Selling Crap for Fun and Profit

"There are days when I strongly suspect that my grandfather was some kind of simpleton." There is a profound note of dismay in Linda Grantleigh's voice as she makes this confession; almost shame, in fact, that she should be of the same bloodline. As the chief executive of Grantflox she's earned the right to her opinion, turning the struggling firm that her grandfather founded in the sixties into a thriving international concern.

"I remember him from my childhood," she recalls. "This portly, sweaty man looming over us wearing fake plastic fangs and googly-eyed glasses, thinking all the while that he was being terribly amusing. I may have been only six but even then I could see that he lacked vision."

Cheap novelties and wacky gimmicks were not just Peter Grantleigh's passions, they were the foundations on which he built his business. Grantleigh's Goofs, as the company was originally called, first fired up its production lines in 1963. It soon cornered the sizeable - if not entirely lucrative - market in disappointing tat. Remember all those ads in the back of comics and Sunday supplements for x-ray specs, fake scars and garlic chewing gum? Chances are you were looking at a Grantleigh product. And no doubt you've had more than one Christmas dinner that was brought low by crackers containing impossible puzzles, a pathetic clip-on moustache or a weird plastic 'mood fish' - all thanks to Grantleigh's Goofs.

"My grandfather managed to scrape a living, just about," Linda said. "His business model was based on pocket money, quite literally. He was selling junk to schoolkids in return for pennies - fake noses, nails through fingers, that kind of thing. He used to say that it wasn't about the money, it was about bringing joy to people's lives. He was a moron.

"When my father took over the business he carried on along the same lines, but at least he had no illusions about it. He knew it was a crock of shit but he had other interests - mainly gambling, drinking, other men's wives and anything else that would get him out of the house."

Initially Linda had no interest in the family business but a chance encounter at a workplace reactualisation seminar changed her mind. "The company I worked for were always sending me on bullshit stuff like that. I had no idea what 'workplace actualisation' was, still don't, but I always put myself forward because they usually laid on a good lunch. And it was a chance to arse about for the day, of course; but when it comes to arsing about we've got nothing on the charity sector. These sessions are usually crawling with them and at this particular one I met someone from the Association for Distressed Cattle who had been working on a bovine relocation project, or something equally ridiculous She showed me this key ring in the shape of cow that had the charity's logo on it. Well, I mean, it was shit, obviously - but apparently they'd ordered thousands of them and it had cost them a bloody fortune. And that was my lightbulb moment."

Linda took over the company and transformed it, almost overnight, from an antiquated factory producing useless tat for schoolkids to a modern, international business producing much-needed tat for the charity sector.

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"Balloons, key rings, shopping trolley tokens, mouse mats - you name it, if it's pointless, tacky and it's got their name on it, they'll lap it up. I think some of those people really do believe that a customized coaster can help accomplish their charitable objectives; that a balloon on a stick can change people's lives. 'Raising awareness' they call it. Apparently, people who don't have a roof over their heads need to be made aware that they're homeless."

Grantflox certainly do nothing to disabuse their customers of this notion. In fact, they have a dedicated promotional team which advises charities on exactly what item of frivolous bric-a-brac will best get their message across. Who knew that a calendar is the best way of providing support for sufferers of muscular dystrophy, or that a branded pen is the first step to housing rough sleepers? And Grantflox's fortunes continue to soar.

"We did get worried a few years back, " Linda admitted. "There was a big clampdown on public spending, charities were expected to do more with less and we thought that this would seriously impact our business. Thankfully most of them decided to cut the money they put into frontline services in order to maintain their spending on promotional items. It's that kind of foresight that means we still have jobs today."

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