THE SAGA OF ADRIAN TURNER & CO
Painting, Decorating, Sign writing
Growing up in depression years, it had never occurred to me to go into business on my own account. My ambition was to find a good position and work hard at it. Fate had decreed otherwise!
After service in the Royal Australian Air Force, I brought my small family to Brisbane to assist in the setting up of Clark Rubber's business in Melbourne Street, South Brisbane. I worked there for four years when a change of management saw me cast on the labour market. While in the RAAF, I had been able to attend the Melbourne Technical College to gain proficiency in sign writing - a trade which had always appealed to me. Now, it seemed, was the time to apply my expertise to the practical issue of making a living.
My first contract was for a general store in Newmarket Road, Newmarket, Queensland. The owner was apparently pleased with the result and asked if I would paint the shop and residence. This included repairing four veranda posts and secured for me a permanent customer. From this small beginning my clientele expanded by recommendation to Coorparoo, Clayfield and Ascot. There were times when under pressure from builders additional hands were hired, but at this stage only temporary labour was engaged.
I soon discovered that the wealthy people in Kitchener Road, Ascot were quite prepared to pay a good price for repainting the interior and exterior of their expensive homes provided they got good reliable service and I became quite friendly with many of them. This was a useful business tool because their neighbours or friends would phone and ask me if I could paint or paper a room before Christmas as family would be staying with them for a few days. These genuine people being professionals or executives were never unreasonable and contacted me weeks before the work was due to be done. Once contact was made and the price accepted I always submitted contract details on letterhead with an approximate starting date. As the time drew near I would contact the client by phone with more precise details of starting. This was always appreciated and resulted in a heavy work schedule over Christmas, so much so that I was able to cover the slack time before Easter with plenty of work.
In addition to private work I also had good contracts with builders on new homes, but one had to be diplomatic with spec builders. Sometimes you could be left with a finished house and they would file for bankruptcy without a whisper. In that case sub-contractors could whistle for their money. I was only caught once. I also found that a sign writing job demanded an immediate start. This was inconvenient if you were involved in a job worth $5000 dollars. Rarely was payment made under a month even though the invoice was submitted on completion. My policy was to mail a statement and if payment was not made within the month and if that drew no result within a week a visit to the office with a request for a cheque usually was complied with. Because of this syndrome I virtually gave away sign jobs which were of comparatively small value. I never experienced payment problems with regular customers or those recommended by them.
When our youngest son, our only Queenslander, began secondary education Elsie undertook the responsibility of drawing the weekly wages cheque and purchase of tax stamps. This saved me a trip to the bank and Post Office from wherever I may have been and was a real assistance. I could arrange the tax deductions in the evenings when I would frequently be late home - maybe until 7.00 pm but Elsie always had one of the boys to alert her when they saw the car arrive. "Dad's home" would be the signal for the meal to begin. We believed a family should share a meal together and that has certainly paid off in the close family contact through four generations. Our own children, their families, even down to our great grand-children are in close contact with us and with each other.
When Lewis entered his sub-senior year I asked him what trade or profession he wanted to follow. His sister was a schoolteacher, his eldest brother an electrical engineer, and the next boy an automotive engineer. Lewis' response to my question was usually "I don't know". I took the step of moving him to another school but the crunch came when he was to start senior year. He told me frankly "Dad, I want to leave school". I insisted that he fulfil his senior year which he did under protest. As he did not appear to have any special preference I took a tough stand, saying "If you don't find a job to your liking, you will be an apprentice to your father." To my amazement he brightened immediately and said, "I'd like to work with you Dad." This had seemingly been in his mind for a long time although he had never mentioned it to me. As far as I was concerned I was delighted to think I would have a son to carry on the business when I was too old to work.
Lewis' enthusiasm was not a passing fad. He excelled at the prescribed college work and was a careful painter. At the end of his four year apprenticeship he was among the top five for Queensland in practical work. In business acumen he also showed considerable flair and was able to be entrusted with real responsibility.
In the fourth year of Lewis' apprenticeship the business was restructured incorporating Elsie and Lewis within the partnership retaining the name Adrian Turner & Co. We were not a proprietary company but a registered partnership; there was less expense involved in that method. The arrangement worked very well and we were able to undertake work on a larger scale including the repainting of Kings College at the University of Queensland and stalls for the Queensland Exhibition. Our two leading hands and two apprentices who had been employed for six years had to be supplemented by three more journeymen, one of whom was a good paperhanger.
I recall a job at the Exhibition requiring high class work in papering. The paper chosen had a close French fleur-de-lys motif and the paperhanger was a German who did not recognise the design. He was a fast worker and hung it upside down to the consternation of the client. That one took quite a little sorting out, but under pressure of time and the fact that the pattern was not obviously wrong way up, he allowed it to remain. A sense of humour comes in handy in such a situation.
In 1981 I was involved in a serious collision while on my way to work. That left my new car a write-off and me with a broken arm, three broken ribs and two broken toes. The doctors patched me up and I only had a week in hospital, but the work I was halfway through had to be completed. Lewis, married and with an infant daughter, then living at Southport left his study project and finished the job for me. I was incapacitated for six months and had turned sixty-five so it seemed appropriate to retire. Elsie and I were deeply affected by Lewis' loyalty and passed the entire business over to him. He has now controlled the work I had so painstakingly built up from scratch for twenty-eight years. The economic scenario is vastly different from what faced me in 1954, but I was more than happy to sign over control and give him a good start as proprietor of his own company. I had to admit Adrian Turner & Co Painting, Decorating, Sign writing did not make me a millionaire but it provided a good income and enabled me to send my two eldest to Queensland University, the second son to serve an apprenticeship with Eagers in automotive engineering and ultimately to see my youngest son set up in business.
For this and for family loyalty I am profoundly thankful.
Story written by Adrian Turner