Woking Business

THE Lansbury Estate business park, which is home to an eclectic mix of 40 companies, started life as an electrical component manufacturer working out of an old cow shed in St Johns.

Crater Controls, established by Woking-born Arthur Craven and a colleague in 1947, developed from making a range of electrical switches and other components to producing complete goods such as hairdryers and tea-making machines.

Speaking from his office at Lansbury Estate, Arthur, who turns 94 next month, recalled that Crater replaced the old cow shed with a larger building and then needed to move to somewhere even bigger.

He was offered land on the edge of Knaphill on which a multi-storey building was to be put up.

“But I wanted somewhere suitable for flowline production. I walked through some bushes and came upon this site, which was six acres and has just a few derelict buildings on it,” he said.

Arthur got into conversation with a man in an old wooden shed. He was an inmate at Brookwood Mental Hospital and caretaker of the land, which was a former brickworks. Arthur contacted the owners and in 1956 bought the site and built his factory.

At the height of Crater’s fortunes, the company was employing more than 500 people.

Some of the staff were brought in on buses from as far away as Basingstoke. In a move that was very forward-looking at the time, the company provided a crèche for the workers.

Crater moved into the final product business because its customers were having great difficulty in getting their goods manufactured.

“They said ‘Come along, Arthur, you have all the equipment here, why don’t you make them?’”

The small domestic appliances produced from the Knaphill site included up to 10,000 hairdryers a day.

The success came to an abrupt halt one night in 1972 when the first of a set of new heaters caught fire, destroying all the production areas.

There then followed a very difficult eight-year period in which the various lawyers were, in Arthur’s words “at each other’s throats.” The case eventually went to the Old Bailey in a case that lasted a week.

The insurers agreed to pay out on the buildings, but Crater was facing great difficulties. Arthur had started a medical diagnostics equipment company, Medelec Ltd, from his home in Hook Heath. It later moved to St Johns and then to Manor Way in Old Woking.

In 1979, with the legal battle over the factory fire still raging, Arthur sold Medelec Ltd, but despite this and the insurance payout, the future for Crater was grim.

“At the end of 1979, early 1980 I had no choice but to draw stumps,” Arthur recalled sadly.

However, the idea for the current successful business came a few days after Crater folded.

“I went away for a break and when I came back I looked at the buildings and thought they are jolly good buildings and thought there is room for a hell of a lot more, so why don’t we let them to someone else.”

So, Lansbury Estate was born.

I asked Arthur if the name was perhaps related to the great actress Angela Lansbury.

“No, but that will do,” he said. In fact the name was chosen just because it was “nice sounding.”

Arthur’s son Mark, a Lansbury director, explained that by now the Lansbury Estate is home to tenants as diverse as the Woking Hospice warehouse, a producer of precision engineering for McLaren, a software security company, website developers, as well as large companies in the oil industry.

“There is quite a concentration of oil-based designers and engineers in the Woking area,” Mark said.

“They like the location, which suits most of their staff. There are very good transport links and adequate parking on site.”

Mark said that Lansbury Estates carries out all the maintenance on site and has someone who looks after the greenery.

Mark’s brother James and their sisters Kate and Claire also work for Lansbury and during the summer some of their children make it three generations of Cravens working at the company.

Arthur is still working hard as said that “the word ‘retire’ is not in my vocabulary”.

He recalled his first day of work – in 1939 – when at 15 he went into Vickers in Weybridge and suggested that he would make a good apprentice.

He was taken on by a manager called George Edwards, who would later run Vickers and was knighted.

Arthur’s step into running his own company came shortly after the war when one of the Vickers customers reported that they had been unable to buy certain switches.

“I first thought, ‘well we’ll make it here’,” Arthur said. “Then I thought ‘that’s ridiculous, I’ll make it and you can buy it’”.

He came out of that discussion with an order for 30,000 switches and then cast around for somewhere to base his factory.

“I’ve always lived in Woking and it seemed to me that if I was going to start a business it would be rather stupid to start it somewhere else,” Arthur said.

