Chapter three describes the company's turbulent progress through the years, 1933 through 1937. During these years the company recorded increasing trading losses and only managed to exist with the principle shareholders making small loans available.
It will be seen that in 1933 the company was having problems in employing a permanent factory manager and this eventually led to the position being offered to a Mr John Forman. John James Ernest Forman joined the company in 1934 as the Factory Manager and became a director in 1937. In the 38 years he served the company it can be said that he made a major contribution to its successful growth. From 1938 he became a close associate and colleague of Dr H Simon.
When John Forman arrived at the factory in 1934 he was shocked to find a dilapidated building, prone to flooding and with outdated polish making equipment.
In 1935 the turnover was often less than £50 per week and the Bostock family were getting very concerned about the increasing trading losses. One of the principle shareholders, Mr A Axelrath, resided in Germany. Due to currency restrictions he was only able to transfer small sums of money to help with the running of the company.
The situation did not change significantly in 1936 and it was frustrating for the manager - John Forman to have little support from the people who controlled the company in Stafford.
Further trading losses were still occurring in 1937 and it was with considerable relief that John Forman learned from Mr Axelrath that he had found someone who would invest money in the company and become a partner. This gentleman was Dr Hermann Simon who was to arrive in England from Germany with his wife and two children in January 1938.
During a meeting of Directors, held on Wednesday 4th January 1933 at Messrs Lotus Ltd., Sandon Road Stafford, the sales position was reviewed. The initial introduction of the polish and the special Christmas offer were very well received (Glover Street produced 25,000 tins which proved insufficient for the demand. The total taken by the agents were 30,780).
Experience showed a marked indifference on the part of agents to reorder. A means of stimulating sales was therefore necessary and while Mr Niclas was anxious that Lotus advertisements should contain a reference to polish, Mr H Bostock stated that he was doubtful as to the value of advertising of this nature and suggested that some quicker stimulus was needed. to generate repeat orders. Many suggestions were discussed on how to ovecome the conservatism of the public.
Mr HJ Bostock pointed out that polish company salesmen only had polish to sell whilst the Lotus salesman's prime task was to sell shoes and then polish and other sundries.
The directors agreed that the Lotus travellers (salesmen) should receive a commission of 5% on all polish sales.
Mr H J Bostock said that he would write to the Lotus travellers asking for their support in the development of polish sales.
Finally there was a discussion on finance. The Company needed additional capital, and it was agreed that the four shareholders each of whom contributed £250 to the initial capital of £1,000, should now advance £150 each by way of loan, free of interest, this would provide a further £600. The loan would be regarded as additional share capital and not receive interest until a dividend was paid on the shares.
At a meeting held on 20th March 1933 in the presence of Mr H J and Mr J F Bostock, Mr Jolles and Mr Axelrath the accounts were presented by Mr. P Lingwood and showed a loss of £83 15s 7d.
These figures had been considered by Mr. J Bostock and Mr. H Jolles. They had concluded that the business could not stand the expense connected with the development of Dove Polish, and, at their request, Mr. Lingwood had drawn up an alternative account, which showed that, by dispensing with the services of Mr. G Niclas, and confining the operations of the Company to the development of Lotus Polish, a monthly trading profit of £2 12s 5d might be expected.
It was agreed that Mr Niclas’ appointment should be terminated as soon as possible, and that his investment in the company, (shares to the value of £250 and a loan of £150), should be taken over by Lotus Ltd., Mr Jolles and Mr Axelrath.
In the afternoon a further meeting took place in the presence of:-
|Mr H J Bostock||Mr J F Bostock|
|Mr H Jolles||Mr A Axelrath|
|Mr G G Niclas|
At the meeting Mr H J Bostock was very critical of the actions taken by Mr Niclas on his management of company affairs leading to unnecessary high rate of expenses.
He informed Mr Niclas that the company could not continue at the present rate of expenditure and would therefore like to terminate his engagement. Mr Niclas agreed that unless Dove sales could be developed, economies were necessary.
