Biography > Hills Electrical > Premises
It was in 1996 when Len approached us. He had heard that we wish to expand and he'd been running a branch for another company and wanted to leave. He wanted to take his people into a more successful and more up to date company. So it seemed like a great idea that he joined us and set up a branch in Nottingham. As ever the issue was finding some premises. Len was a kind of can do man and he instantly found some premises in Carlton Rd in Nottingham. They had been a design office which meant that everything was black and white, the doors were jet black and some of the woodwork was also black.
Len was very successful to begin with and we won many contracts. The one major client that we had was Imperial Tobacco/John Players the people that made cigarettes who had long been based in Nottingham. I was lucky enough to meet their production director and he invited me to walk around the factory. They had decided that's the price that manufacturing would be paid for making the cigarettes was frozen at 1985 prices. That meant that they had to improve productivity every year, continually in order to be able to give pay rises and meet inflation. At the time when I went round they were pouring raw tobacco in the one end of the manufacturing process and stacking the pallets of finished cartons all automatically. The only human intervention came when they drove the pallets back to the warehouse with a forklift. back into the warehouse.
The whole factory was pretty much deserted and it was eerie to see these cigarettes being produced without human intervention. There was an all pervading tobacco smell which made me feel quite sick. It seemed a strange throwback that everywhere in the offices there were cigarettes available and any one could smoke as many as they wanted – provided they took none home.
It was frightening to listen to the conversation about how they were increasing their penetration in underdeveloped markets and they were behaving generally as if the product they were making with something benign and helpful to mankind. A few years ago Imperial Tobacco moved out of Nottingham because even with their strict pricing policy the UK was too expensive.
Soon after we moved in it became apparent that the premises were no longer large enough and we extended them considerably. The extension really wasn’t very successful.
One of the contracts Nottingham won was to wire the new premises for the BBC in Nottingham. Whilst we were working on the project, a man came round on a Friday having driven to the continent earlier on and bought a lot of booze. He would sell the bottles of wine off to anyone that wanted them. One of the employees bought some and proceeded to start drinking it. Our supervisor said he mustn’t do that because drinking on site was dangerous and with bad grace he stopped. He was so incensed a being told to stop drinking that he went back that night and decided to burn the premises down.
The security people at the premises found out what was happening, the police were called and they arrested him. This would have been an interesting case for our employment handbook to deal with. Can you sack someone for attempted arson outside work hours? Fortunately for us, the guy who was arrested became so violent towards the police that they took him away and locked him up. He spent a considerable amount of time in prison following this and effectively sacked himself. We were bidding for a major job elsewhere later and the consultant nearly decided on the basis that we employed arsonists that we should not get the contract. He was really incensed that we had not apologised profusely enough to him for the incident.
Eventually with the decline in the company we had to cease operations from the premises. It turned out that the Carlton Rd area had gone downhill since we bought the purchased the premises. Despite our best intentions we couldn’t sell them and so we let them to a taxi company.
The taxi company were great and paid us on time. Unfortunately they got taken over by another company, who decided that paying rent was an optional extra. Eventually, it seemed that the only way to get paid was to change the locks and repossess the premises. I went down with a locksmith and we changed the locks successfully. Just as we were leaving, since the building was empty we switched off the electricity. By the time I had arrived back at the main office, we had a phone call from the taxi company saying that we'd switched off their main switchboard and they needed it back on. They asked how much money they owed and I said, just guessing, 8000 pounds. They said they would have the money available immediately and where could they deliver the cash. I said I would phone them back and tried desperately to find somebody that would accept the cash. I couldn’t find anybody and so I told them they had to paid into the bank, which they did. We let them back in to the premises and they cleared all their machinery out and left.
Over the years between 1996 and 2014 I must have driven to Nottingham many times and I think on every occasion, bar maybe one or two, I got lost. The road system round Nottingham was labyrinthine and they were changing it all of the time.
Eventually we agreed a sale of the premises to a division of the council. They asked for an invoice I raised it and they paid it. My solicitor couldn’t believe it, none of the usual paperwork had been done. He then did finally do the job correctly. It was one of the few bad property deals that we did – we got less back than we paid for the premises, even though we’d spent 100K on a new extension.