Although I was born and lived in the main shoemaking areas of Leicester and Northamptonshire, it was never my intention to work in the industry. However, I was fortunate enough to be offered a position at the Shoe and Allied Trades Research Association in their new laboratories in Kettering. At that time research was carried out in the large house and much later in the modern laboratories were built in the rear garden. There was just a handful of us working there and I was employed in the laboratories with seniors who became very well known in the industry. During this time I was involved in the analysis of many footwear materials and gained a considerable knowledge of problems within the industry. I recall having a 'conveyor belt' of analysis in progress each day with the Departmental Head spending much of his time writing reports to customers based on the results obtained.
I decided to widen my experience and to use my technical knowledge and applied for a position as Technical Representative with Lotus Ltd., who owned a subsidiary, Vik Supplies Ltd., who were selling a range of products to the Footwear Industry.
In the autumn of 1950 I was asked to attend for interviews at Lotus Ltd., Sandon Road Stafford - an experience which I shall always remember. At that time, Lotus Ltd., was probably the most respected Footwear Company in the U.K. , rivalled by a few others such as C & J Clarke, Startrite, G B Britton etc. On arrival at Sandon Road I was impressed by the large modern factory and the Reception Office manned by a Sergeant of the Corps of Commissionaires! The interview was conducted by Mr. Gilbert Bostock and seemed to last an eternity. During the final stage I was introduced to Mr. F G Mercer, General Manager of Vik Supplies Ltd., and Mr. N G Sandy, Sales Mangers. Shortly after I was offered a position subject to Product and Footwear Training at Lotus Ltd at a salary of £360 per annum less accommodation expenses and I would have to live at 'Kelvin' Lichfield Road, Stafford along with other Lotus trainees. During my stay at Kelvin, I met J L Buckley, A L McGladdery, Tony Phillips who I believe was killed in an air crash, E Bennett and E Marris.
My appointment commenced on 8th January 1951 and consisted of training in the Lotus factories and the Lotus Laboratory which at the time was headed by Tim Taylor assisted by Mrs. Beryl Heath and June, now June Ryecroft I believe.
At that time Lotus Ltd had a number of non-shoemaking activities such as Lotus Chemicals producing Cellulose Adhesive, Toe Puffs and Stiffeners and many ancillary products such as Thinners and Cleaners etc. Lotus Engineering was headed by Mr. T B Prew, where a range of Cutting Presses, Western Perforated Machines and Edge Binding Machines were produced. They also manufactured wood heels and lasts and owned their own garage which dealt with fleet of motor vehicles.
Lotus staff spent a lot of time visiting the USA and Europe and brought back many ideas and equipment which were to help build their business.
Vik Supplies Ltd was a subsidiary company through which many of the Lotus tested products would be offered to the rest of the shoe industry.
Vik Supplies Ltd also had an excellent relationship with an adhesive company named Evode which manufactures inflammable adhesives in Glover Street, quite near to the local gas works!! I understand that the Bostock family was very supportive of DR. Simon when he started this business.
Vik Supplies Ltd., therefore, had a good modern range of products to sell to the footwear industry and for that matter any other industry of similar type such as leather goods and luggage manufactures. At this time, the Footwear and Associated Industries were very large with some four hundred factories nationwide.
It should also be remembered that the Footwear Industry overseas was, and is very much larger than the U.K. This was an opportunity which Evode Ltd. never did take advantage of other than via a few licensees. ironically, it is from these factories that most of the shoes now sold in the U.K. are produced.
After initial training at Lotus Ltd. and in the Laboratory, I began visiting customers who had phoned with enquiries or problems. The entire country had to be covered and distances seemed vast in the absence of the motorway network which was planned but not yet constructed. I recall waiting most of the day for instructions and in the late afternoon was asked to visit a customer in Newcastle on Tyne which I was told was quite a quick journey. I remember having to stay overnight somewhere and arriving in Newcastle the next day after a very long and tiring drive. Vehicles were difficult to obtain and one of my first journeys was to London in a left hand drive van with very poor visibility. On one occasion I was near Southend on Sea when I received instructions to drop everything and return to Stafford via London where I must collect a bumper for the Lotus Bentley - this was top priority!
