I was newly married, we had our first child Katie, had a mortgage and all that goes with it, I was managing the Dunkenhalgh Hotel in Accrington and the hours, especially around Christmas were crippling. It would have meant an early end to my married life if I had carried on, so I got out and was offered a job with a national recruiter who wanted to get into hotel and catering. My first placement was a deputy manager in Blackpool; the fee was £4K. I then placed lots of people, some I already knew, some came from adverts. I was good and within 6 months there were 4 of us; business boomed. I hated working for my boss, he was a nice enough bloke but we didn’t have the same vision!
I knew there was gold in those hills so I left and set upon my own, in my back bedroom at Cottom Croft a red bricked, four bedroomed detached house on an estate. On my letter heads I called it Cottom House to give it credibility. I arranged a £10K overdraft and set about spending it on advertising, stationery, an Amstrad word processor, a photocopier, fax machine and a fitted office. I quickly turned my £10K overdraft in to a £14K overdraft and lay awake at night worrying.
The bank sent me a lot of letters asking if I actually intended ever paying any money into my account. I started Cooke & Mellor with one of my colleagues, Debbie Cooke was 21, bright, enthusiastic and prepared to do all the typing, we both needed to take substantial drawings out of the business to pay our bills. Soon all the money was gone and soon after, so was Debbie Cooke, she “fell on her sword” and went to get a job in sales at a local hotel, the idea was she would wait in the wings until I got things back on track and then she would return (she never did, I bought her out a year later) I advertised in a local paper shop for a part time assistant (I still can’t type to this day).
Gill Makin applied and worked for me for 10 or 11 years as my admin sidekick. I couldn’t have done it without her. We smoked sneaky fags outside the back door and worked hard, although she did pop home to take out her washing on some days! After 19 months of graft I was going nowhere, yes we’d got some business by now, I was making placements and we had a few temp chefs out, but the overdraft was hardly reducing at all.
Michelle my lovely bride who had now presented me with a son called Jack booked a holiday in Minorca, in the tattiest, cheapest flea pit on the Ballearic Islands, I went with a heavy heart knowing we could not afford it.
I set a budget of £20 a day and we stuck to it. I woke the whole hotel on the first morning taking the kids for an early morning swim at 7am, everyone came out onto their balconies and shouted at me. Katie nearly drowned and Jack ran off at every opportunity, locked himself into someone else’s room on the 3rd floor and waved at us from the balcony!
I returned home, stressed, upset, skint but with a wealth of stories to tell. Don’t ask me why but things just started to pick up after that holiday, things started to happen, the phone rang more, the candidate flow increased, I worked harder and smarter only concentrating on the things that made money.
Within a year we moved into some offices in the gate house at GEC opposite the Dunkenhalgh in Accrington.
I asked June Crossley to come and work for us, she had been the Banqueting Co-ordinator at the Dunkenhalgh Hotel and she never made a mistake, she was efficient, organised and focused, it was a fateful day for us both, we rarely spend time together but we have had a massive influence on each other’s life,
she runs our relief chef division and its simply brilliant. My wife Michelle joined the business on the same day, working part time placing temps as waitresses, kitchen porters and Kitchen assistants around the local area. Sometimes she’d bring one of the children with her and often she’d work from home late into the evening filling bookings. She also worked at Martholme Grange as the Restaurant Manager in the carvery where young girls would pinch the wine and men would pinch her bottom – God it was a dive but the money she earned paid for luxuries like shopping and maybe once a month a meal at Checcos Italian Restaurant which cost £14 including a glass of wine!
A year or two later, I was joined by Nick Cummins, my boyhood friend. He set up an extra business, Cummins Mellor Search. He basically aimed at Sales people in the hand and power tool market as this was his specialism, but soon realised there was a gap in the market for a good local recruiter in the commercial and industrial arena. He was joined by Barbara Murray and within 2 years, Cummins Mellor Search was as big as Cooke and Mellor Recruitment, so we merged the companies into Cummins Mellor Recruitment.
We had loads of laughs, we never stopped giggling, sometimes board meetings would see everyone in tears. But we were successful too and made a few bob by providing a really good ‘hands on’ service. Nick is a great salesman. One day he had to go and see an irate client as one of our temps had cut a hole in the company’s fence with bolt cutters because it was a ‘short cut’ home. Nick managed to placate the client, keep all the other temps in work and came back with a few extra job orders!
In 2005 we bought Nick out, we are still great friends and regularly play golf. He has bought a house in Spain, paid off his mortgage and set up a lawn improvement business (he loves grass) called Total Lawn Care.
We’ve been joined by some real characters along the way, people who have really made a difference to the business.
I am especially proud of our training and promoting young people within in the business. Our accountant Katie Grundy joined us from school on a Modern Apprenticeship. She listened, learnt and wrote everything down; she did all the jobs in Business Support and did her AAT qualifications in the evenings. She was a shy little thing and now she is a lovely, successful, confident young woman with a family of her own. She is just one of our successes. There are lots, lots more.
I remain a committed family man. I always put family before anything else as they are what really matters to me. I have a brilliant team and I try to understand their needs and to motivate them as best I can. I have been lucky enough to work with many great people over the years and I still do.
Generally people stay a long time at Cummins Mellor and I hope they always will. Oh, and now I can just about pay the gas bill!