On the 1st September 1998 we’d sold our house, I’d quit my well-paid job and had a hire car delivered so I could at least get about.
Our new house in Abbey Grange fell through on the day of completion as the owners just “Changed their minds” and had made excuse after excuse on reason why not to exchange contracts before the move day. We were homeless with three kids and the removals van had arrived.
Hazel insisted that I got myself out to speak to people and try to get some business in as we had nothing at all. My co-director Richard was to look after the administration and operations side of the new business but without a single contract, there wasn’t a lot to get on with. Hazel’s parents came to the rescue and moved out of their two-bedroom bungalow and into a farmer’s field in their caravan to allow us to move into their home. What amazing people and a fabulous thing to do. So, we stored everything we owned in to their double garage and moved in.
One by one contracts started and as things got too busy for me to clean in the mornings and get out to see people, make appointments from the In-laws home phone (no mobiles for us back then) and then get back out to clean in the evening, we started to employ staff. The business grew slowly and we saved money with me operating as a working supervisor on many sites. Our major breakthrough was when we signed a big factory in North Shields called Elmwood Sensors. It was, for us, huge and involved a daytime janitor and a full evening shift of staff. We spent a small fortune on equipment, including a scrubber dryer which was a lot of money back then. This contract was about half of our business as we worked hard to grow so we could begin to take some money out to live.
Hazel found a house in Jesmond and at the end of 1998 and we moved in. By that time Hazel’s Dad had suffered a heart attack whilst living on a farmer’s field (he was ok, thank goodness) and we managed to get Michael and Sally into new schools. Jonny was just a baby having been born on New Years Eve 1997. Things were looking up.
Elmwood Sensors burned down in 1999. Half the business we thought had gone, hundreds of people there had their own livelihoods in jeopardy and things, for a while, looked bleak. Thankfully, directly across the road, Elmwood had an empty factory which was a lot smaller but with a lot of work, they got operational and we had something to clean again.
In August 2003 Richard and I took the decision to split the business. He took the name and half of the contracts and I took the other. Hazel joined me to take care of the administration side and we re-named the business Edwards Commercial Cleaning Services Ltd. We started to operate on the 1st September. We were a truly family business now and things went from strength to strength as we grew to where we are today. Life really is about up’s and downs but it’s mainly about riding the storms and getting on with it. The good times hugely outweigh the bad ones. Seeing people develop and learn is a fantastic thing, letting go of responsibilities for others to take on is one of the hardest things to do, especially when the business had been your ‘baby’ for so long.
Talking of babies, when we started up Jonny wasn’t even one year old. Jonny now does a large part of the payroll and invoicing and is involved in banking as he learns all about what we do in preparation to joining the business full time next year after his final year at college and hopefully earning a degree in business. Jonny will be 21 this year and hasn’t known anything other than his parents running a cleaning company. It’s wonderful having him on board.
This year we’ve taken the decision to move the office out of our home and into a serviced office in Gosforth, Newcastle and Hazel has had to learn to let a few of the reigns go as Sarah (our full time Office Manager) and Jonny have taken charge of a lot of the old responsibilities. As things get bigger and busier, you just have to.
Lots of lessons learned, many amazing experiences and onwards we go. We have to thank our brilliant staff who in turn take care of our many fabulous clients and as we look to get constantly better at what we do, we hope the next 15 / 20 years brings many more opportunities and happy stories to tell.