1st April 2022
Yes, I am moving on. It is now an unbelievable eight years since that slightly scary “Whoops-a-daisy, we’ve bought a Chandlers!” moment. I have certainly enjoyed the challenge of resurrecting the old ship, but it is now time for me to to allow the new owners to make their mark while I move onto other projects.
The truth is I never really planned to buy the old shop in the first place. I simply contacted the owner to see if he would like to hold some stock of theatrical hardware from Flints Theatrical Chandlers. With the shop being slap-bang-wallop in the middle of Theatre Land it seemed like a great idea. It was only when I went to meet the Manager, Mr Coleman, that I discovered that the shop was imminently going to close down. The shelves were bare. The debt collectors were knocking on the door.
A bit of a prod from a well known artist, and a natter with my colleague Gerry persuaded us to team up and dive in head-first with the slightly vague hope that we could turn the much loved, but slightly gribble ridden ship around.
I re-mortgaged my house and cancelled my planned sailing trip through Russia and got stuck in. We paid off the debts and re-stocked the shop.
We spent our weekends clearing out the debris, decorating the shop and making up bright new display boards. Gerry put his efforts into getting a website up and running and sorting out decent IT systems. It was amazing to find that they didn’t even have an email address, and that was in 2014!
After a few months of Gerry’s wizardry we were even able to sell our wonderful stock on the world wide interbubble.
We installed new lighting and kept the shop door open, so the place looked less intimidating. We opened up the upstairs sales room and we even stayed open in the evenings and weekends. We built a little show stand and attended loads of boat shows. The word was getting out there!
We held lots of talks talks and film shows and built up a large community of like-minded people.
We built whacky window displays which soon became a London tourist attraction.
Every day we put up a sign in Shaftesbury Avenue showing the Shipping Forecast and Tide Times.
We found old printing blocks and resurrected the old typeface and the original boat logo designed by Arthur Beale himself.
We introduced a range of Arthur Beale products which proudly displayed the original old logos. The Beerenberg and Erebus pullovers were made in Britain with undyed oiled wool and are now sold throughout the world. Each pullover used to be supplied with a length of yarn so that darns could be easily made. The original Beerenberg pullover had the pale blue logo designed by Arthur Beale himself and the Erebus displayed a small Red Ensign logo which worked well against the dark brown wool. They are no longer available with the original logos so hang on to your original ones!
We added canvas smocks to the range, supplying them with a spare patch of material for repairs. The idea was that the clothing would last. We introduced strong double dipped enamelware plus zipper, tote and ditty bags and specialist tools.
I recently designed a Riggers Tool Bag which is soon to be released emblazoned with the new owners rebranding. Look out for it!
I soon found myself working seven days a week on the various projects and had no time to spare for work on my main job at Flints! I decided to sell my shares in my old company so I could concentrate on working at Arthur Beale. My original plan to sell theatre hardware alongside the yachting gear wasn’t going to happen so Arthur Beale focussed on supplying high quality marine equipment and rigging with a slant towards classic wooden yachts and expedition sailing.
We took on some interesting projects including supplying a massive mast and rigging for Louis Vuitton. We then took it on a world tour!
We re-rigged some beautiful little boats.
But it wasn’t all boats. We replaced the rope handrailing at the Tower of London and the wire balustrades at the Kensington Roof Gardens. We put swings into restaurants. We supplied the Students at the London College of Fashion and various famous fashion houses. They enjoyed visiting the shop and feeling “the hand” of our huge choice of ropes.
We printed real paper catalogues packed with information. It was our intention to ultimately come up the the Boating Bible for classic wooden yachts a bit like Flints Catalogue is the Bible for backstage theatre.
The company was expanding fast and doing really well but it really needed some investment to safeguard its future. In 2020 we decided to have an investment campaign. It was a massive effort from everyone to organise. There was huge interest but sadly, just one day before the official launch, we were advised that it potentially fell foul of the law, and we were forced to withdraw it. This rather took the wind out of my sails.
Then came more problems. As is common with most retail businesses, we make most of our money in November and December which is exactly when Camden Council decided to do some major paving works right outside our shop! While they were at it, the gas main burst, closing Shaftesbury Avenue for the day. To add to the misery, while that was being repaired they burst the water main and flooded our basement. This decimated our walk-in trade and meant we were low on funds for the start of the following year.
I was running short on energy and at one point even contemplated selling my beloved yacht as I had so little time to sail it. I had also worked for five years taking no pay from the company.
And then in 2020 there was Covid. During the lockdowns we continued trading online but with the shop closed the turnover fell off a cliff. Luckily, and credit where credit is due, the Government came up with a loan scheme that would help us survive. We decided that our future depended on us becoming generally more efficient and increasing our online sales. We decided to invest in an all-singing-all dancing integrated operating system. While the shop was closed, we were busier than ever loading all our products onto the new website.
Thousands of products were photographed and uploaded following our carefully thought through stock-tree. Where relevant, each product had their data and specification sheets uploaded. In July 2020 we were ready for a soft launch.
The following spring I received a call from Hugh to say that he and his colleague James were interested in investing in the company. Arthur Beale did still need an investment boost and the thought of resurrecting another investment campaign just did not appeal to me. Hugh had a fantastic marketing background and James was a real finance expert so I felt the three of us could make a good team.
I handed over my controlling interest in return for Hugh and James to invest in the company.
They studied the figures with their financial expertise and saw that my Beerenberg oiled wool pullovers were providing a substantial chunk of the company turnover. They were keen to add more clothing and build up the “gifting” side of the company. They also wanted to reduce the range of general chandlery items and the figures showed that they needed to stop selling low margin and tricky products such as tools, paints and varnish. They commissioned a company to come up with a new branding style.
They were also determined to go 100% online and close the London shop, although they did open a shop in Portsmouth a few months later. I soon found myself having very little to do with the running of the company.
They were achieving great success and were dramatically increasing the turnover by the extensive use of Google Adverts. I was rather lacking these online marketing and financial analytics skills. My skill set lies in expedition yachting in classic wooden boats rather than data analysis. The smell of tarred marline, the glistening of bronze, the feel of leather and canvas and the sky reflected in varnish are my passions.
Arthur Beale has a great possibilities under its new ownership, it is just that selling fashionable clothing and nautical gifts online are not really my thing. I preferred the Aladdin’s Cave atmosphere of the old shop.
Luckily in May 2021, just before the shop was finally closed, David Fletcher came to capture the remaining atmosphere using his considerable skills in photogrammetry. You can enjoy exploring the old shop on his website or clicking the links below. I hope you enjoy exploring this special old shop.
So what will I do now?
I’m currently doing several very specialist rigging projects but I’m mainly concentrating on organising my planned expedition this summer to Scoresby Sund in my little 26ft varnished yacht.
Now that should be quite an adventure!