Sometime things change for the better by the Grumpy old Blogger
I was talking to a very old customer of mine the other week
who I have known since I started work in the paint industry back in 1983. Over
a cup of coffee, we got to remembering “the good old days” or not as it turns
I joined the family paint company as a sales rep in 1983 not
because of any childhood dream to selling paint, no I wanted a company car. I
was duly rewarded with a 1.1L Mark 1 Fiesta in Champagne Gold and it even had
head restraints and a radio cassette, I was totally made up. Twelve months and
60,000 miles later the novelty was beginning to wear off
So what was the life of a rep like in those days:
The two most important things all reps needed to know –
where they could find a public loo and a public phone box. In those days
garages only sold petrol and didn’t have public toilets and we are talking
about a time before mobile phones had ever been thought of. I would have to save my orders up and find a
phone box twice a day to ring them in. This delay didn’t really matter though as
all orders back then took 7-10 days!
In 1983 it must be said that Health & Safety and paint
manufacture wasn’t what it is today.
Back then Liquid Lead was used as a drier in paints and
pigments also contained lead. Masks were very rarely used and I remember every
day at the factory a crate of full fat milk was delivered and given to the
production workers as it was believed this would protect against lead poisoning.
Paint was made and ground on open top roller mills which got
extremely hot and caused a lot of solvent evaporation making a paint factory a
pretty unpleasant place to work. The company would encourage workers to bring
in their wives or girlfriends lathered stockings and tights as back then the
finer the denier the better the paint strainer they made.
Colour matching was all done by eye and the experienced
colour matcher ruled the roost. They decided when a colour could go, when it
would be made and according to them never made a mistake. It was a very
difficult place for a rep to be caught between an angry customer complaining
about a colour match and a colour matcher’s complete denial that he could have
ever get it wrong.
Health & Safety on customer sites was no better either.
On one occasion I received a call from a customer demanding we visit a site on
the side of the River Thames to view a complaint about paint coming off a sign.
As I was relatively inexperienced, I persuaded my Father in Law who was
Technical Director to come with me and we met the customer at a very large
flour mill over looking the river. It turned out the sign looked out over the
river but was some 200ft up on the side of the building. We made our way
through the building to the roof area, but the sign was positioned about 4ft
down over the edge and it was a shear drop which prevented us getting a close
look. These days that would have been an end to the visit and scaffolding would
have had to go up, how much quicker then to dangle my father-in-law over the
edge by his legs me holding one the customer the other so he could get a close
up view. Anyone viewing from the river must have thought it was a “gangland
These days I can assure you here at HMG Coatings, no lead in
our products, proper straining at all stages and proper extraction with water
cooled vats to reduce heat and solvent evaporation. Colour matching is
computerised but still overseen by an experienced but far nicer colour matcher
called Julie, paint is delivered next day, and I even have a mobile phone.
Finding a loo can still be a struggle but I guess you can’t have everything!!