I had devoted some time to Bizar, which had started life as a sop to Pauline by her father. She had been employed as a purchaser of non-foods in his supermarket chain, Cee-n-Cee and had wanted to branch out on her own. I helped make it independent, setting up an accounts department. There was initially just one shop in Charles Street, Hanley but we purchased a lease on a second shop in the High Street in Newcastle and then moved to a more central location in Stafford Street, Hanley. For a while the shops traded successfully but when the Potteries Centre opened Hanley centre moved away from our shop and competition increased.
James and I came up with a system for working out Bizar’s profit margin using our recently purchased BBC computer. As goods were purchased the quantity, the cost price and sale price of each item was entered. The profit margin was only theoretical as it didn’t take account of reduced or sale items. But it was a start.
The next stage was similar but done on site (rather than at home) and using an Amstrad computer. Later I introduced a computerised Point of Sale system into the company which enabled us to keep track of our day to day stock levels and profit margins. Eventually we decided to expand further by purchasing a lease on a shop in Eastgate Street, Chester. The rent and rates of this shop were over £100K but the footfall was amazing. We had already made major alterations to both our existing shops so were not phased by the scale of the alterations we had to undertake on this building. Unwisely we went away on holiday and the alterations were not as we had envisaged. We also had great difficulty in getting permission to allow the public into the back of the shop until we negotiated a fire escape route with our next door neighbours. All three shops were extremely busy and the POS system worked very successfully but we still were unable to make profits. I wanted to increase margins but Pauline and Ian, her manager, were against this as they thought we would price ourselves out of the market.
I purchased a trailer to transport goods between shops. Hanley was used as the main delivery site and we used to unpack and price up most of the goods there. We had already made an office there when we upgraded the shop (putting in a new shop front, new lighting, new counters, new fittings, re-carpeting and decorating).
As competition increased so we had to become more and more professional and open longer and longer hours, including Sundays. The stresses were huge – trying to minimise the losses. Eventually, in 1995, we decided that we could continue no longer and that we would close the Company down after Christmas. We had a massive closing down sale and called in the liquidators. We fell foul of them because we had not called them in sooner but our advisers thought we could maximise sales of the stock ourselves and therefore look after the staff better. This was an extremely stressful time for me and the only way I could get through it was to keep a diary detailing our plans and progress. I inadvertently picked this up with my papers when I went to the creditors meeting and the liquidators went off with it and refused to return it even though I said they were private papers. We lost about £100K.