Vik Supplies Ltd was divided into geographical areas each with its own Manager:
|The north, (everything north of Stafford)||Mr. C W Cooper|
|Leicester and Northamptonshire||Mr. F E Wakeling|
|London, Norwich and the South West||Mr. John Dow|
Other members of the Vik Supplies Staff included:
|Mr. V Vohralik||Mr. J L Buckley||Mr. K J Robinson|
|Mr. B C Preece||Mr. Frank Brown||Mr. Henry Rosen|
|Mr. Dennis McCarthy||Mr. Les Myers||Mr. Robert Addis||Mr. Bill Cutting||Mr. Les Kilworth||Mr. Gerry Brimley|
|Mr. Alan Drage||Mr. Colin Flack||Miss Edith Hawkins|
These were not all employed at the same time.
When Dennis McCarthy joined the team, he was sent to Lancashire for training. Dennis came from Norwich, the home of the very best ladies footwear. During a visit to one of the Rossendale Valley factories he was told that they produced shoes for M&S. " I am most impressed" replied Dennis "I had no idea that Marshall and Snelgrove purchased from this area!" "I am sorry" said the customer "I meant Marks and Spencer"
A large number of customers were interested in the Lotus Sole Bonding System. At that time leather soles were the main soling material. The process involved using Nitro-cellulose Adhesives which were highly inflammable. The sole was dipped into a tank of solvent, mainly acetone, which not only reactivated the adhesive, but also softened the leather sole enabling it to conform to the shape of the shoe bottom. The shoe was then placed under pressure for several minutes in a Multistation Rotary Type Press.
Two 'Demonstrators' were employed to visit factories which wished to try this system. They were Mr. Harry Moore and Mr. Clarence Carthy who were both former employees in the Lotus factories.
The British United Shoe Machinery Company and their sister company, Bostik Ltd., dominated the Footwear Industry, and it was quite common to find many members of their team in the factories at any one time. There was also a great reluctance on the part of some manufacturers to use Evode Adhesive because they feared upsetting the British United. The same problem occurred when offering Hot Melt for Lasting as often the machinery companies would suggest that their After Sales Service would not be as efficient is their own products were not in use. They clearly made a good profit when selling their 'own brand' Hot Melt which was manufactured for them by the Evode group (or others)!
It was quite normal; to leave home on Sunday in order to be at the customer's factory early on Monday morning. There is an amusing story regarding Harry Moore who was travelling by train and needed to take with him a quantity of solvent which he hid under his coat on the luggage rack. Unfortunately a ticket inspector was on duty and when he entered the compartment he asked where the strong smell was coming from. Apparently the solvent was not correctly sealed and Harry was ordered to leave the train at the next station.
Vik Supplies Ltd. introduced a new type of Soling which had its origins in the USA known as Resin Rubber and the Sussex Rubber Company produced it in sheet form for Lotus Ltd and for general sale. We named the product Lotex and orders for it far exceeded production. Later this type of Soling became a major item due to its lightness and hard wearing properties. Unfortunately this material could not be bonded with the Nitro-cellulose adhesive and gave a tremendous boost to our range of Neoprene adhesive which eventually replaced the old system. It also introduced the method of heat reactivation for sole bonding. Heat activation equipment was manufactured by Lotus Engineering.
Eventually, due to distances involved, I shared the task of Technical Representative with Mr. John Salmon and the country was divided into North and South to enable us to work more efficiently. John left to take up other work and I lost all contact with him. As the Footwear Industry became more and more competitive, Lotus Ltd decided to concentrate entirely on shoemaking and it was decided that Vik Supplies Ltd should be part of Evode Ltd., and Lotus Chemical production was transferred to the new Common Road factory. Lotus Engineering became Stafford Tool & Die Co. Ltd., but still marketed its products via Vik Supplies. The next few years were very happy ones and we all settled into our new environment.
Cox & Wright Ltd., producers of Footwear machinery, were purchased by Evode to strengthen the Footwear Division. Most of Vik Supplies engineering activities were transferred to Cox & Wright, but Stafford Tool & Die decided to appoint their own sales force mainly to sell knives and dies, and the Western range of machines. Although this was an interesting acquisition, Cox & Wright worked almost independently with little benefit to Vik Supplies. They gained by taking over the agency for Atom Hydraulic Presses which Mr. J L Buckley, Vik Supplies had negotiated. John Buckley was transferred to Cox & Wright but never gained the position which he no doubt expected.
