Reg gets let go by Raleigh & makes his own bikes...
"Before I could really take any steps at all, it became clear that I was going to
have to go into hospital to have my left collar bone removed-the one that had suffered in
my crash in 1955. When I came out, I was still without any sort of idea of what to do when
I met up with a couple of my friends. I told them that I had just parted from
Raleigh. They were amazed to hear this- they, like so many others who were interested in
cycling, had always assumed that Raleigh and Harris would go on hand in hand for
evermore. One of these two friends was a neighbour of mine called Arthur Whatmough
whose family business was light engineering. Ironically, they did work for
'What are you going to do now?' Arthur asked me.
'That's a very good question.'
'Well, what happened to the Reg Harris cycles idea?'
I explained to him briefly what happened, to which his reaction was:
'Well, isn't making bicycles just another engineering operation?'
''Yes, I suppose it is.'
'We have our engineering works in Manchester and in Blackpool and although we're pretty
full up with Ministry work, there is space along side the Blackpool plant which could be
developed. How about making bicycles there?'
He went on to point out that there was skilled labour available and that there were a
number of other advantages in choosing Blackpool. By the end of the evening I was
convinced that this was by no means a bad idea.
Early the next morning the telephone rang, it was
'Were you serious about the Idea of setting up a cycle factory in Blackpool?' he asked.
'Yes, I was.''Right. We're in business then.'
Later that same day I went over to Blackpool to take a look,and after a lot of careful
thought we came to the conclusion that Blackpool was a less suitable location for the
proposed factory than we had at first supposed. For one thing, its position on the coast
was not very strategic for distribution to the home market. We decided, therefore, to look
for alternative premises; we found them at Macclesfield, a location convenient for both
myself and the Whatmough family.
The next problem was to find just the right person to run
the factory, since although I had a pretty sound knowledge of how to design bicycles, I
was obviously not experienced in carrying out the job of administrating a company.
However, this did not turnout to be too serious a problem thanks to a friend of mine
called Gerry Burgess, and ex-track rider turned bicycle accessory manufacturer. He
quickly put me on to a former managing director of the Elswick Hopper Cycle Company,
a man called Harry Haselton who had already proved his abilities in the cycle trade.
Harry was immediately interested in the idea of joining me and very soon we came to a
As we went deeper and deeper into the whole matter of
the factory, it became increasingly clear that there were several disadvan
tages in having partners. It seemed that in many ways the best thing would be for me to
put up all the money, which I was in a position to do, and then make a point of taking out
as little as possible until the business had really got going. The Whatmoughs were
very understanding about this and so I went into business on my own.
Although Harry was a splendid person to have working with me on
the project, he was not really a small company man and I did not have the experience to
realise this at first. As a result, we bought all sorts of equipment that was really
better suited to the scale of production that Raleigh or one of their smaller rivals was
operating on, than for the sort of operation I was setting up.
Nevertheless, after a few months our establishment in Macclesfield really was
beginning to look something like a cycle factory. This did not mean that we
were producing frames yet, because I had not been aware of just how specialised that sort
of thing was. You cannot just take a man who is a welder and make him intoa skilled frame
brazer overnight. Nor can you expect someone who has been spraying Rolls-Royces or
refrigerators to make a beautiful job of a bicycle first time round: it requires a totally
Macclesfield was an area where there was no unemployment andso
the only labour that was readily available was the least skilled variety. Scarcely a
single person in the region had even a vague notion of the various highly specialised
facets of cycle manufacture,and it was here I made my first big mistake. At about
the time I was setting up this little company, a great many people in the Midlands cycle
industry were finding themselves redundant as a result of the re-organisation following
Raleigh's merger with T.I. All the labour exchanges in the Birmingham and
Coventry area had dozens of people on their books who had spent years of their lives
building wheels and frames and so on. Only too late did I tumble to the fact that I
would have to import some of these people to Macclesfield if I was to have my
chance of being able to train the factory staff properly. The cost of finding these
experts and helping them move to Maccles-field was the first nail in my financial coffin.
In order to justify these heavy expenses, we had to start
manufacturing far more bicycles from the outset than the cash-flow would
really permit, but once again I was not really experienced enough to understand this. On
the face of it, the situation seemed very promising: as soon as word got round about what
I was doing, letters began to flood in from dealers all over the country asking for the
agency to sell my machines. I didn't like to say 'no' to anyone, so I
ended up with about 850 agents which was rather rash considering that production was at
first limited to about thirty machines per week.
Our agents were good at their job; very soon the orders came
pouring in and there could be no doubt that our range was very appealing and represented
excellent value for money. The very fact that I still see Reg, Harris bicycles being
ridden today shows that they were built to last. We had a sports model called the Campione
at 23 LB, a more elaborate one at 28 LB and the top of our range was over 30 LB.