WHEN Jess Holmes was unveiled as Woking FC’s new commercial manager earlier this month (Sept. ’17), she was under no illusion that she was stepping foot into, predominately, a man’s cave.

AMBITIOUS: Woking’s new commercial manager, Jess Holmes. Picture by Andy Fitzsimons

For years, football has long been associated with breweries and cigarette manufacturers, but Holmes is clearly intent on bringing more lateral thinking to the table to help promote positive change and one that will influence the way people perceive Woking.

With a degree in business management, Holmes is keen to utilise her business acumen and commercial flair to not only entice more fans through the turnstiles, but to engage a wider audience, both on and off the field.

Acknowledging that football is a brand in its own right, Woking’s new commercial prodigy is determined to capitalise on the club’s good fortunes on the pitch in a bid to get people talking about it off it.

And while there’s no quick fix to Woking’s financial disadvantage when compared to many of its other National League counterparts, the club does now have a sound base for a sustainable future.

“As soon as I came to Woking, I was excited by the opportunity and potential to make a difference,” explained Holmes.

“From my perspective, I see it as a bit of blank canvass, and that’s not to undermine the great work and efforts of any of my predecessors, but merely looking at the potential here in terms of the experience and commercial proposition that Woking Football Club has to offer.

“We’ve got some great names already associated with the club, but there’s scope to really ramp things up. There’s also the match day experience, which is a revenue generator in itself, and to define what that experience actually comprises.”

The former head of business development at talkSPORT believes that there are a number of things that can benefit the club too, which don’t require huge investment or large-scale change. In many respects, they’re minor tweaks that can make the overall experience even more professional.

Woking already has a commercial advantage over its nearest and dearest, insofar that it can accurately promote itself as the largest or most senior football club in Surrey.

And while some would argue that Sutton United could challenge the status quo, The U’s fall under the municipality of a London borough.

Prior to taking on the commercial reigns at Woking, Holmes had spent much of her professional career working in advertising, so when The Cards’ vacancy came up, her decision was almost instantaneous.

“The Board have been great about me coming in; giving me the autonomy to look around, and to go back to them with ideas on how to improve things. There will inevitably be some financial constraints, but you would expect that in the National League.

“Woking, as a town, is a relatively affluent place, but it doesn’t mitigate the need to communicate our value proposition on a regular basis.

“When we played Sutton a couple of weeks ago (16 Sept. ’17), I thought: what a brilliant afternoon of entertainment. And to think that it only cost an adult (early bird) season ticket holder less than £5 admission.

“This is a great example of what can be achieved, but change of course won’t happen overnight.

“Without giving too much away at this stage, there are a number of things that we are doing, and will be doing, to become more effective and efficient in the way that we engage with key stakeholders.

“Everything from the provisions for home and away spectators, to looking at the commercial arrangements when fans are segregated,” she added.

It is understood that Holmes is currently in the throes of developing a CRM (customer relationship management) database, so the club can gather more granular information on its partners, but also its season ticket holders too.

Improved signage is also believed to be a key area, as is having a more formal concierge service to greet the opposition – to name just a few.

And while neither is hugely commercially driven, they all go a long way to help improve the match day experience and provide the platform for bigger and better things.

THE link between Woking and the pioneering culinary industrialist Kenneth Wood has been officially recognised with a commemorative blue plaque.

The plaque was unveiled by the Mayor of Woking near the site of a small building in Goldsworth Road where Wood laid the roots of his eponymous electrical goods company.

He set up Woodlau Industries with business partner Roger Laurence  in 1947 at 79 Goldsworth Road. The shop, on the land now occupied by KwikFit, has long been demolished and so the tyre chain’s headquarters was chosen as the site of the plaque.

Woodlau manufactured the A100 toaster, which was revolutionary for its time. The company moved for a few years to larger premises in Hipley Street, Old Woking, where it launched its second big product, the A200 food mixer. Laurence later left the company, became Kenwood and the food mixer was further developed into  the Kenwood Chef.

Kenwood later moved to Havant and evolved into the modern-day Kenwood-DeLonghi. Wood left the company in the late 1960s. He remained very active for the rest of his life and died in 1997, aged 81.

