On the 5th July 1974, MIDFIX was founded by Michael Fowler. To mark MIDFIX’s 45th year of trading, we chat to Mr Fowler to discover the highs and lows of running your own business and how he transformed a struggling start-up into a profitable business.
After leaving school, Mr Fowler began working at Boots. He spent 7 years there gaining a significant amount of transferable skills and experience. Mr Fowler worked in several departments ranging from medical buying, expense accounting, office methods to retail methods before he reached a point where he could not see any further progression in the company.
It was around this time that his father-in-law had just left ICI and set up a fixings business called Fixings Delivery in Teeside. The “grandfather” of the fixings business was a Fixings Delivery company in the South. Based on a sales agent business model, the founder enabled people to use his company name and set up their own regional business. Mr Fowler found that they were looking for an agent in the Nottingham area. Then MC Fowler & Co was set-up.
In the beginning, Mr Fowler was a self-employed stocking agent. He had his own van, he had to find his own office, which was his garden shed. He also had to use his own storage facilities; which was his garage. In 1976, there was a company called Fix Fire in Coventry which sold fire equipment. Following a conversation with the owner, Mr Fowler spotted a gap in the market and began to sell fire extinguishers as well. He advertised the business in the local Yellow Pages directory, this part of the business became MF Fire Equipment which was profitable. Around this time, he also started to sell conduit fittings and the business became Midland Fixings.
To acquire customers, Mr Fowler made face to face visits. Interestingly, 4 of the customers whom he personally gained in the 1970s are still MIDFIX customers today.
In his own words, Mr Fowler acknowledges that during the early days, “the business was very much a partnership with my wife, Gill”. Gill took along their three young children, all under 18 months of age, and undertook customer deliveries at times all over Nottingham. Mr Fowler was responsible for the purchasing, picking-up supplies, selling and all the invoicing.
In March 1978, the very first employee came on board, Mike Pearse, who is still with the business today. Mike was hired initially as a delivery driver but quickly learnt the ropes and started selling whilst he was delivering to customer sites. In 1980, the first office and warehouse of 2,500 sq ft was opened on Vernon Avenue in Beeston.
Most entrepreneurs and business start-ups will agree that a company is rarely profitable during their first few years of trading. This was the same for Midland Fixings; the agent fees were small. There was the cost of rent, bills, vehicles and two salaries. In Feb 1981, with mutual consent, Mr Fowler left the agent business model and went solo. On a piecemeal basis, they began to buy stock and within 18 months, Midland Fixings had purchased all the stock they needed. From there, the business went up-hill and really started to take off.
In 1985, we relocated to a 6,000 sq ft former drill hall on Evelyn Street in Beeston. Then 12 years later in 1997, with 12 employees, Midland Fixings relocated to The Parrs, off Lilac Grove in Beeston which is where the business is today now occupying 60,000 sq ft premises and 57 staff. Today, we offer over 15,000 stocked product lines and maintain our founding philosophy by providing same day or next-day delivery for our customers. We have our own FORS silver accredited delivery fleet. We have a number of accreditations therefore our customers can expect a certain level of service. We recognised that off-the-shelf products were not always adequate for our customers so a few years ago, we expanded our service offering with an in-house structural engineering team who design bespoke solutions. We also have a prefabrication workshop with TIG/MIG qualified welders who manufacture bespoke products and build better solutions for our customers.
Mr Fowler made face to face visits to acquire customers. Interestingly, 4 of the customers whom he personally gained in the 1970s are still MIDFIX customers today.