For those who just wanted frame sets and not complete bicycles, our prices
began at a very modest 15 LB.
Most businesses run into trouble because for one reason oranother their
product does not sell. Mine was an exception to this rule. I was never short of
orders at all. Why then did it run into trouble? The answer is that I was simply
After Raleigh had merged with T.I., many of the old traditional policies of the firm
were changed by the new management. One of these was to allow dealers who had
been used to paying their bills within one month, to take as many as five months to pay.
Thus orders delivered say, in November, would only actually be paid for in the
following April. I never offered such fantastic credit to my dealers, but because these
dealers were used to taking this much time to settle the Raleigh bills, they decided to
make me wait just as long. This called for far greater financial reserves than I
could supply and as the cash-flow deteriorated, so did my own credit situation with my
suppliers. Almost all of them required settlement within sixty days, and the fact
that my dealers were taking one hundred and fifty days to pay me was of no interest to
them. As a result, I was slowly strangled by the whole situation.
Looking back on it, I suppose I should have offered my dealers a
higher profit margin in return for prompt payment. I should also have given special rates
to those dealers who were close to the factory, instead of going to all the expense of
sending a lorry right
down to Cornwall with just a couple of bicycles on board. I should have been a little more
selfish or at least more commercially minded, but of course it is easy to be wise after
the event. I could start a factory today, although times are no easier now than they were
then, and it would be a roaring success.
We struggled on in Macclesfield for about three years and,
frankly, we performed miracles. As our work force became more experienced,
production rose from our initial thirty to about a hundred and fifty per week, and
considering that this was achieved in a factory of only 5,000 square feet, it was quite
something. But struggle as we did, the process of slow strangulation went on. A time came
when we were no longer able to obtain supplies until we paid for them. This meant that
work was sometimes held up for days until enough dealers had settled their bills to enable
me, to pay off a supplier. The economic suicide of this situation is obvious, and as soon
as that point was reached I realised that the end might be in sight. If that end came
quickly, it could at least be a reasonably honourable one, if I postponed it too long, I
would go under completely leaving many bad debts behind me. But in any case, I
soldiered on a little longer.
At this point, I called a meeting of all the creditors and asked
them to continue their support for a while. I pointed out that what-ever happened I
would lose far more money than anyone else, and for the most part they were sympathetic.
One of my most important creditors, apart from Ron Kitching, Walter Flory and Gerry
Burgess, was the Brooks saddle company, a division of Raleigh. Without saddles, it
was quite impossible to sell the bicycles we were producing, and so it became vitally
important to come to an under-standing with Brooks. I pulled every
string I could, which eventually resulted in my being asked to come and see Leslie
Roberts, the chairman of Raleigh. The meeting took place over lunch at a hotel near
Derby, and it was only when I arrived there that I realised Leslie Roberts and his
assistant, Archie Hutchinson, were not particularly interested in the matter of the
saddles. Their point of view was that I ought to close down the factory immediately and
take a job with Raleigh. They had partly changed their minds, it seemed, about the idea of
producing a Reg Harris bicycle themselves.
I made my reply very clear. I had a very strong feeling of
loyalty towards the forty-odd people I was employing. We had had a hell of a time
putting together a really good, smooth-working and efficient labour force, and the
idea of allowing it to just break up seemed too sad to contemplate. Moreover, I
felt a special responsibility towards those who had moved to Macclesfield from the
Midlands in order to work with me. For these reasons, I could not bear to put the
whole thing on the scrap heap, and I just prayed that with one last effort I would succeed
in getting over the top after which it would all be plain sailing. Of course, it would
have been different if Raleigh had offered to take a controlling interest in the
company as it stood, but that was never their idea.
I did soldier on for a few more months, though goodness
knows how; and then, when there was nothing left, the factory was closed down.
I was completely ruined. Every penny of my
capital was lost and gone and even my home and my personal belongings had to be sold. At
least, they did not have to be sold but it was a matter of honour for me. I could
not have lived a comfortable life in the knowledge that I had let down my creditors and
so, instead, I dis-posed of all my assets and paid off everything I could. That left me
with my honour intact, but nothing else at all. No job and no family, for the horrible
crisis had also taken its toU in my personal life.Dorothy and I had married as soon as I
had become legally separated from my first wife, Florence. We had lived a very happy
life together throughout the years of my racing career, but my new life as a businessman
had placed severe strains on our relationship. As my business life became more and
more fraught, so the strains on our relationship became worse, until the best thing to do
was to part. We were subsequently divorced and Dorothy later re-married, but only a
year afterwards her new husband was killed in a tragic road accident. She became a
widow, as she remains today. One way and another, the outlook for my future as
I bade fare-well to my cycle factory for the last time, was about as black as it could be.
I had nothing in my life and I had no shoulder to lean on. It was a low moment, but
not low enough to keep me down permanently. "