Peter Davies, who inspired the setting up of the West Midlands Producers’ website, writes:

Peter DaviesI grew up in post war Britain, accustomed to rationing and shortages in a period when consumer items – if available at all – were generally ‘Made in Britain’ and proudly stamped so. Growing up in the back streets of Birmingham we had little in the way of possessions but we were given a work ethic that said ‘if you can’t afford it you can’t have it’ and ‘if you’re well enough to go out you’re well enough to go to school /work’

So, where I am I going with this?

Basically we seem to be developing a society who expects to take without giving back, where necessities are the latest smartphone or iPad and expectations are that ‘someone else’ must put the money in the pot to maintain this benefit culture. We quite regularly see people on TV who complain that their six bedroom expenses paid house isn’t big enough and they feel they don’t have enough benefits. Individuals need to take responsibility for their actions and direct their income first and foremost to the essentials of life. Pay the rent/mortgage, buy the food and then cater for luxuries. There are plenty of opportunities out there for anyone prepared to work.

Change the culture of ‘soft options’

I guess the first thing for Britain to do is to change the culture of ‘soft options’ whether it be in the perception that we [the UK] are a soft touch for everyone or whether it is the emphasis on ‘soft’ business. At long last Government seems to be recognising that manufacturing is essential to wealth! For many years there has been a view that we don’t need to make anything and this has been perpetuated by the vast number of ‘parasitic’ businesses that abound. Media, consultancy, recruitment, health and beauty, marketing, IT, accountancy, no claim – no fee lawyers. The list is endless.

A new buzzword around – onshoring!

As a SME owner for the past thirty years I have seen at first hand the fall from grace that was manufacturing. At a Chamber of Commerce meeting some years ago Tony Blair referred to manufacturers as ‘dinosaurs’ illustrating the then Government view. In the past couple of years though there seems to have been a much more positive view of producers from the Coalition and it is great to see that there is a new buzzword around – onshoring! To bring back production of certain items from overseas, particularly China, will be a slow process but as there is now only a small cost advantage to producing in China this will become an option that is considered more and more.

Difficult as it is we can all play a small part by actively buying British in preference to imported goods

It might take a bit of effort but it is surprising how much we do make and how much effect we can have by being a bit selective. Often it turns out that the British product is cheaper and almost certainly better than foreign goods.

My own company was formed in 1983 following redundancy. I had very little money, a mortgage, a wife and two children. My wife supported the idea of setting up our own business; we put our house as security against an overdraft and crossed our fingers. The risk was high but, in common with most owner managers, I worked long hours and was everything from machine operator to salesman to accountant. We actually made a trading profit in our first year, something almost unheard of. Solid cautious growth has taken place over the last thirty years with the occasional knock back as yet another recession bit. Progressively by investment in people, plant and property we have increased in size, numbers employed and are now market leader in our industry.

In the eighties there seemed to be a view amongst ‘the workers’ that bosses were rich and came from moneyed backgrounds. That may be true of some but most I have known have put their whole life into developing a business which pays little more than a medium earner in the public or financial sector. To put things totally in perspective, we are the biggest company at what we do; employ 20 people and yet our turnover is about the same as the salary of a building society director!

We go back to the work ethic and the ethos of wanting to succeed at what you do.

I am nothing special, never wealthy, not terribly well educated but I had a desire to succeed and learnt as much as I could on a practical level in my jobs leading up to the formation of our own company. I consider that I have been lucky but also an effective manager creating the legacy of a solid company which is well respected and provides employment for a good number of people some who have been with us for many years. We have had some success with apprentices although we have lost some who obviously don’t see work as a priority. One girl had her mother phone us to say she wasn’t coming in as it was snowing. It was pointed out that everyone else had got there on time and she was most surprised that she was expected to attend.

Our daughter took over the role as managing director about five years ago and continues to grow the business with great enthusiasm. It is interesting to look back on the changes over the years in the way business is done. When we started, customers expected regular visits [ideally around lunchtime] whereas now with heavier workloads, longer hours and less people we rarely see customers and the message is promoted by social media, blogs e-mails etc.

Media doom and gloom

Despite the media doom and gloom we have seen growth of around 20% year on year since the crisis of 2008, have invested heavily and look to invest more in the coming years in both plant and people. We look on the future as an exciting challenge helping British companies to manufacture their products in the UK.

If there is a moral to this story it is that, even today, there are opportunities for anyone to be good at what they do.

If you are a road sweeper, be proud to have the cleanest street in town; if you are a bus driver be the smoothest driver, the friendliest face, if you are a businessman [or woman] be the most honourable and ethical person you can, in other words always give of your absolute best.

The mind set of ‘take’ has to stop in the Britain of today. With the lead of Government, parents and educators we need to encourage work as a norm not an exception. Not everyone can be a pop star or a premiership footballer but an approach of giving of your best rather than a shallow ‘take what you can’ attitude must be good for the individual, their employer and eventually for Britain. In particular, there is a bright future for anyone who is prepared to go into 21st century manufacturing. It may not be overly glamorous but can always be interesting and challenging and sometimes very rewarding.