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In the beginning, Peter Ladkin worked for Remco Safety. When he was made redundant, he and his wife Mandy had to make a mega-decision: Whether to move away from the West Country to find work; or to fulfil Peter’s dream and set up their own company? It was in May 1981 and the UK was in the middle of a recession…
Safety First Manufacturing was formed at Ivybridge, Devon in a chicken shed with no toilets or computers. Peter ran the sales, Mandy was PA and general dog’s body and they employed two home-based machinists. Soon, one of these workers became ill so Mandy had no option but to learn – and fast!
As they couldn’t afford engineers, Mandy also had to cope with keeping the machines running – not a simple task as they were literally held together with string and sealing wax! In those early days, nobody wanted to answer the phone as it was always someone chasing either goods…or money.
Everyone ‘mucked-in’ with everything. Phone answering; tea-making; sweeping and cleaning were all undertaken by the small team. They eventually employed a ‘YOP’ from the Youth Opportunities Programme to help out. When Peter went away on a sales trip, Mandy approached the young man to let him know what his duties were and, with scant regard for his future employment prospects, he said: “Oh no, I’m not doing that. I’m a man so when Peter’s away, I’ll be in charge”. How wrong could he be?
Even in those early days, Safety First produced a wide range of products, including kids’ protective smocks; aprons for the car industry; and canvas curtains. They had no capital behind them and soon found to their relief that the welding protection side of the business was really starting to take-off, especially when they began to make frames to go with the canvas curtains.
At this time, Safety First’s well known brand ‘Hannibal Hides’ was launched almost accidentally. At the time there was no other leather ‘name’ on the market, so Safety First started stamping its trademark grey leather with its own brand.
The next phase began when the oil rigs in the North Sea started employing American welders - and they brought with them Kromer caps and Redram jackets. Local workers wanted to buy these, but it was too expensive to import them from the USA. Seeing a golden opportunity, Safety First reacted quickly and launched ‘Red Tusker’ which was a heat resistant leather of a very high quality - far better than anything on the UK market.
After a couple of years, Safety First went up in the world, moving to a more luxurious chicken shed on the same industrial estate. But this time they had a toilet and eventually TWO computers. Accounts were soon computerised and orders were being faxed and received. In fact, Safety First was one of the first companies in the sector to be so IT literate. Instead of cutting the leather by hand, knives were specially made and the company bought a second leather press.
By now Mandy was in charge of production and several staff members were employed by the company.
When Mandy began to take more of an interest in the sales side, she eventually bought husband Peter out in 1987, the pair finally going their own separate ways. However their son Ben helped out considerably when he took time out from his Australian career to head-up Safety First’s sales function for a while when he certainly showed the same drive and enthusiasm as his mother did in the role.
This was a very exciting time for Safety First and Mandy soon moved the company to a new factory in South Brent, Devon. It became bigger and better in the welding world and gradually grew to be market leader in the UK. In 2001, Safety First Manufacturing moved to the current premises in Plympton, Devon, from where it continues to serve the welding and allied industries, echoing the very high standards set by Mandy and Peter back in the early days. The team has grown to over 30 and Safety First has expanded into construction, roofing and leisure, although never forgetting that welding was - and is – a key cornerstone of the business. The company’s personalisation service has expanded too, with bespoke embroidery adding to Safety First’s impressive product line-up. In this niche sector – as in the other parts of the business - the ability to deliver to specification (never forgetting high quality, keen prices and on-time) is of paramount importance. It’s no accident that the company’s mission statement is ‘Strength through Quality’, words that are an integral part of Safety First’s DNA and the TUSKER brand.
Mandy is now based on the other side of the world with her second husband and son Ben. Due to the wonders of modern technology including video conferencing, VoIP telephones, email and text, she is able to remain active and effective in the running of the company. Emily Wright, who fulfils the functions of Director and General Manager, is Mandy's right-hand-woman and very capably runs the business on a day to day basis.