The Range Rover rushed up the M23 and onto the A23 into London with its blue lights embedded in the bumpers flashing but it was the two escorting police cars that impressed Penny, Nigel had never arranged that. As the car pulled in through the gates of Downing Street the two police cars peeled off and the Range Rover dimmed its blue lights, there was nothing to be gained from alerting the press corp.
They were immediately shown up to the PM’s office where he and ‘C’ were waiting for them. Richard shook their hands and congratulated them on a perfect mission saying he had never doubted their ability to pull it off. ‘Like hell you did,’ thought Penny but thanked him anyway and nearly laughed when she saw ‘C’ winking at her from behind Richard’s back. Richard then said, “I have a few things to tell you. Firstly the Chief of the Defence Staff has agreed to ‘C’s request and Les is to transfer immediately to the SMG on a permanent basis. ‘C’ has agreed that as soon as you have completed your written reports you are both on additional paid leave until after the New Year’s bank holiday. And finally a little update on what is happening in Ireland.”
“The Garda,” Richard continued, “have eventually found your hide and taken the hint of a German bullet case and IR protective sheet. Your car has been found in Portmagee, well they could hardly miss it someone had put a firebomb under it. It went off when the boot was opened, but not before they had time to extract the ghillie suits. The missing fishing boat has been found afloat two miles offshore but the Irish Naval Service are reluctant to board it after what happened to the car. Your cottage is currently being searched. But one thing we didn’t plan for and is more than we could have hoped for is that numerous Protestant leaders in the north have been on the radio denouncing the old Taoiseach as an IRA supporter and funder.”
As they walked out of the PM’s office to their transport, ‘C’ said to them that Richard had been talking about rewarding them both with a medal. He added, “I’m sorry it won’t be GM like your sister but probably on OBE or an MBE.” Turning to Les he said, “The same applies to you, now you are no longer a member of the armed forces it will have to be a civilian award. Oh, and I guess you are no longer eligible for RN quarters so I have booked you into a decent hotel until you can find somewhere to live within commuting distance of the Cross.”
Jinnie was amazed at the progress in Windsor. As far as she could tell the ground floor was ready to open, but both Alphonso and Belinda said not yet. Alphonso explained that despite the senior staff being trained in Potters Bar and Turners Hill a fortnight would be needed once Belinda turned the ground floor over to them to get the more junior staff prepared to Trattoria Trevi standard. Belinda pointed out that before they could open downstairs the building inspector required them to completely block off upstairs so that no dust could drift down from the work upstairs. That was even though it was mainly clean work such as carpet laying, painting, door hanging and repositioning the movable wall.
Alphonso said with any luck they would be able to open New Year’s Eve with a very special party atmosphere. The upstairs was only a fortnight behind and had Jinnie considered asking TTEvents to arrange a grand opening ceremony? Jinnie said she hadn’t but she would phone Miranda as soon as they were finished. The walk around revealed the old pub had been transformed. The reception and bar although much smaller than that of the old bar was perfectly adequate for people having a drink before dinner. The new staircase to the upper floor swept up around a wheelchair chairlift quite big enough to take three electric scooters at once with their passengers, friends and the ambulatory disabled.
The downstairs dining room was virtually complete with the carpets down, the decorations complete and the lighting was all working. Furniture was being delivered and unwrapped and Belinda said the air conditioning was being completed as they spoke. There had been a few snags and they were awaiting parts from the Japanese makers as there had been a manufacturing fault and that was the only major delay. However, the building inspector wouldn’t sign off and give them the appropriate certificates until the air conditioning was working and the upstairs sealed off for dust. Belinda explained that it also needed an industrial clean but that could not be done until the AC work had been completed.
Alphonso took Jinnie through to the kitchen which was immaculate. He explained that they had installed one or two pieces of new equipment and scrapped some that the old pub had used. But he said the kitchen was ready to go, all the equipment had been commissioned but the big hold up was the air conditioning. He once again emphasised that the installation crew had been fantastic. It was only when they came to commission it that the manufacturing faults had been discovered. The Japanese were working hard to ship replacement kit and it was being air freighted as the normal container delivery took five or six weeks.
The upstairs area was obviously running behind with painting and decorating still to be done. Of course there were no carpets and the plumbers were still busy in the toilets. But the differences to the original build were incredible. The movable wall had been dismantled and preparations were nearly ready for it to go into its new position dividing the room 60/40 instead of the previous 75/25. Belinda said it was extremely heavy and special lifting equipment was needed to hang it from the steel beam that had been installed to carry its weight and guides installed in the floor. Once up, the wall panels were all to be re-vinyled.
