Chapter Seventeen

SOPHIE

After our holiday I went back to working for dad and Tim tried to get a job. He’d worked so hard to get a degree and yet didn’t seem able to get a job. It didn’t seem fair.  He went for several interviews but I don’t think he wanted any of the jobs he’d applied for even if he’d been offered them. They all seemed to be miles away from here and I was getting quite worried about the future.

Then one day he surprised me saying he wanted to start a business. He said he’d been influenced by my dad. He said he’d realised how much better it would be to work for himself rather than someone else. He’d seen what you can achieve. I suppose because I’d grown up in a family business I’d not really appreciated what he was getting at.  And I was only too aware of the negative side – the commitment, the hard work, the long hours. Tim said that wouldn’t bother him; also that his dad wished he’d broken away sooner as he didn’t have the scope to do what he wanted as a civil servant and he didn’t feel that his efforts were appreciated. The three of them, Tim, John and Wendy had come up with an idea that they thought would work, a nursery. I thought that was a great suggestion as Tim loved plants and his degree should give him the knowledge.

Anyway I took his idea on board, encouraged him and offered to help. I went online looking for potential locations to start a nursery and after several hours of fruitless searching I found an existing business for sale with three large greenhouses and a bungalow just outside Nantwich. The owners wanted to retire and even offered to stay on for a month’s handover period. Tim thought it was great but wondered how he’d be able to afford it.  I thought it was good value and even offered to lend Tim the whole purchase price but Tim didn’t think that was a good idea at all. He said he valued his independence too much and anyway was worried it would alter our relationship. He said he’d found it difficult on our cycling holiday that we had such different perceptions of value for money and that anyway what would happen if we split up. I was upset that he’d said that, I suppose I’d found the love of my life, or thought I had, and expected him to feel the same way.

Anyway I was determined to make it happen so together we drew up a business plan. My experience working for Dad helped enormously. His parents had offered to help by growing plants on their small holding. I could see that was a great idea as his mother really needed a project now her offspring had all but left home, she loved gardening and had green fingers. Tim took the business plan and details of the profitable existing business and approached the bank for a loan but was turned down.

“Never mind,” I said, “I’ve had a idea. I’ll guarantee the loan. I don’t see why the bank could refuse the loan if it’s guaranteed and that way it’s at arm’s length between us and you’ve a proper business arrangement with the bank.”

Tim thanked me very much for that. He said he was touched that I had so much confidence in him but he still didn’t think it was a good idea for us to have that kind of financial commitment. He said the relationship was too young and anyway his parents had offered to help. They said they hadn’t contributed much to put Tim through college so he’d ended up with a huge student loan but they would like to help now. They’d apply for a second mortgage on their property and loan Tim the money. All Tim had to do was to find the extra mortgage repayments.

This process seemed to take a massive amount of time and as all this was going on we were both on tenter hooks in case someone else came in with a better offer. The old couple selling the business were great. They were sympathetic about the delays and seemed to be prepared to wait until Tim could pay. They even paid Tim to work there temporarily and trained him up at the same time. It was early in November when it all finally came together – not the greatest time to start but Tim was undeterred. Ronnie and June, the vendors, honoured their offer to stay on for a month, working for nothing and his mother bought a poly-tunnel and got busy sowing seeds ready for the spring. Tim said the timing was not a problem as he’d be able to make the most of the Christmas trade, selling poinsettia plants, Christmas trees and wreaths.

One thing I suggested was that he have an official opening party. So for the three weeks when he was just an employee he gave out invites to every customer that came on the premises. He put an advert in the local press and I managed to persuade Dad to get the Mayor to come and declare the new business open. It was quite a successful occasion and I really enjoyed handing out the glasses of bubbly and canapés to the 75 or so people that turned up. Again, at my suggestion, each of them went away with a free small pot plant. I hoped this would generate lots of goodwill and customer loyalty. He actually made a profit on the evening and sold out of almost all his Christmas stock.

I was jealous as I was still working for my dad and not really enjoying it. I wanted to break out and hoped there would be room for me in the new business which he’d named Cwm Dinas Nursery, after his parent’s small-holding. I did quite a bit to help the business get off the ground. The previous owners, Ronnie and June, were very old-fashioned and didn’t do anything electronically. With what I’d picked up from working with Cannon Pets Supplies I was able to advise Tim about point of sale systems that were linked into an accounts package. It was going to be expensive to set up but I knew how vital it would be to the success of the business. He would be able to track which lines were the most profitable, know when to reorder stock, and keep track of wastage. Ronnie was very put out by all this. I thought this was because he might feel inadequate because really he should have embraced this technology years ago but actually the reason was the stubborn old chap thought we’d come unstuck if we didn’t use pen and paper.

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