I think it must have been late ’66 or early 67. I was newly married and living in Castleford, West Riding of Yorkshire (as it was called in those days) I had been born in a village just outside the Town, educated at the local Grammar School and signed professional for Castleford RLFC straight from school. This was 1957 and a serious shoulder injury playing against Hull RLFC in 1963 brought a very promising, potentially an international, career to a premature close (my opinion I freely admit - but I seem to recall that Eddie Waring thought I was pretty good too!) As a good friend said at the time “you’ve got the gift of the gab and a driving licence, be a rep.” How little the people outside selling know about the requirements within the profession!! It was good advice, nonetheless, and a job at Mars quickly followed which provided me with the most excellent training and attitude.
We were members of the Commercial Travellers Union in those days and at a branch meeting in Leeds I met an Evode rep. Lovely man, surname was Morris I think (can’t remember his first name unfortunately) and he told me that a new Division was being formed at Evode called the Merchant Division and they were looking for a fmcg salesman (“grocery reps...in OUR industry....... whatever next????) He arranged an introduction for me to meet the new Divisional Manager, Ken Davies, and my life was about to change, substantially, and for the better. At this time Evode was quite a small Company and the Doctor took great pride in knowing everybody's name and a little bit about you - family situation, rugby league player, etc., - it made you feel very special and so, bright and eager, 9 young men came together at Stafford for the formation of the Merchant Division, under Ken Davies’ control and direction, firing ammunition provided by Alan Cooper as Marketing Manager we were launched onto an unsuspecting and very “conservative” world of the Builders Merchant. I was rep 1234 (lucky sequence, eh?) Yorkshire and Lincolnshire and during training I shared a room with 1235, Tony Bemester from Bishops Stortford and began a friendship which continues to this day. We were to operate a “profit growth plan” which, put crudely, gave the buyer a lower price for buying the range and for buying volume. This was revolutionary within Evode and within the Builders Merchant industry, but for us fmcg boys it was the norm, I’d been selling Mars confectionery that way for years.
Left to Right: Ron Johnson, Harvey Liss, A Beminster, B Hart, G David Williams
P Beadle, T McGlade, J Ardle, Mike Burns, K Brown.
13 November 1968 at Clayton Lodge Hotel.
Training over, “launch day” was held at the Clayton Lodge Hotel Newcastle under Lyme, keynote address by Barrie Liss, and we came out to be confronted by 7 brand new BMC 1300’s, all identical in British Racing Green and with consecutive number plates. What a moment! They looked great but rapid and painful experience showed that they were the worst cars ever to come out of Longbridge (and yes, I AM including the Allegro in the comparison) because with any moisture overnight (I mean ANY) they just refused to start. I think the merchant Division sales force single-handed made WD40 the brand it is today!
What followed were halcyon days. Maybe there are rose tinted specs at work here, but somehow I think not. Personally I look back across a career of almost 40 years and these “Evode days” were very special. I was at the funeral recently of a much loved and highly respected customer who became and remained a personal friend, Peter Sullivan the Purchasing Director of Grahams in Huddersfield if any of you remember him, a truly nice man. There I met for the first time in 30 years Reg Gannon from Mercian and Geoff Coates from Baxendales, and when we got down to talking about the good old days, it didn’t take long for that to happen, it was the Merchant Division we talked about and all of us remembered it in a similar way.
This was the right vehicle for the right market and at the right time. Growth was rapid and we thought we could touch the sky. Evomastic was our biggest product and somewhere around 1969 a “sister” product was launched called Decorseal for baths and washbasins. My biggest customer of the time was Wm. Monks in Sheffield and they bought Evomastic 12 cases at a time, so by way of introduction I suggested an opening order of 6 cases of Decorseal. Ken Davies, who was accompanying me that day, made a strange gurgling noise and changed colour, Mr Monks Jnr. (Michael?) swallows hard, bit the bullet, talked me down to 4 cases and signed the order. Once outside and back in the car Ken told me that he thought 1 case would be pushing it, and half a case would have been OK! However, as I said, shoot high was the team motto! The sequel to this little story was the market for Decorseal was nowhere near so great as Evomastic, and the damn stuff was Hydroscopic. Consequently it was “growing” in the warehouse faster than they could sell it. It was months before I could face the lads on the trade counter again, they would have lynched me if they could have got hold of me.
The Builders Merchants Groups were growing fast at this time, none more so than UBM centred in Bristol. On 10th December, 1970 Barrie Liss made an announcement to the effect that “increasing co-operation between the major distributors and ourselves has made it necessary to create a new management position ............. And David Williams has become the Major Accounts Manager reporting to Ken Davies” There followed an intense period of two years charging all over the country making sure that stocks were at the right level, new products were introduced and negotiating promotions for UBM, Mercian, Baxendale and the like. A couple of evenings most weeks would be given up to a “trade evening” and a training session for a merchant’s sales force, memory seems to say that usually one would be in Exeter and the other in Edinburgh! Sales growth was substantial and sustained.
The intense pressure and high mileage soon began to take it’s toll, health wise and in family terms (we had a little girl at the time who called me “Uncle” and the milkman “Daddy”..... Not true, but you get the picture?) And during the middle of 1971 Craig Ferguson was promoted to the Department and we were able to divide the Country North and South to provide both of us with a challenging yet manageable work load.
Growth continued apace and the Distribution Division, now under the direction of Anthony (A.A.R.) Cobbold was re-structured from three sales regions and a supporting National Accounts function, into four sales regions. Within the new structure Regional Sales Managers would be responsible for the reps in the region together with the Chief Offices of National Accounts located in the Region. My old friend Tony Bemister, who had become Regional Manager in the interim, moved on at this time and I was pleased to be moved to take over as the Regional Manager for the new South East Region. There was a great bunch of lads......... the Day’s, father and son Bill and Phil,........ Nigel Vaughen..... Bill Cummings...... Phil Treby.......Charles Clowes...(legends in their own lunchtimes, every one of them!) And more National Account Head Offices than you could shake a stick at. Hard days, but happy days, and with the benefit of hindsight the best years of my life.
Ambition calls strongly to motivated salesmen and by 1976, with Phillip Richards replacing Ken Davies as Division Manager, and the route for further advancement not apparent, I responded to a head hunter’s approach and left to join GKN Group as General Sales Manager.
It’s been an absolute delight to be invited to write this short article because as I have sat quietly and leafed slowly through the pages of time passed, so many happy and warm memories have come flooding back. Evode was a very special Company. The Doctor had created something of which he and his successors can be justly proud. Excellent products and lovely people. A rare combination indeed!
2 February 2001