The new fire escape and signage all now complied with the latest building registrations and had been approved by both the fire officer and the building inspector. Belinda explained that now approval had been granted under the latest regulations it was up to the occupier to ensure they kept up to date with requirements and maintenance of the alarm, signage and extinguishers. If you had a fire and couldn’t prove your company had a proper system in place it could be fined and it might nullify the fire insurance. She explained that some big companies employed their own fire officer but small companies usually employed a specialist and she could put them in touch with at least two companies to prepare competitive quotes.
The next stop on Jinnie’s tour was the artisan sandwich shop. She hadn’t been for a while but trade was going well. She also wanted to see the branch manager about the expansion into the next-door business and to speak to Brooke who was proving to be worth her weight in gold. Jinnie beat Belinda and was waiting on the pavement in the cold when she arrived. They walked in together and Brooke hurried over to them saying to Jinnie, “Hello, I thought that was you standing outside but I couldn’t be sure because you had your back to the shop.” Jinnie smiled and said, “Hello Brooke, it’s good to see you and the shop so busy. It is mad in here, how are you coping?”
“It is rather busy,” admitted Brooke, “but we are getting on OK. The bonus scheme helps, the more we sell the more we earn and that keeps people happy.” “Excellent,” replied Jinnie, “I don’t think you’ve met Belinda who is our construction person. We were in Windsor on business and thought we would pop in for a chat with you and the branch manager. Is he around?” “He’s in his office I think,” answered Brooke. “Come on, let’s go and see him,” said Jinnie. “Give me a second,” said Brooke, “I must just tell Karen where I am in case I’m needed.” She walked over to the counter and spoke to a pretty blonde girl. As she did so Belinda said to Jinnie, “Another great employee, you have a real knack for finding them.”
Jinnie tapped on the branch manager’s door and walked in. The manager looked up quickly from his screen and said, “Hello Mrs De Luca, how nice to see you. Please take a seat.” Turning to Brooke he said, “Thank you, Brooke. Please close the door on your way out.” Jinnie quickly said, “I want her to stay, this meeting concerns both of you. Please pull up a chair and join us, Brooke. Firstly this is Belinda, her company will be converting the pharmacy next door into the baker’s outlet so you will be seeing a lot of her when work starts after Christmas. Secondly, I need to tell you both that next week we are opening a second artisan sandwiches shop in East Croydon. Consequently, we will be having a bit of a management reshuffle. As of right now, Brooke becomes your boss as area manager, she will be based at Croydon where an office is being prepared for her. I will have a chat with her in private shortly to discuss details.”
“Now,” asked Jinnie, “You will need a new front-of-house manager. Do either of you have a suggestion for an internal promotion or are we going to have to advertise?” “Yes,” said Brooke, “Karen, she is my de facto deputy and can easily fill the position.” The manager had a face like thunder but didn’t object. “OK,” said Jinnie, “That’s agreed then.” Turning to the manager she continued, “You will obviously need to replace Karen so I suggested you get on with hiring someone while Brooke and I have a chat. Oh, and I will tell Karen, I expect her to be hired on the same conditions and wages as Brooke.”
The three ladies walked out of the office and went to the break room where Brooke said, “Mrs De Luca, how can I thank you.” Jinnie smiled and replied, “I get the impression he doesn’t like you.” “I can assure you the feeling is mutual,” said Brooke. “I don’t think a single employee likes him. He is lazy, he won’t lend a hand when we are busy or short of staff and perhaps I shouldn’t say this but we all, that is the front of house staff and the kitchen staff, think he is on the fiddle. We can’t prove it, as yet, but I think one day we will. That is why he was so upset when you announced that he would be reporting to me. I will get to see the unaudited books. All the other staff here get on wonderfully and Karen will make a brilliant manager and is respected by everyone here.”
Jinnie turned to Belinda and asked “How busy is Brian at the moment? Do you think he could have a look at the branch books without the manager knowing?” Turning to Brooke she said, “Brian is our finance director and also Belinda’s husband. As area manager you will be joining the senior management team and will soon get to know these people. Now we must give you an immediate wage increase, we can’t have you earning less than a branch manager so I think £35,000 per annum sounds about right as a start. If you are going to be visiting branches, and we have big plans for expansion, you must have a company car, would a Citroen C3 do? And of course you will still be in the Trattoria Trevi profit sharing scheme and the Trattoria Trevi management pension scheme.”
