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Phoenix from the Ashes

01/03/2016 | General

Watching your life’s work go up in flames would devastate most people, and the total destruction of a company by fire is usually the death knell for any business, as there is little hope of ever getting it back on its feet again. So when Pirtek Manchester Licensee Mark Barnes arrived at 7:50pm on 10th Feb this year to be confronted with flames shooting through the roof of the unit that housed his business, he described it simply as soul destroying.

Sitting in the offices of the new Pirtek Manchester, which is literately just around the corner from the old site, Mark Barnes describes the phone call he received that night. “The fire brigade called to say the unit was on fire and I needed to get there. Records show that the unit was locked up at 5:34 but by 6:45, smoke and flames were seen pouring through the roof. There were 12 pumps in action that night and by 8:20pm it had been doused. However the heat had been so intense that it had warped all the roof girders and the building was now structurally unsafe, and would have to be demolished. I eventually went home at 1:30 am but couldn’t sleep that night,” he recalls. “To say it was upsetting would be an understatement. It was heart-breaking; 20 years of hard work had just gone up in flame. But there was worse to come. So much water had been poured into the building that there was about 18 inches of water in the ground floor that completely wrecked all the machinery, computers, motors and all the paperwork in the offices. Everything was a complete write off, with well over a £1/4 million of damage and £100,000 worth of stock lost. My first thoughts were how to get the company up and running again, to be told by the Fire Brigade that we couldn’t even order new stock until a full investigation had been carried out to eliminate any suspicious actions. I was effectively accused of setting fire to my own company- not a nice situation to be in. It took three weeks before the Brigade gave an assessment that it had been an electrical fire near the server, and that it was a genuine accident and the insurance company would now process the claim.”

UNPRECENDENTED

Mark says that his next course of action was to call Pirtek UK to ask for their advice and assistance. “While all this was going on, I had to go get the Centre up and running somehow, and quickly. I called Pirtek UK to tell them what had happened and to ask ‘what do I do?’ Their initial response was ‘we don’t know. This has never happened before’. But to give them their due, Pirtek UK were soon on the case and Graham Walker proved a Godsend in getting us back on our feet, especially with an instant delivery of £20,000 worth of replacement stock.”

Mark also received help and support from the Pirtek Preston Centre. “I suppose we were in luck in that our sister centre in Preston would at least give me a base to work from, but it was miles away from our customers in Manchester. It was then I found out that the best asset the company had was its staff. What a great bunch of guys they proved to be. They definitely kept me sane. Because we had no phones, they actually went round to all our customers and personally explained what had happened, but said we were still in business and that the mobile workshops would all still be operational and working out of Preston. It also proved what a loyal client base we have, as we only lost a couple of customers, and some actually gave us more work to ensure we stayed afloat. The girls from the office transferred to Preston and set up office there. It took two days to get the phones transferred so customers could at least call in again, but thank goodness for mobiles, which took the brunt of the calls up to that point. I suppose there was one saving grace to all this, no-one was hurt in the fire,” Mark reflects. “But it put Pirtek Preston under a lot of pressure in the meantime, especially as we ordered up new stock to keep the vans running and to ensure they kept to the promised 1 hour ETA. But it shows what dedication I got from the staff as we turned over £50,000 worth of work that month, even of we clocked up some incredible mileages.”

BOUNCING BACK

According to the old adage, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. And Pirtek Manchester was far from dead. “There was a vacant unit on the same trading estate which we immediately secured, and moved in to unit 33 on 14th February. But it took months to fit it out to our specifications and we had to keep one of the vans on site to act as our trade counter workshop for two months. We worked off pallets instead of work benches, with all the boxes that had to constantly move around as the centre was rebuilt. The lathes and milling machines were rebuilt at the cost of £10,000 which was just as well as new lathe would have been the wrong side of £45k,” Mark continues. “We had to laugh though. The credit card people said we had to return the old payment processing machine before they would issue a new one. Searching for it remains, because someone had to do everything by the book, was just one of those unnecessary niggles you don’t need. Luckily all our records were backed up at Pirtek UK so we could at least get our paperwork back in order.” By May, Pirtek Manchester started to resemble a working Centre once again. “We had managed to refit everything, including a new swaging machine, but even the benches took two months to arrive and we had boxes everywhere, mostly in my office it seemed at all the time. But we didn’t lose a single day trading as we worked seven days a week to get the Centre working again. You don’t realise just how many shelves you need to hold all the stock and how many ancillary things you took for granted, such as the building fascias and trade counter walls, until you need to replace them. Even the computer had to be rebuilt from scratch which took six weeks,” he adds. “I remember when the loss adjustor gave the all clear to resume business I managed to spend £100,000 in less than two hours to bring the Centre back to life.”

GRAND REOPENING

Pirtek Manchester held a grand reopening on 1 June during which Pirtek-sponsored BTCC driver Andrew Jordan and a lot of customers officially christened the new Centre. “Memories of that night still hurt. I lost a lot of personal effects, some of which were irreplaceable. But we came out the other side and I remember the loss adjustor saying he had never seen someone so keen to get a business up and running again. I know I was chomping at the bit, but this was my life’s work. We have decided to stay in the new unit as it would be too disruptive and too expensive to move again. But we have to drive past the old burnt out building to get here every morning, and that hurts. I suppose the only good thing to come out of this overall would be that Pirtek UK instigated a complete review of all the Centres’ insurance policies to make sure they had enough cover to continue to work should another catastrophe occur,” Mark Barnes concludes. “And they now have a plan of action of how to deal with a fire. It was just a shame we were the role model.”

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