Cllr Graham Cundy was joined at the plaque unveiling by several of Wood’s family, friends and former colleagues.

Cllr Cundy, said: “Not many Woking residents will know that the internationally recognised Kenwood brand had its humble beginnings in Woking.

“We hope that the presence of a blue plaque in honour of Ken will ensure that more people are aware of his achievements and his ingenuity.

“This is a proud moment for the residents of Woking.”

Wood’s stepson John,  who is the family archivist and has written a biography of his stepfather, said the unveiling of the plaque was a very proud moment for the Woods.

“Kenwood was at one time the biggest employer in Woking and Kenneth Wood would  have been so proud of this day.”

Mark Welch, Chief Executive Officer of Kenwood-DeLonghi, said that the company still followed the spirit in which Wood conducted business.

“Appliances at that time were very functional and concentrated on the engineering, but Ken Wood believed that ‘eye appeal is buy appeal’ and that design was very important to people in selecting what to put in their homes.

“He considered objects from the buyers’ perspective, and we continue that today.”
Garry Chapman, of KwikFit operations, said it felt a bit bizarre to be having the ceremony on the premises, but said it was a proud moment for all concerned.

WHAT’S the last thing you would expect when walking into a recruitment agency looking for work?

If you answered being offered a drink and asked if you wanted a game of pool, then you would be surprised to find that is exactly what might happen at Finch Club Recruitment in Woking town centre.

The new agency is the brainchild of 33-year-old Paul Davey, a former Woking High School and Woking College student who is bringing his experience of working in the City of London to his hometown.

Paul, who has lived in Woking since he was a small boy, had previous experience in recruitment before moving on to the high-pressure world of currency trading in the City and Dubai.

He returned to Woking last year and came up with the concept of recruitment that fitted the 21st century and also the expansion of the town.

“I noticed an opportunity – Woking is on the cusp of a real economic boom and the big companies that are being attracted here will need to find staff,” Paul said.

Describing the developing town as “the ideal location” Paul partly took his inspiration from some of the more modern-looking estate agents with their ultra-tidy offices, complete with gleaming fridges full of cold drinks.

Finch Club has a coffee bar on top of fridges, with an impressive array of lager, wine and soft drinks.

The feel is very relaxed and also very modern with striking art on the wall and, of course, that pool table.

Paul felt that other recruitment agencies, like some of the old-fashioned estate agents, have failed to keep up with the times, leaving candidates to fill in a form with their employment details and being “a number in a database”.

Finch Club, by contrast, is all about getting to know the candidates as much as possible so that they can be matched with the ideal job.

“Its about humanising it – we want candidates to come in and feel relaxed. We are about putting the candidates at the centre of everything we do. If we can have a relaxed chat – perhaps over a drink and game of pool – and find out as much as possible, we are then able to sell that candidate to prospective employers that much better.”

The club look and feel to Finch belies the strong sense of efficiency and professionalism behind the new business.

Paul and his colleagues are all very smartly dressed and turned out. The desks are as tidy and clean as any modern office. The technology – from the wireless work stations to the flat-screen TVs – is cutting-edge.

The sense is that there is no room in modern business for outdated ideas and practices.

The intention is to become the number one agency in the town as only the first step to expansion.

Paul said he saw the Goldsworth Road premises as becoming the headquarters to a business that will grow around Surrey and beyond.

“I want people to walk out of here having had such a positive experience that they tell 10 or 20 of their friends.”

Paul is looking to recruit his own staff and hopes to do so from people in and around Woking.

“This is a dream sales job for someone to work in this environment.”

Alongside an “aggressive commission package” consultants will benefit from Finch Club’s local connections with free haircuts, gym membership deals and clothing discounts.

The name of the business comes from the little bird that flies, not just from A to B, but also for enjoyment.

“The motto is ‘enjoy the journey’ and that is what we are doing and want to impart to others,” Paul said.

WOKING-based event production company Peachy Productions is moving to bigger premises in Guildford at the start of this month.

The company has been based in a warehouse on the Goldsworth Park Trading Estate since 2013.

