Nick Jones should be described as the unsung hero of Crockett & Jones, certainly for the past 14 years anyway.
If you don’t work in the shoe industry, or you are not a farmer or part of the NFU, you probably have no idea who this Mr Jones is. Nick is somewhat of an enigma at C&J unless you work in the same building as him, in which case he is the opposite… He is truly inspirational to all who spend any amount of time with him, and especially to those who work with him. We all (without question) love Nick! If you don’t, there is probably something wrong with you… not Nick!
In relative terms, Mr Jones Snr joined his family business late on in life, after a lifelong love affair (battle) with farming, his true love (sorry Di/children). This is where Nick’s inherent drive, ability to work with all comes from and how he became such a hands on practically minded whirlwind Director, “No time to talk” as he disappears around the corner still talking to you…
As Mr Jones Snr begins to wind down (we will believe it when he stops turning up at 6:25am every day) at Crockett & Jones, we wanted you to meet and appreciate the man who is in charge of making sure ALL Crockett & Jones shoes & boots are made to exacting standards, set out by his Great Grandfathers, albeit a very different task today than it once was.
What was life like before joining your family business?
Farming. I started in 1976 on my own, but prior to this worked for others. At a young age I decided I wanted to work outside, preferably with animals! I wanted to work for myself and own my own stock.
I got married in 1972 (21) and with the support of my wife and life-long partner, Di, we set out together as ‘farmers’. Starting with my uncle on his farm, I put into practise and built upon those early skills I had taken from Harper Adams. We bought some pigs, used old sheds on the farm and made a bit of money. That’s how we got our first stock. From then, it was a matter of save, save, save. We never spent money on ourselves! In ’76 we borrowed a lot of money and set up, milking in churns in the cow shed, with a very old fashioned setup. Within a few months, we had saved enough to put a proper tank in, and eventually a new parlour. We moved on from our council farm, where I should think we were one of the youngest tenants in the country, and in ’84 we took on a larger farm, borrowed heavily yet again and drove on and on to make it work. Hard work and excruciatingly long hours. It required dedication, but it was rewarding in equal measures.
I never really made a lot of money. I could have made more working in Estate Management, driving around in a Range Rover, but that wasn’t for me. I saw friends from Harpers Adams and they always commented on being answerable to a board of directors, whereas I always held onto and cherished my freedom. My own stock, my own hard work.
I didn’t realise at the time, but these early years put me in good stead for my whole life. Work, work, work. I drive on, that’s just me.
Farming is physically tough, highly pressured and stressful and whilst manufacturing is also all of the above, it is a totally different kettle of fish! It must have been a challenge and a steep learning curve when you first joined Crockett & Jones in 2005.
In a way yes, but not really. I joined C&J in 2005, but well before that I had decided that milking cattle, was about the hardest farming there is. In my early 50s, I didn’t want to be up every night getting no sleep, calving cows, milking them and physically fighting them, so by 2001 I had set out to sell my herd and change my career.
I had plans to do various things but I’d been talking to my father (Richard Jones) and brother (Jonathan Jones) many years before, saying I wanted to get involved with shoes because I was very proud of what the company had achieved, and that if the factory was still going, I was keen to learn another industry.
When I finally joined, I always say that I got the chance because I am a Jones, but also that if it didn’t work out or I was not up to the job, I would walk away. I never wanted to be a burden on the business; However, I felt confident that I could drive and improve the factory whilst being a great support to my brother. I have always felt passionate that it was important to assist in the continuation of our family business – Crockett & Jones.
I was very proud of my own family and what they had achieved. I remember a pertinent meeting in the late 1970s when we (as a family) sat down with father to discuss the future of Crockett & Jones, and if it had a future at all. It had no cash you see. Closing the doors was a very close thing and I wanted to support my brother, Jonathan, who had just joined the business. DON’T SELL UP!, we both said. Father was seriously considering it as he saw no way out. It was desperate, a very difficult situation. In fact father had to pay the wages from personal savings for a short time whilst suppliers were chasing for payment.
Jonathan had a long-term plan which was already starting to work, and still to this day he remembers the wholesale accounts who promised him forward orders. When I finally joined the company, Jonathan was good to me. I brought skills to the business that he didn’t have, and he had skills that I lacked. He appreciated my support and we get on very well together.
We all know it and feel it from you, but can you give our customers an idea of the sense of pride you hold each time you walk underneath those famous words ‘Crockett & Jones’?
