A blog on progress since graduating by Sandy Boyd, winner of the Design Award on the 2011 -12 professional cabinet making course at the Chippendale International School of Furniture.
“Just buy the place – you really can’t lose at that price”. That was Anselm’s advice to me when, during my second term at Chippendale, I tentatively showed him property particulars relating to a disused fish processing plant on the pier at Gairloch, Wester Ross, where I already had a house that I intended moving to after the cabinet making course.
At 414 sq meters it is an intimidating size and I would not have considered buying such a place had it not been available for a song, due to a liquidation sale. It also has the all important 3 phase power supply. Bankers had being trying to recoup their losses on it for 6 years.
In the end, with advice similar to Anselm’s from a surveyor friend and the local council’s business start up advisor, they got 10% me and my lawyer had another 2% on top of that; the total would not buy you a new mid range car these days.
Every visitor gravitates to the pier so straight into business selling my nautically themed commissions to tourists smitten by the romance of the West Highland seaboard? Not quite, there are a few issues to address, not least of which is the loft conversion at our house that Catherine rightly insisted should take priority.
This job is a story all on its own and nothing to do with cabinet making except that without Chippendale School of Furniture I would never have had the confidence to tackle all the heavy duty joinery.
To paraphrase Anselm “if you can build a box you can build anything” – it’s just a pity that I had already done the planning and building control applications before I learned his views on these particular matters!
There is also some boring stuff that goes hand in hand with a building like this. I have been speaking with the Highland Council about the rates, the building does not qualify for full remission under the Scottish Government small business scheme as the rateable value is too high, however they are allowing me some latitude whilst the business is being developed and have been unexpectedly helpful.
Getting reconnected to the electricity supply required a large deposit (£2,000) because, as a new business, I have no credit rating; every supplier told me the same thing.
Finding out who was responsible for the re-connection (the previous occupant having been disconnected as a bad debtor) was also a bit of work. The whole industry is now a bureaucratic nightmare created in the name of capitalist dogma. It was still “Bruce the Hydro” that turned up to flick the switch, as every local confidante predicted it would be.
Water supply for a business now follows much the same pattern but I gave up on ploughing that particular mine field when I found a stop cock and realised that we were good to go. No doubt they will come and find me at some point: I have not even started on telephones yet and I also have to pay to get my buckets emptied (in addition to any rates charged).
I spent some time speaking with a very nice lady at the NFU mutual office in Dingwall and, although I had a cheaper quote on line, I decided to take their building and general business cover because they offered to tailor things to my exact needs as the business develops and to come and see what was what on site.
You don’t get that service by speaking to a call centre in Calcutta and, in the end of the day, what we want insurance to do is to payout when things go wrong so I reckon the better informed of your actual circumstances the insurers are the more chance there is of that happening.
I dealt with a family firm in Barry, South Wales, imaginatively called “Used Woodworking Machines”. They seem to be the only used machinery supplier online that actually tells you how much money they want for an item.
Again, I could have had cheaper by doing the rounds of sales and private disposals but, being remote from the centre of things, that would have cost me more in time, effort and transport in the long run.
As it is I got a package deal on a full set of heavy machines, a single delivery charge, I have some kind of guarantee and everything is fitted with DC brakes ready for workshop sharing and tutoring or employing in the future.
Moving into December I will be setting up the machines. I have one commission from my exhibition at Chippendale and recently acquired a “friends and family” for a rocking chair, together with several word of mouth local enquiries about restoration work.
I doubt there will be masses of other work coming in the near future but I have plenty to do at the house and in developing and marketing the workshop premises.
Phase one involves creating a machine shop and work bench space, tidying up the frontage cosmetically, and creating some sort of showroom space in time for next tourist season.
I still have to clear out a lot of stuff left over by the former owner, some of it, like the refrigeration plant, will raise cash in scrap value and some of it is just a nuisance – anybody want an artic lorry load of polystyrene boxes ? No? I thought as much!
As with the house I can do much of the building work around the place myself with a bit of help where needed – there is an interesting bartering of labour system goes on here among various self employed people. I quickly realised that playing the self help game in a remote area requires practical transport so out went the X trail and in came the Sprinter van.
It is all a bit nerve wracking at the moment, spend, spend, spend and no guaranteed income from it in the near future. Fortunately, I have cash to invest and I certainly would not advise anyone to take this deep end approach if they were dependant on borrowed money.
For me this is a second career and I am investing savings in both the house and business to achieve a lifestyle that I want. Not the most business like approach I know, but at fifty years old I have decided it’s a now or never. One thing I would advise anybody to do is get a decent accountant in on the act as soon as possible.
Their services don’t come cheap but even without having done much business yet, due to my accountant’s advice, I have been able to reclaim serious amounts of tax paid on other income, worthwhile even if he did claim around 20% of for his trouble.
I used the lifestyle business phrase when talking to the local Business Gateway advisor and quickly realised it was a mistake. In the midst of a recession the authorities are focused on supporting business that bring immediate employment and the more the merrier.
Not that they were offering me anything other than advice (and a bit of leeway with rates) but if anybody out there is banking on government support of any kind be warned, you need to dance very much to prescribed tunes!
So, by this time next year what will Wester Ross Woodwork look like? Well, if all goes according to plan we will have a presentable if somewhat utilitarian building with a “shop front” displaying examples of my own and other woodworker’s products (along with perhaps some leather or glass work made by my tenants, if I’m really fortunate).
My fellow Chippendalian, Liz, and I will be sharing spacious workshop accommodation on the main ground floor area and we will have made a decision on either incorporating the first floor section into that facility or splitting it for rent, depending on how we see our plans for a teaching or training element developing.
We will have a smart new logo designed by a local professional graphic artist adorning the van and our local adverts and, because I have to actually do some woodwork at some time, my wife Catherine will be busily putting it to good use by applying the internet marketing skills she will learn on the free Gateway course – watch this space!