The art of business

The art of business

Why have money gaining little interest in the bank, when you could start a new firm with it? So says Bryan Goodall, whose track record suggests a shrewd mind at work, says Brian Nicholls.

So what do our serial entrepreneurs plan in this mutable 2010? One new start-up, perhaps? Or none until the storm clouds pass? Or will there be other venturers like Bryan Goodall; in-for-a-penny, in-for-a-pound and launching not one, but two new enterprises by April? In January, this enthusiastic and proven business creator has been adding to his existing firms an archive-scanning and disc or original recall service for the growing number of companies – law firms, banks etc – requiring safe storage for their financial and other records to fulfil new tax obligations requiring records retention for seven or eight years, or simply for safe keeping.

Then, on April 1, there will be a new and exciting departure with the opening of a £600,000 arts centre to promote the work of artists, photographers, film makers, sculptors and musicians, predominantly from North Yorkshire, Teesside and the North East. Goodall is developing Arts Bank with new business partners in an elegant five-storey building built in 1867 that initially served as an upmarket hardware store.

But unlike Alfred Nobel’s discovery of dynamite that year, the store proved a damp squib. So from 1876 until some months ago, it was a bank. After HSBC’s departure, a local developer bought the building, then sold it on to Goodall. An impulse buy? No, Goodall’s an art enthusiast and amasser of collectable toys, but he’s hardly impetuous. When the auction firm whence he bought his Lesneys, Dinkys and Hornbys came up for sale in 1996, for example, he didn’t just buy the business, he also turned Vectis Auctions into the world’s biggest toy auctioneer, turning over £6m on 55 auctions a year.

He and his wife Jeannie, both 61, have a solid gold record as entrepreneurs that, like their marriage, spans more than 40 years. For 30years, they’ve never employed fewer than 100 people on Teesside. The Nunthorpe couple met at 15 while Jeannie was on a cycle outing in North Yorkshire. Their first business, initially run from a kitchen table, was Christmas Hampers - sold profitably in 1994 to a mail order plc. Since then they’ve built Hambleton Group - a vibrant body of six businesses turning over some £30m. The group comprises Teesside Warehousing (storage), Garland Coupon Service (coupon redemption), and All Pack (contract packing), plus the aforementioned Vectis Auctions, Teesside Archiving, and Teesside Caravans - another storage activity that illustrates a clever sense of timing.

Anticipating demand from caravan owners restricted by space in the staycation boom, the group intensified and won a six-year struggle to buy a seven-acre site beside its existing premises at Teesside Industrial Estate in Thornaby. So whereas there had only been 300 caravan sites - 200 short of demand - it will take up to 1,000 caravans, which could create up to a 40% increase in the £1.18m turnover over the next two years. The Goodalls realised early that space is an earner and have now garnered 18 acres in all, with a quarter of a million square feet.

“We’ve space to do anything we want,” Goodall says enthusiastically.

”We plan to plug in as many businesses as we can. So we’re looking for future businesses. We’ve always been on Teesside and always will be.” He obviously considers prissy and snobby the nomenclatorial insistence of bureaucrats, politicians and developers to turn Teesside into ‘Cleveland’ or ‘Tees Valley’. And Arts Bank stands in salubrious Saltburn, a lung of Teesside if you like, whose munificent Victorian terrace overlooking a compact beach suggests bracing promenades, straw boaters and bustles – engaging nostalgia.

Saltburn’s population is only 6,000 (18,000 if you include nearby Marske and New Marske). But again, through staycationing it could attract more visitors, not least through its recent UK Pier of the year award, its regular accolades for its floral displays, its long established Italian Gardens, its proximity to the Cleveland Way and its folk tales of smugglers and fishermen. None of this is lost on Goodall. Arts Bank, potentially a cultural centrepiece among bijoux shops, stands only a minute or two’s walk from the classic railway station and just a short stroll from the seafront, where the UK’s oldest water-balanced tramway descends 120ft to Saltburn’s distinctive pier – the last surviving northerly pier, incidentally. From the beach you can spot where a Roman signal station stood and it is a suitable nest from which to hatch artists, particularly since it could join nearby Loftus, Staithes, Sandsend and Whitby - pearls already on a necklace of artistic tradition, and a string surely that visitors can be persuaded to try out.

In the catacumbal Arts Bank, numerous in its recesses and daylight-bathed walls, Goodall promises a one-stop-shop for creativity.Besides originals, facilities will exist to turn out limited edition prints, local greetings cards and books, and to mount, frame and distribute work. Photographers and film makers will have a dark room and a digital room.

A mini-cinema will show visitors cultural and historical films of the Teesside area, and the ground floor former banking hall will host big screen presentations, talks, music and poetry. Revenues will be website driven and data listing is a Goodall forte, nurtured by his Vectis and Christmas Hamper practices.

“We can run the largest toy auction business in the world from Teesside because it’s internet mail order in the end. Collectable toys are sold from around the world, to around the world, on our website. We have auction rooms that some people turn up to, but generally, most items go to people not in the room.” And mindful that artists are often isolated individuals, there will be a presence on Youtube, Facebook and other social networking and community websites.

Unlike Goodall’s other businesses, Arts Bank isn’t part of Hambleton Group; more a step in his programme to move Hambleton Group on to the family’s next generation. For Arts Bank he has formed a separate community interest enterprise of five directors and shareholders, a limited company with an asset block and restriction on dividends. Any profits go back into the company and this way, funding through grants and soft loans becomes available. All the directors contribute practically.

Craig Hornby, 42 and a Saltburn film maker, is noted especially for A Century of Stone, his film history of Teesside steel; Paul Ingram, 52, of Brotton, is a writer, musician, photographer and fellow of the Royal Society of Arts; Kathryn Robson, 34, Goodall’s daughter, is also a photographer (her builder husband Glen is doing the conversion); and Hugh McGouran, another musician, knows the workings of funding, being chief executive of a large charity on Teesside.

They will also staff the building, along with part-timers and volunteers. Lisa Pluves, financial manager of the Hambleton Group, will run the finances. In the early 90s, both Goodall and Hornby supported Romania Aid. Goodall joined several mercy convoys and also flew out some 30 times in four years. But it was only when he spotted a Hornby film on the internet years later that he realised they’d both been helping the same orphanage near the Russian border.

They finally met last February. Paul joined soon after and Arts Bank took shape. Meanwhile Goodall’s son Jonathon, 36, has returned to the North East with his family and, with a “fantastic team” of managers supporting him, is now MD of Hambleton Group (his father is chairman).

Jonathon had worked for Hambleton earlier, then was a photographer in London for 10 years and now part-owns a digital studio there. On returning to Hambleton he has been focussing on Teesside Caravans and Teesside Archiving.

Arts Bank’s first major exhibition, which opens on April 1, will focus on the impact of the Corus steel plant closure - the “virtual death” of steel on Teesside, Goodall says. Arts Bank will have taken only 14 months by then to convert from vision to reality, and amid choking dust and loud hammering Goodall doesn’t doubt the launch date will be met.

“At 61, I haven’t time to waste,” he chuckles, though others might think a lot more paint yet might be squeezed from the tube.