It is a fantastic place. I started coming here from age 6 onwards. I went to prep-school just down the road, so I was forever around the factory. I remember watching Cricket at the County Ground, around the corner, using my grandfather’s tickets. Father, already in the business, would never be ready to go home after the cricket had finished, so I used to spend hours on the balcony looking over the factory floor. The smell and the feel of the place was as unforgettable then as it is now. I loved it and still do.
My pride is as much for my father and brother for continuing the family business, as it is the building and having our family name above the door. What they achieved together as a management team was inspiring. It makes me very proud to pick up a pair of our shoes, because it shares that history.
Both my grandfathers started from scratch. The Jones’ at C&J and the Brigg’s over at the Harborough Rubber Co. Both still going strong. When I pick up a shoe with a Dainite or City sole, which this year totalled 30,000 pairs of shoes/boots, it makes me immensely proud.
The people who make Crockett & Jones special around the world have been great to me. Our French agent, visiting the factory this week with his son, who he has passed his agency down to, once told me; “Soon after you joined Mr Nicholas, the atmosphere in the factory changed. Don’t underestimate the positive changes you are making”. That made me feel like I had made the right choice.
You once told me a story about why you stopped to pick up a pen after someone questioned its worth. Can you share that with the world?
In my first couple of months I was working my way through the factory departments and I was spending some time with Bob, now our Finishing Room Supervisor, who wasn’t management at the time. I was eyes wide open, as you would expect, and trying hard to suss people out as much as I could (not easy when your surname was above the door).
I was stood next to Bob and saw a biro on the floor, a cheap biro. So I said to Bob “Bob, there’s a biro on the floor”. “Yes” he said, “It’s on the floor, it’s just a biro”. So I picked it up. Bob said “Management don’t usually pick up pens”. I said “Well part of that biro is mine. No matter how small the cost, that biro doesn’t want to be on the floor, it’s wasted on the floor. Isn’t it?”. And I’ll never forget the quizzical look Bob gave me… he has never forgotten it either and now makes up part of my factory management.
It is all about the value you place on anything. You might find it hard to believe that my wife and I were strapped for money most of our lives (farmers out there won’t…). We simply did not spend money, we didn’t have to spend. When we did, we invested it in good stock, Jonathan is the same. He never buys cheap leather. You have to have the right ingredients to produce something special, whether that is vegetables, livestock (milk) or shoes.
A basic rule for life on a farm, which rings so true for Manufacturing is: Know the value of money.
What do you think makes Crockett & Jones the great company it has become over five generations?
We have a lot of thing going for us. The reason the family still owns C&J and it is thriving is our work ethic, without a doubt. Father worked here until he was 88. My brother is the last to leave every night, and I am one of the first to arrive in the morning. Also, the family who are not involved, haven’t got in the way or passed judgement. The importance of this cannot be underestimated. Although many of them are shareholders, they have never interfered in what is a remarkably complicated business to run …
We have a great workforce. A strong family ethic runs throughout the factory, and that is partly from us (the Jones’) but partly from our staff. We have masses of staff who have between 25-50 years’ service, which is unusual today. We look after our work force, which father was also very good at. Jonathan brought in a very good pension scheme, which is important. Most people don’t realise the importance of planning for the future, but we talk a lot about it to our staff. I try hard to get our staff to look to the future and to plan for your life ahead… mind you that is easier said than done!
As an example. When any staff go on maternity leave, we always discuss with them about their return to work. Don’t just presume that because it is a factory your job will have been filled. Come back and we will help you if you help us. There is too much skill that has been lost to inflexible employers out there.
No end of businesses do not respect their workforce as we do, we attract so many staff for this reason. You MUST respect your work force, we need people long-term. Fact. We look after them, because without the factory staff, the rest is lost, gone. There is no point training somebody up and then not looking after them, because they will leave you.
Tragically we lost three people last year and as a director of their cherished place of work, I heavily supported them and their family, because I care. I spoke passionately at a funeral last year and still get very upset about all of the staff we have lost. 7 years ago our Closing Room supervisor passed away. I spoke to Linda every day, and I shall never forget my conversation with her the day before she died. Half of her family still work for me, but I’d love to have one more conversation with her. Jayne, passed away last year after a long battle with cancer. She had worked for Crockett & Jones for some 35 years as our Royal Perforator (Brogueing) and was everything that our Closing Room stands for. Driven, passionate (outspoken) and skilled, working to the same ethic as those around them. Jayne & Linda were standout women who were not afraid to tackle me on all sorts of topics. Missed but never forgotten. Fond memories indeed.
People make Crockett & Jones. The building adds to the theatre, but it is the people who make the difference.