In the previous chapter I alluded to the fact that our business was starting to head in a different direction. As with so many things, luck, coincidence or just plain stubbornness plays a big part.

Ok, you’ve got a thriving school doing full-time private training but your eye is taken away from what was the most profitable side of the entire operation to try to turn the salon group into a major profit centre.

My time was taken up with running & visiting the salons & my involvement with the school was minimal. We had a manager who we had inherited from the Morris school & my business partner at the time, David, who were looking after the day-to-day management & I would go to the office once a week, usually on a Friday.

So, there I was one Friday afternoon in the smallest office in the world when the manager came in & asked a question relating to “training credits” & a card that a potential student was carrying suggesting that she could choose whatever training organisation she wanted. Apparently, these training credits were given to all school-leavers on behalf of the “TEC’s”, the Training & Enterprise Councils set up by government to encourage young people into vocational training. I was introduced to the young lady & her father, the biggest man I’d ever seen except for Tyson Fury, our new world champion.

I tried to explain that we couldn’t accept her training credits in lieu of fees as we weren’t registered with the government agency in question, but somehow the message failed to register. Her father, in a rich Irish accent, explained to me that his daughter had chosen us & wouldn’t take no for an answer! I surreptitiously looked at the size of his fists & decided the best way forward was to try to contact the “TEC” to see if we could help. To put it another way, the office was small & I didn’t fancy my chances.

Remember, it was a Friday afternoon & I had to try to contact a government agency. Ever tried it? As luck would have it I got through virtually straight away, spoke to somebody in a sort of coded language regarding the father & his insistence that we train his daughter (& the size of his fists) & within 10 minutes we had the opening to train on behalf of government. Amazing! That is exactly how it happened. Sometimes you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time.

We managed to arrange a contract fairly quickly to train 15 apprentices & the education side of the business started to take a slightly different route. At the time, our training was 100% privately funded, but we could see that as time went on, the funded side of the industry was going to grow & we wanted to be part of that growth. From just 15 trainees that year we got further involved but the growth on the government side was extremely slow until about 10 years ago. We had enormous classes of private students at that time, made up of a mix of UK based trainees & those coming from countries such as Korea, Malaysia, Mauritius, India, Pakistan, the West Indies & Cyprus, both Greek & Turkish. Over the years, due to the UK Border Agency changing their entry requirements, our education business has been turned upside down & nowadays the funded side is the majority by a long way.

The industry itself has got more sophisticated over the last 20 years with lots of choices being made available for training at all levels. As a consequence, we’ve grown to something like 200 plus government-funded trainees per annum & still growing, & we also have a nucleus of private trainees as well.

The training the industry expects has changed so much since that fateful Friday afternoon back in 1994 & I still look upon it as a massive break of good fortune that probably wouldn’t have happened had I not felt ever so slightly uncomfortable talking to that parent with the massive fists, G-d bless him.

I will continue with the next major episode of my working life as we dealt with re-location & all the upheaval that goes with it.