Mr H J Bostock pointed out that the development of Dove Polish sales could not be undertaken without the provision of capital sufficient to cover advertising as well as production, and Lotus were not prepared to do this. In his opinion if the company concentrated on Lotus polish it could earn a modest return on capital.
The terms for the termination of Mr Niclas appointment as manager were then discussed and he agreed to continue his responsibilities as manager until June or some future date to be mutually agreed. Until this date was finalised, Mr Niclas would continue to live in London and travel to Stafford each Friday evening for discussion of policy, returning on Saturday. Mr Niclas was given approval to promote sales in the London area, but was warned that great care was to be exercised before committing the company to excess costs.
The financial state of the company was giving concern and the directors agreed to make a further call on the three contributors viz Lotus Ltd., Mr H Jolles, and Mr Axelrath of £100 each bringing the total investment of each of them to £500 (shares of £250 and loans of £250).
The first Ordinary General meeting of
Spic & Span Shoe Polishes Ltd. 22 November 1933
In June 1933, a Mr Charles Axelrad joined the company as a manager. He was a nephew of Mr Adolph Axelrath and on the resignation of Mr Niclas in November was elected as a director of the company for a period of one year.
Unfortunately, on the 9th December, Charles Axelrad died of consumption.
Following the death of Mr Charles Axelrad a Mr Kurt Oberlander was transferred from Yankee Polish in Hamburg as a temporary manager and was also appointed a director to fill the vacancy on the Board. As Mr Oberlander was a German national, he received a work permit to reside in this country only until August 1934. This was some concern to Mr Axelrad and the company was very aware of the need to plan for Mr Oberland's replacement.
In 1933 Mr Axelrad met John Forman in Germany. The latter expressed an interest in Spic & Span Polishes Ltd.
Mr Axelrath provided a letter of introduction to Mr C G Niclas who was a shareholder and director of Spic & Span and they met in London. Mr Forman was offered a position as traveller at 10 shillings per week plus 5% commission.
He declined the offer since he was earning £3.10.0 per week as a manager in a textile factory, however, Mr Axelrath had forwarded another letter of introduction to the registered office of Spic & Span in Stafford and as the company could see possible difficulties occurring over the present managers work permit, an offer of employment was made to Mr John Forman. The offer was much superior to the first one with a salary of £4.0.0 per week and the position of manager.
Mr John Forman recalls in his personal history that when he met the directors at Stafford many promises were made such as he would shortly have hundreds of people working for him and that there would be no stopping the development of the company. He felt that this was a great opportunity and such a job came only once in a lifetime. He accepted the position. He was told that employment would commence in June 1934 but he would be required in early 1934 to go over to Hamburg to be trained on polish manufacture at the Yankee Polish Co.
Early in 1934 Mr Axelrath asked John Forman to come to Hamburg with all expenses paid to study the manufacture of polish at the Yankee Polish Co. He spent 5 weeks in the factory learning about the properties, different waxes and the colouring of polishes with dyestuffs.
Mr Forman left the Yankee Polish factory enthusiastic with the opportunity presented to him. He arrived in England to join Spic & Span Polishes in June 1934. On his first visit to Glover Street, Stafford, he was rather shocked to see a dilapidated small shed-like building without windows. The entrance was through green double doors on which there was a painted sign “Registered office Spic & Span Polishes Ltd. 1 Glover Street, Stafford. Telephone number 439” On entering the building he saw that the sloping roof had windows, some of which were cracked, and all were dirty and necessitated the electric lights to be on constantly. The size of the building was less than 1,000 sq.yds. At one end there were three sections separated one from the other by asbestos sheeting.
In the first and furthest from the road were two 20 gallon capacity copper containers which were heated by electric elements situated beneath the bottom of the container. These were used to manufacture the floor and shoe polishes. There was also a rotary paddle mixer of about 30 gallon capacity used to manufacture “Shoe White” which sold very well for tennis and canvas shoes. The next section had a ramp on which rested barrels of white spirits and turpentine. In a small recess stood a gas boiler and in 1933 fire and safety regulations did not seem to be concerned about the danger of solvents and gas flames.
