Joe Craen celebrates over 50 years in the Tile & Adhesive industry and reflects on his career, the businesses, people and the considerable changes he has experienced during the past half century.
Joe started work in 1963 aged 16 years old. He was employed by Stoneham Masonry, Southampton, as a Trainee Quantity Surveyor, and was paid the princely sum of £2 2s 4d (about £2.11), for a 48 week. That equates to about 4.5pence per hour!
From 1964 to 72 Joe worked in the Contract Tiling Dept., at Hall &Co. in Southampton, initially as an office assistant working his way up to being the buyer. Hall & Co, who at that time operated Builders Merchant outlets, were acquired by RMC. Joe eventually ran the contract tiling business that employed 12 fixers. Joe recalls working on many contracts including the Southampton Ordinance Survey Offices, the Tricorn Portsmouth shopping centre and the Grand Theatre shopping precinct in Southampton where much of the mosaic tiling is still in place 50 years on.
It was about this time that Richafix Green Seal, one on the first ready mixed adhesives, was introduced to the UK. At this time all floor tiling and about half of all wall tiling was still being fixed using a cement mortar mix. Tile were available in 4.1/4 or 6 x 6inch sizes. Fixers were paid 10 shillings (50p) per square yard of tiles fixed and 14 shillings (70p) for floor tiles bedded into a 1/2 inch thick cement base. They were paid an extra 2d for every 1/8th inch the adhesive bed increase over the 1/2 inch. Remember there were 240 x 1d (old pennies) to the pound.
Between 1972 & 1979 Joe was a partner in the Southampton based Avon Tile Supplies & Contractors Ltd business. The Tiling & Distribution team was managed by Geoff Blampied who was well known throughout the industry. Joe recalls that it was during the seventies that tile fixing methods changed and pre blended cement adhesives such as Bal-Cem, a slow setting adhesive, was introduced. Fast setting adhesives didn’t appear until the 80’s.
During his years in Southampton Joe supplemented his income by being a DJ. He was DJ at the Dell, home of Southampton, The Saints, on the day that the ground record of 31,044 was set. He was also resident DJ at the Concorde Club, a venue that Laurie Chescoe’s band the Midnite Follies Orchestra frequently played. Laurie was a director of Bellegrove Ceramics and used his gigs at the Concorde to invite the buyers from B & Q for a meal and a bit of selling.
In 1979 Joe commenced his first Field Sales role as a representative with Sphinx Tiles, covering East Anglia and was paid some £4,300 p.a. The M.D. was another stalwart of the tiling industry, John Wickham. Amongst Joes key customers were Ceramic Tiles of Ipswich, run by Maureen McMillan, and Eastern (Glazed Ceramics), run by Mick Polly. He was introduced to these customers by his Sphinx Colleague Peter James who still works today for Atlas Ceramics in New Milton.
Rex Walker, the National Sales Manager indicated to Joe that if sales target could be achieved in three day then he could take the rest of the week off! This was not quite as good as a colleague who had worked for H & R Johnson in the 1950’s who had been told that his wife should not be expected to do the gardening whilst he was working away and that he should employ a gardener and “put it on his expenses”. As this was a time before mobile phones, Joe was given an allowance of 2d (two old pence) to use in the public pay phone to make contact with the office twice weekly. A memory of push button “A” to speak & Button “B” for your 2d back! If working more than a 30 minute drive from home Joe was allowed to stay in a 3 & occasionally a 4 star hotel.
In 1982 after 3 years with Sphinx Joe joined Ceramic Tiles of Ipswich as a Sales Rep before moving on to join E. Hawks of Romford. By this time Joe was living in St Albans. It was a company policy to draw petrol for the car from the company pump, any fuel bought outside was not claimable. This therefore entailed a twice weekly trip to the Romford office. As this was pre M25 it took half a day just to refuel.
An indication of how things were in the 1980’s was seen when Joe was rejected for a job that he was interviewed for by a then leading tile manufacturer because he did not have a wife at home to take messages when he was not there.
Joe entered the adhesive world in 1983 when he joined BAL as Area Sales Manager for East Anglia and the South East. Joe recalls his first site visit and meeting Richard Freibe who was with Layright Ltd, a business that was to move from contract fixing and become Capitol Tile Supplies. Joe remembers Bob Howard and Maurice Attchew of Wilson Wylie all influential in the tiling world. During this time Joe moved to Hixon, Staffs where he still lives.
During the nine years in this role Joe witnessed considerable change, with the distribution of tiles being moved away from Builders Merchants and into new businesses dedicated to the growing ceramic market. Companies such as Ramus, Collinson Tiles, United Tiles & Glazed Floor Tile Supplies, (GFTS) became established. As Tile distribution flourished so did the Adhesive sector with Howtex, Granfix, Mapei, PCI & Palace all entering the market.
Joe was made redundant by BAL in 1992 but not before technology caught up and Joe received his first mobile phone. 2d’s also redundant.
Not one to stand around Joe joined Homelux in 1992 and held the position of Retail & Contracts Rep until he received a call from Jim Yule, an ex Bal colleague, who invited him to join Mapei as Area Sales Manager for the Midlands in 1995. Mapei was based in Middlesborough and as this was a time before they had a manufacturing plant in the UK all the adhesives were imported from Italy.
On leaving Mapei Joe sent a fax to various companies advertising his availability. Gratefully Howtex contacted him with an offer that he was pleased to accept and Joe has remained with the business that became Weber. From his Midlands base Joe has covered the whole of Great Britain at various times during his 18 years Weber.
Joe will continue with his part time work with Oxfam, Stafford where he works in the music department, sometimes spending as much as all other customers put together increasing his large record collection. He has also has taken on an allotment where he hopes to grow fresh vegetables to keep him fit and healthy in his retirement.
I along with many customers and colleagues past & present, thank Joe for his considerable contribution to the tile & adhesive industry and wish him a long, healthy and happy retirement. Thank you Joe.
Joe retires on 31st March.
As told to Ian Swann, Specifications Manager. Weber Ltd.