“Wow,” said Brooke, “I really can’t believe this it’s all very fast.” Jinnie chuckled and said “I have had this planned since I first met you. I only put the Branch Manager in over you because he had experience that you didn’t, but I have had my eye on you all the time and I like what I have seen. Now as Area Manager would you like to call Karen in and give the the good news that she is being promoted to your position and the bad news that the branch might be one down for a few day.”
Jinnie and Belinda were sat in Jinnie’s Manor Royal office drinking mugs of coffee that Ro had brought in to them. Belinda said to Jinnie, “Next time I’m looking for a new young girl, can you sit in on the interviews.” Jinnie laughed and said, “You seem to have done alright on your own, you have a terrific team”. Jinnie logged into her PC and checked an email from Jerry. He was reporting that he had now leased all the six new kitchens at Potters Bar before they were finished and pressing for a decision to be made on the next project. Jinnie said to Belinda, “I see the whole board has been copied in on this email from Jerry. He says that he has got customers for all six new kitchens at Potters Bar, a Greek, a French, a Mexican, a Moroccan, a Japanese and a vegetarian. He says most are looking to lease at any new dark kitchens we construct.”
“Gosh,” said Belinda, “Where did you say we were looking at next?” Jinnie said, “I think the acquisitions team were looking at property in Wood Green and Stratford, I don’t know either area very well or if either is favoured.” “Neither do I,” said Belinda. Jinnie pressed her intercom button and asked Ro if she could find Jerry and Brian and for them to join her and Belinda for a quick meeting. She released the button, before quickly pressing it again and saying to Ro, “I think you better join us as well we might need a record of this meeting so bring a pad and ink pen.” Ro muttered, “I still think of it as a Biro.”
When Jerry and Brian were both settled with a coffee Jinnie asked Brian if he had Jerry’s email and he replied he had. Jinnie then asked if the company was in a financial position that would allow them to embark on a new project. Brian replied, “Absolutely, yes, we are in quite a good position, we have 18 kitchens paying leases and the subsidiary income from delivering and call handling is growing monthly. Six deposits on the next set of units at Potters Bar are in the bank and income will start flowing from them within a couple of months. But best of all is the income from the construction division. At the moment they are comfortably allowing us to build up our bank balance to the point where the board is likely to have to decide whether to pay a dividend to our shareholders or to retain the cash on the balance sheet until next year when we predicted our first profit.”
Turning to Jerry, Jinnie asked, “Tell me, do the clients have a preference for either site, how many kitchens are we looking at on each site and how soon could it be before we make a decision on a favourite for Belinda to cost.” Jerry replied, “I think the new clients are split 50/50 on the next site but provided we commit to both they will all be happy. As far as I can tell SuperBurger and Trattoria Trevi both have a preference for Wood Green but are happy with Stratford. I suggest we go for Wood Green and promise Stratford will follow quickly. The initial survey was 12 kitchens on each site.”
Jinnie asked, “Brian, can we manage that financially, and Belinda, have we got the capacity to do two more 12 kitchen projects that might overlap?” Brian answered first, “I have no worries regarding finance, I am content that we could handle that scenario financially. In fact if things continue to progress so well I might suggest we look for a third new site.” Then it was Belinda’s turn to answer. “As I have explained before, pure manpower is seldom a problem, it is finding people with the type of supervisory skills that is not so easy. The big jobs need a Peter or a Richard and they are not so easy to find. Peter is tied up on the Vauxhall Cross job and I am loath to move him. Richard is currently on the Potters Bar extension but I plan to move him to the Home Office job that starts in the New Year, Jason has proved he can handle a good size job with Nigel’s house and I plan to swap him to Potters Bar to finish it off.”
“I have two other supervisors currently, Kevin and Simon.” Belinda continued, “Kevin is busy with Windsor and I am more than happy with that job. I think he would be capable of handling a kitchen project as would Jason once Potters Bar is finished, that leaves me with Simon for any more sandwich shops which I am guessing you are planning. If you find another restaurant or I land another big refurbishment project, I will be looking at recruiting, I have run out of in-house prospects.”
