Mike Reader admits his career in the family business has been a real rollercoaster ride. He has enjoyed the good times and endured the not so good.
Now, after more than 40 years, Mike has put Readers Interiors in the safe hands of family members while he pursues his other great interest, that of music, and has been promoting shows at the Venue in Ryde, Medina Theatre, and more recently Shanklin Theatre.
Mike recalls how he first joined his father in the business, and how he had to overcome several major setbacks to ensure its survival after taking charge. He said:
“My father Reg started Readers (IOW) Ltd in 1947 in Cowes, and Readers Fancicrafts Ltd in Freshwater in 1954. Readers (IOW) manufactured lampshades and tables lamps, and Fancicrafts manufactured wire products such as dish drainers and flower pot holders.
“I worked Saturday mornings and some holidays in the factory from a very early age. At 14 I was thinking of my career to become an architect. But my father sat me down and talked to me about the opportunities of the family business, and the benefits of being self employed.”
Mike admits he was influenced by his father, and started in the business on the shop floor at the age of 15 in 1964, after being persuaded that his education would be more beneficial working in the business than staying on at school – not a view shared by his mother Rose!
“I worked on the shop floor for just over a year, and learned the importance of respect for everyone who worked in the business. Everyone was important and we had to work as a complete team. Over the next seven years I developed through the offices, learnt management, and found that my natural ability was selling. This became my real forte for the rest of my career,” he recalls.
In 1971 Mike was stunned when his father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Within weeks his father arranged from his bedside a semi-retirement dinner at the Holmwood Hotel, Cowes, with senior members of staff, all the suppliers, and a director from Woolworths, the prime customers.
Reg announced his semi-retirement, so at the age of 22 Mike was officially made the new managing director of the Readers Companies. He said: “It was a very difficult time, coming to terms with my father’s illness, personal emotions and taking on the job. My father died some 10 months later. Supported by every member of staff I started a journey that I had no idea what I was taking on. I will never be able to thank all those members of staff for the support and friendship they gave me through that period of time.”
Over the next 17 years Mike was engaged in a huge learning curve, with selling still his main focus. Dealing with Woolworths, who would only deal with the owners of the companies that supplied them, he quickly discovered that running a family business was not a job but a way of life. Inevitably there were staff disputes, and tough decisions had to be made.
He continued: “On the up side producing lampshades and wire goods took me to exhibitions in Europe and America on a regular basis. Through my wife Sandie, who was Chairman of the NSPCC, I even met the Queen, and later was in her presence in my own right through my position in industry on the Isle of Wight.
“I was invited to become a Director of the Southern Counties Princes Trust helping young people to start businesses. Over those 17 years both the Readers companies grew, and all the hard work of everybody paid off. My secretary Dot Arnold was the first person my father employed, and she became his secretary, and later mine. She became my friend, mentor and always went the extra mile until she retired in the late 1990s. Sadly she is no longer with us.”
Mike’s next major blow came when Woolworths announced that they were dropping lighting, and was given only six months notice to adjust. The company was under threat but continued, even thougth120 staff were laid off. Mike went back to full time selling and gained the B&Q lighting account plus others.
“I started another journey but had no idea what I was facing. Over the next 15 years I faced great opportunities, but frightening times. Production was going down, and I had to resource from the Far East. This meant the eventual closure of the Freshwater factory, and the reduction of production at Cowes.
“I travelled to the Far East to source products, and eventually opened our own office, employing 30 people in Taiwan. Through import and production Readers reached its highest turnovers, and all looked good for the future. During the 1990s my children Leon and Sammie joined the company and in 1997 we had a party to celebrate 50 years of Readers. What could go wrong?”
He found out in 2004 when their biggest customer brought in new trading terms, and the company was not big enough financially nor strong enough to take the hit. It amounted to millions of pounds. All assets were sold, Readers downsized from 160 people to eight, and kept one out of six shops, also selling the Taiwanese company, and entering a joint relationship with a Chinese company.
Mike admits: “The last five years have been tough. Leon, Sammie and my wife Christine run the business, along with the support of a very loyal team of staff. My involvement has been support and providing some experience. The next journey is trading through these difficult times, but I have total confidence that they will come through stronger.”