systems my creative mind of that era conceived. I am truly proud of them and sometimes I'm amazed that I was able to persuade my staff to joyfully embrace there introduction. I now understand why some described my methods as Machiavellian but, in truth, I was just an astute bloke whose intentions were good. Mind you, I will admit that in those days I was a bloody good talker who usually got my way.
The holiday system I thought would suit our purposes best I introduced in 1973. We had just four shops at that time and everyone worked a five day week. I put it to them during a staff meeting that it would be better for us all if we worked a six day week. "Would it mean more money?" asked one of my future managers, "No, same money," I replied, as I paused for maximum effect. I went on to tell them that it would mean we'd be be able to increase their current three weeks annual break to eleven weeks off a year. For this they would be expected to work six days a week for a five week stint and then take a whole week off. I stated that in a full year this meant nine separate weeks of guaranteed holidays. In addition they could link an extra week, once in summer and once in winter, to any of those nine weeks. This would give them two, traditional fortnightly breaks. I pointed out they may wish to buy some ski wear as well as some buckets and spades. "Eleven weeks paid holiday a year is on offer, but this cannot happen unless you are 100% behind me on this idea. "ARE YOU WILLING TO MAKE IT WORK?" was the question I asked!
There was not a single dissenter and everyone cheered. I told them how this would enable us to run the company with less staff and that would, in time, mean increased wages. I explained the nuts and bolts of how it would work and said that I would soon announce the names of a new roving relief SupaTeam. This talented team would take over from the staff of each branch on a new holiday weeks off rota, relieving the entire staff for the week. I can still picture two friends from the Woking branch who, there and then, started to plan a golfing holiday together. Without sounding too conceited, I had them all in the palm of my hand that evening. It was a truly wonderful feeling to see them so pleased. The new holiday system worked like a dream and my relief SupaTeam followed my instructions, ensuring all of the shops got closer to the standards I desired. Within six months I was ready to introduce my next idea, which was to create something which would be known as, 'The Awareness Awards,' bonus. To make the staff accept it would be a fascinating challenge, for it meant every single one of them voting for a reduction in their weekly wage!
During the weeks my SupaTeam had been relieving and improving each branch, I would sometimes say, "In Bed Or Out Of Barracks," to those on holiday who hung around our shops. This was an expression I'd often heard spoken by Walter Brooks, the gun shop manager during my time working at Jeffery's sports shop. I agreed with it entirely. If he caught us hanging around the business during our day off, or even during our lunch break, he would bark the above sentence as he gave us a job. That's how I insisted it was with us and I decided to introduce my version of that old military mantra. I said there was nothing worse than an off duty member of staff wasting the time of those trying to work. "If I can see you, you're at my call," was my threat and that line ensured my colleagues enjoyed their holidays far away from work. Meanwhile, I was asking the opinions of all our staff on a whole host of work related subjects. "What could be improved within the company," was my most asked question, as well as, "Are you aware of anything that's wrong with your shop?" If they had a good answer for the latter, I'd ask why they hadn't done anything to put it right? I used much of the information gained when I held a further staff meeting. This one on their awareness of what was required to make their particular shop, the perfect SupaSports branch.
There is an expression often used it the United States that says, 'Like shooting fish in a barrel.' It means an undertaking that is so simple it is guaranteed to be entirely successful. I realised within minutes of the start of my 1974 staff meeting that my endeavour to launch my Awareness Awards would be like that. By the meetings end I was confident they'd all be voting for a lower basic weekly wage. For weeks I'd been asking for some suggestions on what it was essential to be aware of within their shops, and that night the answers came in thick and fast. Below are listed a few of the many common sense suggestions they made.
To always be aware when a customer entered the shop.
To handle awkward customers with charm.
To ensure ones personal appearance is impressive to customers.
To ensure the carpets and shelves are cleaned daily.
To try ones best to be popular with your working colleagues.
To make sure all offers are correctly priced with offers clearly shown?
To always follow the companies high to low sales system?
To ensure ones product knowledge is impressive to customers.
To do ones best to pass on your knowledge to your co-workers.
To make sure the shops shelves are stacked in their correct price and size order.
To always greet your customers cheerfully?
Hundreds of suggestions were made and were writing down. Good natured arguments took place as did much laughter. One manager argued that his shop was already doing all these things, only to be politely contradicted by my entire roving SupaTeam. They said that during the weeks of the rota when they regularly took over, they found varying failings in all of the branches. I then handed every member of staff a draft sheet of paper which contained all of the concerns voiced to me in recent weeks. I had condensed them down to under twenty five headings which also covered the suggestions made during that nights meeting. "Tell me which one of you would be unable to achieve these objectives," was my question to them all. Nobody came up with a negative response and the majority said it would be a doddle. That was what I wanted to hear and so I challenged them to put their money where their mouth was and agree to reduce their wage by ten pounds a week. I knew that my long desired Awareness Awards were close to becoming a voted for and popular reality. I could tell I had my trusting staff completely enthralled.
Bearing in mind that this happened in the mid 1970's, you should know that an on line search shows that back then one pound sterling had the purchasing power of at least eight pounds in today's money. Some searches put it even higher at sixteen pounds plus. Therefore, my challenge to the entire staff that their weekly wage be should be cut by Ten Pounds was an almighty big ask, for at the lowest estimate it would exceed eighty pounds in today's money. If they agreed, I informed them, I would start within the month a new four tier bonus system. One of these would be called the Awareness Awards scheme and, on a weekly basis, they would each fill out a simple form. This form would cover the twenty five points they had just agreed would be child's play to achieve. Against every point they would place a tick or a cross, depending on whether they'd achieved it successfully. For every one they ticked, they would earn one extra pound, and for every one they crossed, they would have a pound deducted. "Twenty one ticks and three crosses would mean your Awareness Awards Bonus for that week would amount to eighteen pounds," I excitedly informed them, "That's eight pounds more than the ten pounds wage drop you've all agreed to give up!"