Jinnie said, “TT don’t have plans today, but who knows what tomorrow will bring. Right, I think we have a plan to present to Friday’s board meeting, we go ahead with Wood Green and follow it up a bit later with Stratford. They both appear to be financially doable and Belinda can handle manpower wise. Belinda, can a rough cost for Wood Green be ready for the board meeting? Jerry can you feed the purchase costs to Brian, and Brian please can you put a financial viability report together, in words of one syllable, that the thickest board members can understand?”
After Jerry, Brian and Ro left her office, Jinnie said, “I don’t think I have anything else to deal with here I might as well head for home.” Belinda said, “There is one little thing, can you spare an hour or so to drop into the construction division HQ? Melissa has organised sandwiches and coffee for lunch. They are ‘Artisan Sandwiches’ as they have just started deliveries to our offices.”
Jinnie followed Belinda into the Wright Refurbishments car park and parked in a visitor slot. Andrew saw them through the window and hurried to open the door for them before Belinda could get her keys out. Belinda led her to the big conference room where Melissa was fussing with the sandwich layout. They were quickly joined by Miranda who switched on the coffee machine in the corner. When they had all eaten their fill Belinda buzzed Lucy and she and another girl, who Jinnie didn’t recognise, cleared up. Jinnie said she hoped the leftover sandwiches and cake wouldn’t be wasted and Miranda said the rest of the staff would soon demolish them.
Miranda finally got around to explaining what she wanted to talk to Jinnie about. She explained that Melissa had been hunting for a wedding dress that she liked and had huge difficulty in finding anything she liked. She had exhausted the local shops. She had been to London and she had even been to a huge shop in Brighton but had found nothing she liked. She and Andrew had set about sketching what she wanted and had emailed it to several companies who advertised bespoke bridal gowns on the internet but the prices had been ludicrous. Finally one of the girls in the office, Hayley, had said her sister, Natalie, was a seamstress and had shown her the design. She had said that she could make the dress for £450.
This had set Miranda thinking about a bespoke wedding and bridesmaid’s dress business that sold dresses at prices that were affordable but still gave them a profit. It would dovetail with the wedding events business. Miranda pointed out that Natalie was obviously making a profit, Andrew and Melissa had designed the dress for nothing but companies on the internet were asking £2,000 minimum for a similar service and the cheapest off-the-peg dresses were selling in the Brighton shop for £1,600 plus the cost of alterations. Miranda said there had to be room between Natalie’s cost and the average £2,000 cost to make a decent profit, even with VAT added on.
Miranda asked if Jinnie, as MD of Trattoria Trevi, wanted to become involved in the business. The initial plan was to add the service to the TTEvents website and offer it to brides who enquired about wedding planning. They would invite anyone interested to coffee and a chat with Andrew and Melissa who would sketch the design while chatting. It would then be passed to Natalie for costing and manufacture if the bride said yes. Initially, the business would be run from Melissa’s house and Natalie’s front room but if it took off they would need a small shop or perhaps a small workshop and that was where Trattoria Trevi (Holdings) came in, it would cost money which the fledgling events business didn’t yet have.
Jinnie thought for a while but couldn’t see how this business idea fitted within the Trattoria Trevi (Holdings) portfolio. The events business had the food connection but it was missing here, the link back to Trattoria Trevi was tenuous and she said so. The look of disappointment on Miranda’s face was huge. “Mind you,” said Jinnie, “Personally I love the idea. I remember how much my parents paid for me and my sister’s wedding dresses. I would be happy to invest in this venture personally.” Belinda then spoke up saying that she and Brian were also willing to chip in, but were not happy with the business being run from a house. They wanted it to be a proper limited company that would protect the directors if anything went wrong.
Belinda pointed out that three units along the block there was a ground floor unit up for rental. It was identical to the ground floor of the unit they were currently sitting in, not terribly wide but very deep with a back door out to the staff car park at the rear and a unisex washroom. Belinda said she understood that upstairs was a backup computer server farm. There were loads of servers, acting as a disaster recovery site for a large company in London. Jinnie asked why it was on the first floor and Belinda said, “In case of flooding but the only river near here is only a steam and is miles away. Have you ever thought about why DKL’s computer room is on the second floor?” “OK,” said Jinnie, “Can we go and look at this unit through the windows?” “I think we can do better than that,” replied Belinda, “The estate agent marketing it is four doors down in the opposite direction.”