When polish was being manufactured the atmosphere stank of turpentine and John Forman was so concerned that he borrowed two fire extinguishers from Lotus. Both sections contained a conglomeration of dyestuffs, perfumes, waxes, saucepans and other containers. A brand new 5CWT weighing machine purchased from ‘Avery’ together with a second hand laboratory balance was all that was needed to produce a variety of polishes.
The third section (nearest the road) was the office which comprised two desks and a typewriter and the usual office requisites, all of which were dilapidated. The routine office duties such as the paying of wages, issue of invoices etc., were carried out by a young lady whose name was Doreen Wood.
Mrs wood was appointed company secretary in 1937 and in 1941 was made a director. During 1940/41 she was responsible for the day to day running of the company in the absence of John Forman and Dr H Simon, who had been interned as aliens.
Part of the building suffered from subsidence and the roof sloped at a dangerous angle and appeared ready to cave in at any time. During heavy rain the the roof leaked and in severe rain the water from the River Sow backed up into the factory where it met with rain water draining down from the main road. Tins and cartons floated about and conditions were generally miserable. It was often necessary for the Fire Service to send a pumping appliance to help remove the water from the flooded factory and road.
There were between two and four girls employed in the factory, the number being dependent on how much polish was to be manufactured or packed. There were occasions when there were insufficient orders to keep even two girls employed and this precarious existence was to continue for some years.
The manufacture involved weighing up the waxes and melting them in the copper container, solvents and dyestuffs were then added. The melting process by electricity was quite slow, 2 - 3 hours, and whilst this was happening the girls would be laying out the tins in rows on the tables, making sure that they were in line with the holes of the filling out machine. If two tables were to be used this operation could take 2 to 3 hours, longer if small sized tins were to be filled.
The filling out machine was now run onto a wheeled frame and pushed to the molten polish. The hot polish was then ladled out and poured into it and pushed to the head of the table.
In the factory were two tables about 8' wide and 30' long which stood 3' high. These tables were perfectly level and had two rails running down each side on which the wheels of the filling out machine ran. The filling out machine comprised a large oblong, open-topped container surrounded by a water jacket and mounted on a wheeled frame.
At the bottom of the oblong containers were some 30 holes (about 1/4'' diameter) and into these fitted a series of spring loaded rods connected to an overhead arm. The rods could be raised or lowered by means of a lever fixed to the end of the arm by one of the girls who had to judge when each row of tins were full. It was quite a skilled operation to obtain, a slightly overfilled tin to allow for shrinkage on cooling.
The girl operating the machine sat on a stool with castors so that she could propel herself down the table.
Filling the tins now commenced and when all the polish had been filled out there would be a few hundred tins of hot polish which had to cool down.
The setting of the polish was accelerated by blowing air across the polish by means of electric fans and there were some two dozen on wheeled stands placed around the tables. It was important to cool the temperature of the polish as quickly as possible otherwise some of the waxes would separate out giving the polish a mottled, unattractive appearance when set. When this happened, and it did quite often, the polish would have to be scraped out of the tins and remelted followed by a relaying of the tins on the table.
Once the polish had set the girls placed decorative foils on the surface of the polish followed by the lids. This was a time consuming operation and required nimble fingers and skill, particularly to press hundreds of lids onto tins full of polish. The final operation was packing the tins of polish into cartons and sorting out the orders ready for despatch.
Mr Axelrad's continual concern with sales, brought him to the UK and at the beginning of the year he visited Woolworths, Marks & Spencers and Selfridges. Sugsequently he wrote to John Forman:
"In connection with the Woolworth's business, when you see Mr. Baxter I would suggest that you strongly recommend that they put up a little table on a frequented spot in the store, say the door, and a good sales girl should attend to that table. You could suggest that you would be willing to pay for the girl when she is demonstrating for Dove. If you could carry this through for two or three weeks in each store, then your worries would be over, as the product would be well introduced all over and sell itself. The thing is now that you try as hard as you can to convince or sell the idea to Mr. Baxter"
Mr. Forman proposed this idea to Mr. Baxter of Woolworth's but he said he was very sorry but near all entrance doors they had foodstuffs and it would be quite impossible to demonstrate polishes. In fact it would be quite impossible to demonstrate polishes at all, anywhere in the building.
