I joined the family business in 1979. My father Hubert Lockwood had been full-back for Halifax Rugby League Football Club, a career that lasted from 1939 – 1946 and included playing in the last challenge cup final before the war. Then in 1953 he established Hubert Lockwood & Co as a laundry and drycleaning business with a shop in Elland, which lies between Halifax and Huddersfield.

My first contact with the business was aged 8 – 9 being taken to “the works“ a “higgledy-piggledy” assortment of buildings behind the Elland shop. One of the buildings had very low ceilings and concrete floors and was very warm with the steam. There were huge volumes of work and transporting loads from one building to another was awkward as it involved stairs, pulleys and conveyors.

In 1979 after studying electrical engineering at Huddersfield Polytechnic I joined the family business. About to celebrate his 70th birthday my father was thinking of retirement so the choice was either sell-up or find someone to take over.

The first few weeks were spent steaming jackets and trousers, day in and day out. My father knew Ted Lewis, the owner of Lewis & Wayne and asked if I could go there to observe the business.

Living and working in London was a great eye opener for a ”lad from up north” but it showed me all aspects of the business.

The Chelsea branch had a shirt-service that handled 3,000 a week – amazing. I also went into the City with Roy Spanswick collecting curtains from the offices and taking them back to Streatham to be processed on the brand new American machine, the Adjust-a-Drape. This was a very complicated piece of equipment but it worked.

My favourite time was a daily chat with Ted who taught me a lot both personally and about why he had been so successful in business. One of his sayings was: “Ask the manager if he has anyone spare – if the answer’s yes, sack them (the spare person).”

Drycleaning in London was very different from the business in the north – there were far more opportunities but the type of clothes that

Lewis & Wayne handled was very noticeable.

This business was top of the market and the quality of the clothes was striking – the gowns and suits. It was very different from the type of garments I was used to handling.

The early 1980s was a time of big changes and soon after taking over I was responsible for moving production from the purpose built factory that had replaced the collection of buildings into back into the Elland shop.

This was the time of growth for the unit shop. These had been introduced well before the 1980s but had now become serious business and I felt we had to do something as volumes had reduced.

The scale of the move was huge and involved a complete rethink.

The machines were now changed to fourth generation types using a totally enclosed system and these had a much smaller footprint in relation for the volume of work. A priority was to make sure that the conversion would handle the capacity. Between 1979 and 1982 the business had expanded considerably. We had bought four other shops plus van rounds so the move had to accommodate the processing for this business.

We also needed to look at the way we worked and now operated a split shift, myself starting at 4.30 to 5am and running three or four loads before the rest of the staff arrived at 8am.

During the conversion I had help from for several people and valued their expertise. Alan Cousineau of Continental Clip supplied Sanitone, a controversial product that relied on a high level of solvent. It had a high level of water and some drycleaners thought “why pay for water” but the results spoke for themselves.

In 1999 part of the business was sold including the laundry service, a sector that was becoming highly competitive. Groom Drycleaners was now our company’s central business and Hubert Lockwood and Co traded under the Lockwood name at other sites.

In 2003 the business celebrated its 50th anniversary and did so by going back to the 1950s for a day. We told the press, local radio and papers and sent out leaflets to tell everyone that we would clean all textiles for a guinea for one day. We all dressed in costumes of the 1950s, myself in a blazer and the women staff in dresses of the time.

When the day came the shops opened early because we had queues of customers.

It was an incredible day with 1950s’ music played throughout and everybody joined in the spirit of

the occasion.

The shops did so much business that it took four days to clear the backlog but despite the low prices, takings were up at both sites. It was a great PR exercise – people talked about it for ages.

In 2004 the business became the first independent cleaner to become licensed to use GreenEarth.

It was a big move to take after a long tradition of cleaning in perc but having read a lot about the concept, I was interested in its marketing potential.

I’d looked round a couple of the Johnson shops and the staff who worked there were very enthusiastic. In any case, the business needed to change its machine and so I went to the official launch at Gatwick and signed on that day. That has proved a very good decision and has brought new friends in the business, in particular Tim Maxwell, president of the GreenEarth company in the USA.

The invitation by Paul Ogle and Gary Knox to speak at the first UK Green Earth conference was a great honour and I’ve kept in touch with the 20 or so independent licencees.

The business has marketed GreenEarth with enthusiasm, customers have noticed a difference and the staff, who are all NVQ qualified, are well versed in the benefits of this system.

Finally, I must pay tribute to my father, Hubert Lockwood who died in 2005 aged 96. He taught me a lot especially about the meaning of integrity in business. He was very straightforward and always had time to listen to people.