Trends & Features

Under the counter: a sideways look at the world of independent retailing

My assistant Norman has been banging on about how we should widen our sales horizons and cash in on some of the latest sports trends.

“There’s more to running a contemporary sports retailers than selling the occasional dartboard,” Norman said. “Did you know that people are spending over £30 million a year on extreme sports in the UK alone? Nowadays it’s all about the personal challenge of inherent danger and we’re missing out as usual.”

With that he flounced off to rinse out the teapot, leaving me with the sinking feeling that he might have a point.

When he returned, I said: “It’s all very well in theory, but how may people round here are going to risk losing their benefits by hang-gliding over an active volcano or bungee jumping into a bowl of custard? They’re nutters, most of these guys.”

But if I was hoping that was the end of the matter, it wasn’t. Next day Norman said he had met a man in the Co-op who was looking for an extreme sports sponsor and surely it was at least worth having a chat?

“I remember he got into the papers a few years ago for wanting to drive a double decker bus over the Niagara Falls,” Norman said. “But he didn’t have a valid driving licence and so nothing came of it.”

“So what does he plan to do this time?” I asked. “Extreme ironing,” Norman replied, adding when he saw my face: “Apparently it can be pretty dangerous.”

Of course, I assumed Norman was merely taking the proverbial, but when I googled extreme ironing on Wikipedia there it was – five pages of it. There’s even an Extreme Ironing Bureau, which claims to control a sport that: “Combines the thrills of an extreme outdoor activity with the satisfaction of a well-pressed shirt.”

Apparently intrepid ironers have already set up their boards on the tops of mountains, in a canoe, under ice, in the middle of the M1 motorway, underwater and on top of large bronze statues. It was all started by someone called Phil Shaw, who was looking for something to brighten his life in a Leicester knitwear factory and found it by ironing a pair of underpants while hanging upside down from a rock.

Our local extreme ironer, whose name is Trevor, came in the next day and I have to say his jeans could have done with a good pressing. He said he planned to set off in a northerly direction in his smart car with his iron, ironing board and an assortment of crumpled garments that he planned to press on the top of every tall object he came across.

“For five hundred quid I’ll get you all the publicity you want on local TV and in the papers,” Trevor said. “All I need is a T-shirt with the shop name on it and some leaflets to chuck down when I’m up something tall. I’ll give you a ring each night to tell you how it’s going.”

To cut a long story short, I borrowed our holiday money without saying anything to my wife Enid and we waved Trevor off from the shop. The Sun couldn’t make it, but a chap from the local free sheet took our picture on his phone.

That night Trevor called me from outside Pontefract to say things had got off to a good start. He’d climbed a mobile phone mast and after inadvertently disconnecting half of West Yorkshire had been arrested and let off with a caution. It should be all over the papers, Trevor explained, but it wasn’t.

The following day he reported he was up a pine tree in Barnsley and had to be rescued by the fire brigade and the next day found him stuck halfway up a factory chimney in Batley. Mysteriously, there was still nothing in the papers and business certainly wasn’t any better.

It was only when Norman inadvertently met Trevor’s wife in Morrisons that we found out what was really going on. It seems Trevor had twisted his back trying to get his ironing board into his smart car and hadn’t gone anywhere. He’d phoned me every night from his mobile in the garden shed.

We’ve had a chat since and Trevor has promised to settle up when he eventually gets a legacy from his aunt in Canada, who has taken up husky racing at the age of 87. In the meantime, I’ve never had so many well-ironed shirts.

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