Over the past four years, it has grown both its business and staff while being the official in-house event production company for Chelsea Football Club.

Its new warehouse, at 3A Cathedral Hill, Guildford, will enable the company to organise even more events, including weddings.

“Peachy Productions would like to thank the Woking community for their custom and hope that they will continue to utilise ours services,” said a spokesman.

GOLDSWORTH Park’s pub has re-opened following a £350,000 investment which will create up to 10 new jobs.

The major facelift at the Fox and Flowerpot in Bampton Way has been carried out by national pub operator Ei Group PLC, formerly Enterprise Inns.

The interior has been updated with new toilets, flooring, fixtures, lighting and soft furnishings.

Outside, the pub has a new patio, improved lighting, new signs, new garden furniture, landscaping and planters.

Local father and son team Ian and Darren Cox have taken on running the pub on a five-year tenancy, after being in charge on a temporary basis. Both know the area well and have strong experience in managing pubs and clubs.

Ian Cox said: “The Fox and Flowerpot has been crying out for a refurbishment and we are glad that Ei Group saw the potential in our business plans and came up with the significant investment required to transform the place.

“The pub had a poor reputation in recent years but we now have a great core of customers who make it welcoming for all ages. We currently stock three real ales, one of which is locally-sourced, and are committed to growing our relationships with local brewers and produce suppliers.”

Mick Bell, chairman of Surrey Hants Borders branch of CAMRA – the Campaign for Real Ale – and Woking MP Jonathan Lord visited the pub on relaunch day.

Mick said: “I cannot help but sing praises of what Ian and Darren have done here. It is good to see a public house doing well. Ian and Darren have given the Fox and Flowerpot a new lease of life.”

“I can testify that the real ale served here is in tip top condition, and good reasonably priced food is available. The pub provides a great community atmosphere and is a great family friendly place to visit. This is just the sort of story we at CAMRA love to tell.”

The Fox and Flowerpot, which was built in the 1980s, was named from a suggestion put forward in a competition run for residents.

ONE of Woking’s largest employers, Harvey Water Softeners, has donated a new spectrometer device worth £40,000 to a pioneering research study which could revolutionise our understanding of childhood eczema.

The handheld Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectrometer was gifted to the Unit for Population-Based Dermatology Research at St John’s Institute of Dermatology, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London, led by Dr Carsten Flohr, Consultant Dermatologist and senior National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Fellow.

It will be used as part of a clinical trial to investigate the effect of hard water and skin care practices on the skin barrier of newborn babies, looking at how this links in with the development of eczema which affects an estimated 20 per cent of children and seven per cent of adults in the UK.

Dr Flohr said the device will improve the speed and accuracy of future research, adding “The data it gives our teams access to could lead to clearer insights into what drives the breakdown of the skin barrier in eczema.”

(l-r) Dr Carsten Flohr, Harvey Bowden

Harvey Bowden, who founded the family-owned Old Woking company in 1978, said: “It’s exciting to be doing our bit to help with this potentially life-changing work.”

A WOKING man is among a team of cyclists from a Surrey firm who have been inspired to ride 100 miles to raise £10,000 after a colleague’s son was hit by a muscle-wasting disease.

Chris Homewood, 31, who works at the cabling and data company Siemon in Chertsey, will take part in the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 in support of Harrison’s Fund on 30 July.

He signed up for the event after colleague Steve Foster’s son Austin, now three, was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy in 2015.

Harrison’s Fund is named after ten-year-old Harrison Smith from Surrey who was diagnosed with the rare genetic condition. It affects all the muscles in the body, causing them to waste away. Harrison’s Fund’s goal is to get as much money as possible for research to find a cure for the disease.

After Austin’s diagnosis, Steve, 42, a keen cyclist from Sussex, challenged himself to ride 600 miles, including RideLondon-Surrey, to raise money.

Chris said: “I’ve known Steve for more than five years now and when Austin’s diagnosis came through we were all shocked and saddened and wanted to do something to contribute.

“I was so inspired by his effort and determination to accomplish the many rides and distances last year that when he mentioned he was planning to get a team together for this year I jumped at the chance.