Mr. Bostock reviewed the sales position generally, and made the suggestion that turnover might be substantially increased if institutions such as hospitals, schools, etc., were willing to try it out and upon the result of this test the suggestion might be worked up further. Whilst regretting the continued losses the Company were making, Mr. Axelrath still maintained his faith in the ultimate success of the Company once its products became known. He agreed that, so far as tins and containers are concerned, no large contracts be placed, but that the Company only commit itself for an amount sufficient to cover any particular order.
On 6th February 1935 Mr. Kurt Oberlander resigned, his permit to reside in this country had almost expired.
The financial position of the company was fully discussed and Mr. Axelrath was shown a letter from the Company's Bankers in reference to the overdraft on the Company accounts. Mr. Axelrath intimated that if conditions permitted he could give all the financial help needed and more, but perhaps it was policy to keep the Company short of funds other than sufficient to pay their way. For the time being he said he had arranged for further help and that the Company might expect £100 almost at once and an additional £100 within four weeks time. This sum it was agreed would materially reduce the overdraft to within a reasonable limit. (Note:- The first £100 has already been received through devious sources)
Mr. Axelrath stated that Woolworth's were still keenly interested in 'Dove' polish and although admittedly a slow proposition, would he felt sure eventually prove a valuable business for the Company. For the time being arrangements had been made to demonstrate 'Dove' polish in four of the principal stores commencing at Croydon, and as Headquarters were behind the scheme, he felt that every effort would be made to push the product. He further stated that he had interested the buyer in Shoe-White put up in glass bottles and he had secured an order for a quantity.
Mr. Bostock reviewed the sales position generally and made the suggestion that the turnover might be substantially increased if institutions such as hospitals, schools, etc., could be interested in 'Dove' floor polish. Stafford Infirmary were willing to try it out and upon the results of this test the suggestion might be worked up further.
While regretting the continued losses the Company were making Mr. Axelrath still maintained his faith in the ultimate success of the Company one its products became known. He agreed that so far as tins and containers are concerned, no large contracts be placed, but that the Company only commit themselves for an amount sufficient to cover and particular order. Also that for the time being the question of engaging further Travellers be held in abeyance.
The question of the Special Loan of £77 advanced by Lotus Ltd., against the half cost of the mould for making containers for Lotus Shoe Cream was considered. Unfortunately, the ordered for this production had not materialised as was anticipated and the Company were thereby burdened with a charge which was hardly their responsibility. In the circumstances it was suggested that Lotus Ltd., be asked to relieve them of the charge.
The transfer from Mr. Jolles to Mr. Axelrath of one share was signed by Mr. Axelrath, but as it was understood that there was some difficulty in obtaining Mr. Jolles share certificate owing to his illness, it was suggested that the transfer be cancelled, and Lotus Ltd., be asked to transfer one of their shares instead to make Mr. Axelrath's holding up to 501 shares.
The suggestion was put forward that Mr. Clipstone be appointed as a Director of the Company, to act as such in place of Mr. Neville Bostock. Since the Company's inauguration Mr. Clipstone has taken a keen interest in its progress, and has done much useful work on its behalf in connection with the sales of Lotus polish. As sales manager of Lotus Ltd., and a Director of Spic & Span Shoe Polishes Ltd., he would form a happy combination which would undoubtedly result in mutual benefit to both companies. (Note:- It is understood that on this matter being referred to Mr. H J Bostock it met with his approval) If Mr. Neville Bostock is asked to retire the share he holds as nominee of Lotus Ltd., could be transferred to Mr. Axelrath, and Mr. Clipstone take his place on the Board as the Articles provide that no share qualification be required of a Director.