The agent opened the front door and let them in. The first thing Jinnie noted was that the stairs up to the server farm had been partitioned off. Before he could lead them through the door into the unit proper Belinda asked the agent, “Whose demise is this lobby?” “It’s the landlord’s but both tenants have right of way,” was the reply. “If we take the unit, I would expect the lobby to be refurbished,” said Belinda, “it’s disgusting. Either that or we redecorate, furnish and carpet it and when we do the downstairs, and get a rent reduction. Don’t forget we are a refurbishment business and I know a cheap, shoddy job when I see one, it would have to be up to my standards.” The agent started scribbling in his notebook. Belinda continued, “Another thing, as an owner in this block I know the value of these units and just how long this one has been empty.”
Jinnie giggled internally, she had seen Belinda use this tactic several times before, get the agent on the back foot and get the price down with a number of spurious arguments. In the open-plan ground floor area, Belinda started talking out loud while measuring up. “It will need new carpets, a new ceiling, new lights, complete redecorating, partitions for offices, a server room, air conditioning, and a mini-kitchen.” Turning to Jinnie she asked, “Do you think it is big enough for our purpose?” Jinnie joined in the game while Miranda stood dumbfounded and said, “Hardly, it is rather pokey for the proposed rent, I think the last one we saw was better.” Melissa had also seen her mum pull this trick before and turned away to conceal her amusement.”
Belinda then said, “What about the toilets?” Before going in and coming out almost immediately saying, “That’s a full refurbishment, we can’t have important clients using that smelly mess.” Finally she said “That central heating boiler, when was it last serviced, does it work and is it safe, to the best of my knowledge this place has been empty two years and I bet it’s not been touched in all that time.” Turning to the rest off the viewers she said, “Come on everyone I need to work out some costs and see if it’s financially viable to squeeze the project into such a small space.”
Back in Belinda’s office, Miranda looked close to tears and said, “How could you Mum? That place would have been ideal and it was plenty big enough for a start-up company.” Melissa looked at Miranda and said, “Couldn’t you see we were playing a game? The agent wants top dollar for his client and Mum wants to knock the rental down as low as possible for you. Jinnie and I have seen her do it before so we knew and played along. The agent will be on to the Landlord right now. I bet Mum gets a phone call from him later today with a lower rent and an offer on some of the refurbishments, like the lobby, boiler and toilets.”
Belinda added, “That building has been empty for more than two years, while it’s standing empty the landlord is losing money on rental he isn’t getting and on rates that he is paying. Melissa is one hundred percent right he’ll be back with an offer. He is better off getting some money coming in than losing money. Did you see the look of glee on the agent’s face when I asked to look at the unit? It said, ‘I’ve got a bite at last’.”
Belinda picked up her phone and called Andrew in. On the dimensioned rough plan of the unit she had drawn, she marked in red, two offices, a server room, kitchen, big workroom, studio, changing rooms and storage, enlarged the toilet and said to Andrew, “Can you get Paul to draw that up ASAP. It will need carpets, ceiling tiles and fancy lights, talk to the A/C people about splits like here, the ceiling is too low for ducted. I have marked and sized the radiators, some will need moving to suit the partitions. Talk to the plumber about it and the bogs. They really are not very nice and need stripping out and replacing with something modern. The whole place needs tiling and hot air dryers. I want a layout I can cost and a couple of renders, to impress, you know the idea, big sofas, coffee table, plush carpet, coffee machine for mum and sister while waiting, hanging rails for the dresses. I’m sure Miranda and Melissa have good ideas.”
“Right Mel,” said Belinda, “I know your sister is up to her neck in events stuff at the moment, so we are going to have to lean on you a bit. Talk to Natalie. Find out how much she wants to become a full-time employee and if she has a friend to join in. Ask her about equipment we need to buy, industrial sewing machine, irons. She will know material suppliers, line up loads of samples. We will need them quickly when we start getting customers. We will also need some expert in measuring brides, can I leave that with you? Can we get big pictures of you and your bridesmaids to go on the walls? Miranda, can you get your website ready to go? Do you have a catchy company name we can get Brian to register?”
Jinnie loved watching Belinda when she threw ideas around like this, she was a whirlwind when she got going. Finally Belinda turned to Jinnie saying, “Heaven knows what this will cost to get going,” Jinnie said, “Well you can rely on me for 50%. My bank balance is far too big at the moment, I have just had my director’s loan to Trattoria Trevi paid back and Paolo keeps moaning at me to invert some.”
In Chapter 28 – Wedding Dress Bargains
© WorthingGooner 2023