Good progress was made in the sales of toe-puff materials, although it became clear that a product extruded from Surlyn was fast becoming very popular. Unfortunately this was not manufactured by Evode at that time. The turnover was increased more easily by selling toe-puff materials and for this reason a great deal of effort was employed in this direction.
Another major turning point was the introduction of PVC as a soling material as another type of adhesive was required.
Initially, PVC soling was confined to the Direct Injection Process commonly used in the manufacturing of men's working boots and children's shoes. Later the process was used in the manufacture of ladies casual footwear and slippers.
The next stage in this development was the injection moulding of PVC sole units which became very popular and displaced other types of soling as the unit created the entire bottom of the shoe, including the heel area which meant additional work with previous constructions.
However, the need for a satisfactory adhesive led to the introduction of Polyurethane Adhesives and much development was needed to obtain satisfactory properties.
Very severe competition was encountered mainly from Tivoli Chemicals who had pioneered this development in Germany. We were able to compete, but at times it was difficult as Tivoli had excellent products, superb back-up and often very low prices. It was a very odd fact that although the Footwear Industry in the U.K. was in decline for most the past forty years, they were always able to obtain very low purchase process for most the products used.
Regrettably, our Research and Development in respect of footwear adhesive in later years was little more than product development, and 8806 was still one of our main adhesives even after my retirement in 1988. As the industry was in decline it was necessary to add new products to the range to stand any chance of increasing turnover. This was particularly obvious once we had obtained a respectable market share with our existing materials.
Hot Melt Adhesive were introduced from the USA where there had been a successful development in the lasting of shoes using this type of adhesive. later several machinery companies developed a variety of equipment which eventually led to this method replacing most of the older systems.
It was decided that a new company should be formed to manufacture and sell Polyamide Hot Melt products. unfortunately for Vik Supplies the new company, Evacor Resins were allowed to sell to the footwear industry via the machinery manufacturers and it became common place for Vik Supplies to find that they were often competing with their own Group.
Evacor Resins did see the opportunity to sell in the expanding overseas footwear market and were very successful and reaped rich rewards. Footwear sales must have been a substantial proportion of their turnover but still the Evode Group made no apparent effort to obtain business with other products although they had a company, Evode Exports, which was formed to concentrate on such matters.
On a visit which I made to Africa, I found the potential quite spectacular. For example, in Nigeria a factory producing ten times more footwear than the largest U.K. factory was absolutely starved of technical representation. I was told that the local agent for well known products was probably involved in insurance on the building trade and knew nothing about shoe-making techniques. They had many problems within the factory which could easily have been resolved. To service such accounts needed active local representation backed up by a fully supportive service. Rhenoflex and the Bixby Corporation, both companies supplying toe-puff and stiffeners, have developed a world wide business but it is known that much time and effort were required. Technical Representative travels to all parts in support of their local agent on a regular basis.
Vik Supplies, in conjunction with S Dugdale and Sons Ltd., Sowerby Bridge, marketed a range of PVC granules for use in direct moulding and for the manufacture of unit soles. This was a further attempt to add a new product and therefore increase our sales in a market which continued to decline in volume due to competition from overseas. Sales were obtained to a very high level when it was decided to invest in a manufacturing company. S Dugdale were not interested in joining in this venture and preferred to go it alone and sell directly to the industry.
Evode Plastics was formed which once again left Vik Supplies out in the cold.
During the 1980s there was a number of top management changes involving people with little knowledge of the overall situation. Changes were made which surprised many of us, resulting in my case of accepting early retirement, although to my complete surprise I was asked to stay on as a sell employed 'consultant' for a further five years.
There are many people and manufacturers who will remember Vik Supplies with much affection and it's legacy lives on in the business which remains at Laporte Plastics, Evacor Resins and Evode as well as the Flexivik Toe Puff business, which was developed initially by Vik Supplies Ltd.
I enjoyed my time with the Company and look back with some regret at the way in which things have changed.