The questions started to flow, "Who'd do the marking on the forms," was the most asked question. "You would, you'd mark your own weekly sheets," was my reply. The memory of the uproar that followed that statement I will never forget. "Where's the catch," said one of my best salesman and I replied there wasn't one, "We just want you to be constantly aware of how great our shops can become, the more money you earn, the closer we'll be to achieving that aim." I then told them, scanning the faces of all who were there, "It is important to emphasise the trust shown in each of you, very few companies would allow their staff to award their own bonuses." That got some cheers, but I then warned that I would visit all the shops regularly and I'd scan each persons weekly self appraisal. I went on to say that I would have the power to alter their markings if I thought they were wrong. "If I find you deserve just fifteen ticks, that's what you'll get. This would mean that when your ten crosses are deducted from the fifteen ticks, you'll be left with an Awareness Award bonus for that week of just five pounds!" I emphasised that it was all about trust and confidence. "Trust in me to always be fair and confidence in yourselves to carry out what you've all agreed will be a doddle!" I then put my suggested Awareness Award scheme to the vote and everyone eagerly voted for it's introduction. I'd had no doubt at all that my talented staff would do so.
It was important that the paper work for the above be simple and I ensured it could be completed in just twenty five strokes of a pen. Two to three minutes a week admin time from everyone, soon rewarded us with some near to perfect, well run shops. The costings for my Awareness Awards had been worked out in advance and were so affordable, that before long the results showed. We were able to expand the company and we opened a new shop in the town of Horsham. We then opened a central warehouse in some empty farm buildings where I based myself. We soon moved our Guildford shop to a much larger site in the high street and then did the same with our Woking branch. We opened a large prime site shop in far away Bristol, and we checked out other potential towns like Slough, Maidenhead, Staines, Hammersmith, Wimbledon and Dorking. Before long, we had thriving shops in those towns as well, and more were to follow. My farm Warehouse was no longer big enough, so we moved to an enormous custom built warehouse with plush offices, conveniently close to my home. Throughout this time, everything ran to plan. Our staff continuing to work their six day weeks, as they happily awarded themselves bonuses via my Awareness Awards scheme. Times were better than good for us for us all, they were truly excellent!
The years passed and I was forever updating our sales campaigns and finding ways to increase our profits. I won't bore anyone with what they were or why they worked so well, suffice to say that money making for both the company and it's staff, came easy to me. When they'd voted for the Awareness Award system, I knew they'd given me absolute power over their weekly pay. Did I ever misuse it to get rid of someone who I'd found troublesome? Of course I did, but only rarely. My co director, David Watson, no longer had any say in the buying or selling of stocks, nor the employing, training or motivation of our staff. They all came under my domain entirely. He did play a vital part in finding new sites for our expansion and much of the design of the shop fitting was down to him. I found such things exceedingly dull and David did them well. He also ran, with a small staff, our administrative offices and he did this admirably. My only contact with this side of the company was the co signing of the company cheques. David was a strange man and in the main a good one, but he seemed to resent the way I monopolised so much. Looking back that resentment was understandable. He enjoyed more than anything his Saturdays in our Guildford shop serving attractive ladies, that's where he was at his happiest and that's where he belonged. I'd gone the opposite way and I had stopped serving customers after our Farnham shop opened in 1972. My talents lay elsewhere and all of my efforts went into the continued building of my beloved company. I must confess I thought those halcyon days would last for ever but, in the early 1980's, I found I was wrong. I'd underestimated the strength of those whose names began with the letter C, for everything came to a sudden and unexpected end.
What was my reason for writing this long history of a forgotten time in my life I ask myself? I think I wrote it mainly for the friends who knew me back then, but it's also because of my promise to my children, Kathryn and Morgan, who do not wish our yesterdays to die. I also think it's important for my ego that my children understand how fertile and creative my mind was, that there was once a time when I believed I could achieve anything and for a while I made it so. That cannot excuse my occasional arrogance of today or my continued expectation of being always thought right. It may, however, go some way to explaining my occasional delusions of self importance, if that's what they are.
After my time had ended with SupaSports, it sadly did so for many of my loyal staff. Within weeks over a dozen of the top ones had walked out in disgust. In a way I consider it was my failure that let them all down, for many were to lose money in failed ventures in the years that followed. Nobody was to lose as much as me, however, for I lost both money and friends. People do not like their hero's to fail and in time I lost touch with most of my one time colleagues. Clarke's, as I had often warned them, did not make a success of SupaSports and within five years it was no longer in existence, and the company I built so lovingly, was no more. David Watson continued to work for them until his contract was fulfilled and, ironically, he ended up buying S.R. Jeffery and Son Ltd, the shop where he'd first met me. The place where I'd first heard the shout from dear old Walter Brooks, "In Bed Or Out Of Barracks!"
This post was updated on .
This tale tells of a seldom spoken of era of my life. It tells of how a man whose name began with the letter T, took his staff towards the peak of their potential. Only to see many of their dreams crushed by those whose names began with the letter C.
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