My Biggest Mistake: Stuart Findlay

Stuart Findlay, 47, is the chairman of Pelmark Group, a leading supplier of promotional merchandise. On leaving Bishops Stortford College at the age of 16, and reading a book in his local library called Get Up and Go, he packed his rucksack and spent the next two years hitch-hiking through 55 countries. When he returned to the UK, he spent one term at agricultural college, tried his hand at pig farming, then property development. Pelmark was founded in 1974, became the first UK importer of Tyvek industrial clothing, and has a pounds 7m turnover today.

MY BIGGEST mistake was in importing goods from overseas without first having them inspected. About five years ago we had begun to make our own promotional merchandise after setting up a factory in Malta. We were concentrating on producing polo shirts at competitive prices, so to me the cost per kilogram of the fabric we used was of the utmost concern. This was part of my mistake.

We had been let down by our former suppliers in China and were searching the world for other sources when we eventually found a manufacturer in Pakistan. The samples they sent us were good and the price was right. I placed an order for three containers of fabric - at a cost of pounds 65,000 - without going out there.

I did go to Pakistan shortly afterwards to discuss our long-term requirements, but due to flight delays I didn't take the time to see the mill. Instead, I met the knitters at their offices in Karachi, where they showed me the fabric they were supposed to be sending. I didn't foresee any problem.

We had been buying finished goods from all over the world for 12 years, and in the early days had employed local inspectors for our quality control. But they were expensive, and often delayed shipments. In our experience, this process wasn't worthwhile; we had found that suppliers want to give you a good product, so that you will place repeat orders.

This time it was different. The fabric in the first container was rubbish. It wasn't white, it had defects and even the width varied. It was not what had been ordered or what had been shown to me in Karachi. By this time the second container had arrived. The third was on its way, and we couldn't send them back because we had covered all three with one letter of credit.

We decided we had no option but to make the fabric into garments. Then we discovered the biggest problem: the garments shrunk by as much as 20 per cent. It was another expensive lesson - one of our customers took us to court and we paid pounds 30,000 in compensation.

The factory in Pakistan would not admit liability, so we had to call in an inspection agency with a branch in Malta to show that the fabric was sub-standard. It took a nine-month battle to get just dollars 15,000 out of the supplier. The whole sorry saga ended up costing us plenty but it taught me that you have to be very cautious when venturing out of your area of expertise. I had been over- confident in believing it was in the supllier's interest to give us quality goods.

We continue to buy from Pakistan, which produces some of the best cotton. But I chose my next supplier with more care. And, of course, we now use inspectors for all our fabrics, from Pakistan or anywhere.

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

IT Project manager - Web E-commerce

£65000 Per Annum Benefits + bonus: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: If you are...

Trainee / Experienced Recruitment Consultants

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Soho

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40000: SThree: As a Recruitment Consultant, y...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Day In a Page

Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

My George!

Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world