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)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West, performing in New York last week, has been the subject of controversy as rock's traditional headline slot at Glastonbury is lost once again
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Life and Style
Drinking - often heavily - is a running theme throughout HBO's Game of Thrones adaptation
food + drink
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Senior SEO Executive

£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior SEO Executive is requi...

Recruitment Genius: Online Customer Service Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Online customer Service Admi...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global, industry leading, ...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living