High discounts (such as 13 to the dozen) and the major difficulty of very little capital made for a precarious existence. During 1935 the Company was dependent on the 'Mother Company' in Hamburg for funds, but the transfer of capital from Germany became more and more difficult due to the political situation, and was subsequently prohibited by the German government. Any request for or advice about money was referred to in code in correspondence as 'tins' or 'samples' and the amount transferred rarely exceeded a few pounds at a time. The occasional £5.00 or so which Mr. Axelrath could arrange to be transferred to John Forman at Spic and Span via English friends was like a lifeline for the Company.
Often, Mr. Forman left his salary in the company in order to have more cash to pay the most essential bills for waxes, turpentine etc. There were no profits emanating from Spic and Span, and the English shareholders, (chiefly Lotus) were clamouring for the company to cease activities so that the company in Stafford, and Mr. Axelrath in Hamburg, found it increasingly difficult to keep going.
During this time the staff at Glover Street comprised four girls for lidding and packing the polish, and Mrs. D.I.Wood as wages/office staff.
At an extraordinary General Meeting held on the 18th September the capital of the Company was increased from £1,000 to £3,000. With a turnover, often of less then £50 per week and the prospect of any increase doubtful. The Bostock family were expressing considerable concern at the lack of progress of the Company, and even suggested to Mr. A. Axelrath the possibility of liquidation. A trading loss occurred in 1935 and a debit of £2,294 was carried forward. Very little money was spent on advertising Dove Polishes but at least Stafford cinema goers saw the colour slide shown below regularly screened at the town cinema (“The Picturehouse”). It is believed that this slide was projected up until 1939.
Considerable difficulties were being experienced in paying invoices to suppliers for waxes, tins solvents, etc. The bank overdraft exceeded £500.00. No payments had been made against the account with Lotus Ltd. since June 1936, neither had any installments been paid on the car since this date. The Company's existence was becoming precarious. The Bostock family felt that unless Mr. Axelrath was forthcoming with more money, the business could not continue.
The great difficulty for Mr. Axelrath was however, that due to currency restrictions by Germany at that this time, he was not allowed to send money out of the country. Fortunately, Mr. Axelrath found a way of having a little money transferred to England, mainly through business associates, and this became the life blood of the Company.
Because of censorship of mail, both to and from Germany, no reference to money transactions could be made in correspondence and so, as mentioned previously, Mr. Axelrath and Mr. Forman devised a code which could be used in letters and Pounds Sterling became “Tins". A letter from Mr. Axelrath to Mr. Forman dated March 1936 would therefore indicate that two lots of £25 were sent by him to Mr. Fred Bostock for use by the Company.
"One of your last letters was opened. Perhaps it would be better that you do not mention pounds. Just say 181 O.D. instead of overdraft Mention figures only in the rarest of occasions."
On the 16th March 1936 Adolph Axelrath wrote to John Forman, he enclosed the formulation for 'Shoe-White' based on the German Tylose which he suggested that Mr. Forman try sometime.
He also outlined how the product could also be used for whitening of tennis and golf balls, and also for tropical helmets. He also made the point that the product does not separate.
In early June 1936 it was decided to run a campaign to sell Dove Polish through the Pioneer Sales & Publicity Contractors Ltd., 34 Smallbrook Street, Birmingham. Mr. Forman had many interviews with Mr. A Bentley, Managing Director, and the campaign was run from the 2nd June to the 15th July 1936 - 6 weeks - at a cost of £28.10s.0d per week. The Board was satisfied that the claims made by Mr. Bentley were fairly well fulfilled, but owing to the expense it was felt that we could not continue to go on with it.
The question then arose of how to follow up.
Mr. Foreman reported that Mr. F Workman of 15 Jakemore Row Cannon Hill Birmingham, was available to act as our representative in Birmingham. Mr. Workman was Mr. Bentleys best salesman. He had a car, and was willing to come for 3 months trial for £3.00 a week, plus 10 shillings car expenses. A Fidelity Bond of something like £150.00 will be taken out.
Mr. Workman would follow Mr. Bentleys campaign in the Birmingham District, and was very well acquainted with it. Mr. Clipstone was also to be in Birmingham to assist Mr. Workman in canvassing for orders, and submitting orders to wholesalers.