“I am looking forward to raising much needed funds and awareness and being part of such an iconic activity.”

One in 3,500 boys in the UK is born with Duchenne each year. Their average lifespan is just 20 years and the disease is 100% fatal.

Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 is a 100-mile bike ride on closed roads, starting in the Olympic Park, taking in the Surrey Hills, and then finishing on the Mall. More than 20,000 cyclists will be taking part.

Joining Chris and Steve will be Dan Vout, 39, plus colleagues from other parts of the world.

To support the team please visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/steven-foster11.

WOKING-BASED lingerie giant HanesBrands has donated £10,000 to the breast cancer charity Walk the Walk in the run-up to the 20th fundraising MoonWalk.

Some 15,000 walkers are expected to gather at Clapham Common on Saturday for the annual event, wearing decorated bras to raise money and awareness to fight breast cancer.

Loredana Sole and Mellissa Coulter with the cake made by Laura Robinson. Loredana and Mellissa are wearing the decorated bras of the type that all pariticants in the Monwalk and Half-Moonwalk will be wearing.

Nina Barough, CBE, the charity’s founder and chief executive, was on hand to accept the cheque from the HanesBrands office in Church Street West. The company bought Playtex, whose lingerie includes Wonderbra and sports bras.

Sixteen HanesBrands employees will take part in the London MoonWalk this year.

The charity, whose headquarters are in the Genesis Business Park in Albert Drive, Woking, has raised £116 million and makes grants to a variety of cancer organisations. It also funds hospitals across the country to by Scalp Cooling systems, which help people undergoing chemotherapy to retain their hair.

WILL Forster, the Liberal Democrat leader on Woking Borough Council, will fight Jonathan Lord for the parliamentary seat in the general election on 8 June. UKIP is also fielding a candidate, local businessman Troy de Leon.

The Lib Dems announced that Mr Forster was their candidate this week, with Mr Lord reselected last weekend at a special general meeting of the Woking Conservative Association. UKIP named Mr de Leon on Tuesday. Also on Tuesday, the Labour Party announced its candidate as Fiona Colley, the Southwark Council cabinet member for Finance. Ms Colley is a former pension fund manager with a Masters in Economics from the University of Cambridge. A Labour Party spokesperson said that her parents live in Woking.

Mr Forster said: “I am delighted to have been selected as the Lib Dem candidate for Woking.  I have lived in Woking for more than two decades and been a councillor for the last eight years. I know Woking so well and see the problems residents face on a daily basis.  I love this town and this borough, and I want to be its voice in Westminster.”

Europe is likely to feature heavily in the Woking campaign with Mr Forster saying: “I know so many people, including lifelong Conservatives, are very unhappy with the current MP who backed Leave in the recent referendum and is backing the Government’s Hard Brexit agenda, despite Woking voted overwhelming to Remain.

“As Woking’s MP, I will always back local residents and represent their views in Parliament.”

Mr Lord said: “It has been a great privilege to have represented the residents of the Woking  constituency since 2010 and I am honoured that our local Conservative Association has re-selected me as their candidate for the election.

“Under Conservative leadership both locally and nationally, I think that Woking has gone from strength to strength. There has been a real transformation of our town centre over the past few years and our villages and communities continue to be wonderful places to live and to raise a family.

“Business is good, local employment is at an all-time high, and our young people are doing outstandingly well at our schools and colleges.

“But we must never be complacent. I believe that it is only Theresa May and a Conservative Government, supported by our excellent local Conservative councils, who can help deliver the continued growth and prosperity we need to flourish into the future.”

Mr de Leon has had connections in Woking for about 25 years and has lived in the town for around ten years. He is standing in the county council elections today for the Knaphill and Goldsworth West seat, where his chief opponent is also a Conservative, Cllr Saj Hussain.

Mr Lord had a 20,810 majority over second-placed Labour in 2015. The Lib Dems put up a strong fight in the 2010 general election coming second with a gap of less than 7,000 votes. But in the  nationally disastrous election five years ago, the party finished third in Woking, 174 votes ahead of UKIP.