Mr. Foreman suggested a coupon scheme for canvassing consumers in the districts between Derrington and Newport, and also between Eccleshall and Newcastle under Lyme. He proposed that a man called Hardwick should run this campaign, and Mr. Hardwick was willing to do this for 27 shillings a week, plus expenses. He was a man with considerable experience in door to door canvassing, and it was agreed to put this scheme into operation. Mr. Hembrow the only polish salesman calling on local shops started a similar scheme in the Potteries in September.
On Saturday 5th October the Chairman presented the accounts for the period ended 19th September 1936. While the present state of affairs could not be regarded as satisfactory in view of the loss, in the opinion of the Director's the loss was mainly in connection with the campaign in Birmingham and District by the Pioneer Sales and Publicity Contractors Ltd., the full benefit from which cannot be realised until the initial orders had created a demand.
It was agreed to retain the services of Murie in Birmingham for the time being, but to discontinue the services of the canvassers. Work in the Potteries had already commenced and was showing good results. For the time being it was agreed to confine activities to the immediate district, i.e. Potteries and Black Country, and that Messrs. Hembrow and Murie should carry on without the aid of canvassers.
Not only was John Forman managing the factory production of polish and the purchasing of raw materials and containers, but he was increasingly becoming involved in sales schemes. Lotus Ltd., was the largest customer for shoe polishes supplied in their own brand containers but the company also supplied polish to other shoe manufacturers. Competition was severe, with the larger polish manufacturers offering discounts and a bonus of 13 tins to the dozen.
John Forman recalls in his company biography that his own position was becoming frustrating as the people who controlled the company in Stafford were always talking of liquidating the company. It was the man who employed him in Hamburg, Mr Axelrath, and with whom he made contact with by post that persuaded him to continue.
1936 was not a happy year for John Forman, and the letter below from Mr Axelrath indicates concern about Mr Forman's well-being.
In March the share capital was increased from £3,000 to £5,000, and a further interest free loan of £450.00 was received from Lotus Ltd. on the conditions that it was lent interest free for three years and that they had the option to convert the loan into shares at par at any time during the three year period.
Mr. H I Clipstone, secretary of Lotus was appointed director, on 22nd April 1937 in place of Mr. F Bostock who had resigned, and Mr. Forman was also appointed as a Director. It was also agreed during the Directors meeting that Mr. J Forman should lend the Company his private car on the following terms and conditions:
'That whenever possible the two travellers work together, using the car to eliminate unnecessary travelling expenses. That Spic & Span pay petrol and oil changes when the car is used on Company business, and repair expenses to be borne in the proposition of three quarters by the Company, and one quarter by Mr. Forman. Spic & Span will pay Mr. Forman the sum of 17 shillings and six pence per week for the loan of the car.
The car is taxed and insured for the current quarter and these charges will be met by Mr. Forman at renewal.
That the arrangement will remain in force so long as it is mutually acceptable to Mr. Forman and the Board.
The 5th A.G.M. records that a further loss of £717 occurred and a Debit Balance of £3,658 was carried forward. Mr. Axelrath informed Mr. Forman that he had made contact with a party in Germany who appeared likely to join the company. Mr. Forman recalls that it was with considerable relief to learn from Mr. Axelrath that he had found someone who was willing to join the Company as a partner and invest some money into the company.
The 'party' in question turned out to be Dr. Hermann Simon. In October 1937 Dr. Simon applied to the Home Office for permission to emigrate, and whilst waiting to hear, he travelled to the UK to meet John Forman. Mr Axelrath suggested that when John was visiting his parents on holiday (probably Christmas) he should also visit Dr Simon. In December Dr Simon received permission from the German Home Office to emigrate.
Extract from a letter to John Forman from Adolph Axelrath 17th October 1937
"Glad to inform you that the matter 'Z' is now definitely arranged and it is only a question of a short time until it can assume practical forms. You might write to 'Z' that you have received the samples and it would be useful if he could see his way clear to come over to see you and talk matters over"
( ~ 'Z' in this instance refers to Zimmer & Co., a Company in Germany in which Dr. Simon was a partner.)