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The Man Who put the B in B & Q!

Posted Monday, June 4, 2007

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Richard Block -The Man Who put the B in B & Q

Whilst the majority of us could answer the question posed in the famous television tea advert - Who put the `T’ in BriTain? – there are not so many who could tell you who put the B in B & Q.

But as the saying goes - you can do it when you B & Q it – and B & Q have been doing it successfully for 37 years ever since the two original founders - Block & Quayle - launched the very first B & Q store in Southampton back in March 1969.

From Chesterfield to China!

Middleton-by-Wirksworth’s Richard Block is the man who put the B in B & Q – whilst his brother-in-law David Quayle supplied the other half of the now world famous white letters on the red background that make up the name of what has become one of the largest and most successful chain of D.I.Y. superstores in the world.

Nowadays B & Q have over twenty-two thousand full-time employees and retail outlets in numerous diverse locations from Chesterfield to China!

No Regrets:

Though Richard sold his half of the company back in 1976, his important contribution as a founding father of B & Q is so highly regarded by the Kingfisher Group who currently own the company – and who perhaps see it as a `chip off the old Block’ (sorry Richard!) - that he was invited to open the new B & Q Warehouse in Bristol as the company, noted for its family atmosphere, recently celebrated it’s 30th anniversary.

It is fairly obvious to note, yet still a remarkable and sobering fact, that had he stayed with B & Q, Richard would by now have been a very rich man indeed; in fact he would be a multi –millionaire!

“The money would be useful, he says, “to enable my wife to more easily develop her career as a professional artist, printmaker and writer, and for me to pursue my vocation as a therapist”. But apart from that he has absolutely no regrets:

“I’ve never been too influenced by money, he told me; “it’s only a means to an end and in itself, not important”. He went on: “As long as I feel that I’m making a positive contribution to the good of society - that’s important”.

Career changes

Richard’s `contribution to the good of society’ has seen him make a number of career changes throughout his working life – apart from founding B & Q, these include tomato growing in Guernsey, and teaching hundreds of people to drive!

Richard, who was born in London and moved to Southampton when he was eleven years old, admits to having had a fortunate start to his working life: “My grandfather developed a company called Kitson’s Insulations, which eventually became the largest independent firm of its type in Europe, he explained. “and I suppose it was expected that I would follow him into the family business, but I couldn’t get very excited about lagging”, he chuckled. “I had spent a couple of years as a market research assistant with Warner-Lambert, the ethical drugs and hair cosmetics company, when my brother-in-law came up with a business proposition and the idea of a DIY self-service centre in Southampton”.

The Start of B & Q

Richard continued: “I held some of Kitson’s shares and decided to use them as collateral in obtaining the necessary overdraft facilities to enable us to start B & Q”. Block & Quayle moved into an old cinema in Portswood Road, Southampton and fitted it out as the very first B & Q D.I.Y. store which opened for trading in March 1969.

B & Q were the first with a pioneering challenge to the ancient Sunday trading regulations, eventually winning a landmark battle in the courts and paving the way for the modern shopping revolution – although it was another twenty five years before legislation permitting Sunday trading was finally passed by Parliament in August 1994.

Within seven years B & Q had proved so successfully innovative that they had more than a dozen stores in towns around the south of England and the first B & Q store in the Midlands at Spondon in Derby.

Business was booming – but as Richard explained:

“It became less enjoyable with the pressure of growth and I had a strong desire to pioneer things on my own terms, so I decided it was time for a change”.

Growing Guernsey Tomatoes

He sold his share of B & Q in 1976 and invested the money in a commercial tomato growing enterprise in Guernsey.

“To begin with I had about a third of an acre of glass alongside the house, and I set about developing `the vinery’, as nurseries are called in the Channel Islands, a throwback to the days when all the glass was used in the growing of grapes”, said Richard, who quickly took to tomato growing, introducing new growing and grading techniques.

“Eventually I had two and a half acres under glass, each plant producing a yield of thirty pounds (30 lbs in old money!)) and became one of the biggest independent growers of Guernsey tomatoes in the Channel Islands”.

But despite its initial success the venture was doomed to end in disappointment.

Shortly after investing a substantial sum in building the new glasshouses, the crisis in the Middle East caused a huge rise in oil prices and the cost of growing tomatoes soared – and Richard was caught in the middle of the sudden economic change of circumstance.

He was on the move again, for although it had been, he says, “the most fulfilling ten years of my life”, the death of his father persuaded him to cut his losses in Guernsey and move back `home’ to Chandler’s Ford in Hampshire in 1987 to give support to his mother.

The Need to Re-Connect

The taste for high-powered big business had soured and Richard admits to feeling the need again for change. “I got very cynical about man’s inhumanity and felt the desire to re-connect to the human race, he told me. “I had always been interested in the natural world, in biology and physiology, and decided to re-train as a therapist”.

Thus began eight years of professional training, first at the Hypnotherapy Centre in Bournemouth, then with the Northern Institute of Massage, and finally with the Institute for Optimum Nutritional.

Eventually he moved north to Cheshire in 1995 to become a Consultant Therapist at a clinic in Altrincham.

“It became almost immediately apparent that the clinic was not going to give me a living, said Richard, “so to supplement my income I trained as a driving instructor with BSM.”.

In 1997-98 he had a franchise with the BSM driving school in Macclesfield, and in 1999 moved again to B.S.M. in Derby.

“The move to Derbyshire was ideal because my wife’s mother lived in Middleton-by- Wirksworth – the driving instruction lasted another two years, but although the pass rate I achieved was O.K. the examiners were not happy with my relaxed method of teaching”, said Richard with a wry smile,“ - and my instructors license was revoked! Then with a smile he added, “I guess school-teachers under the scrutiny of an Ofsted visit will recognise my experience!”

A True Vocation

These days Richard Block claims to have found his true vocation.

This eloquent, quietly spoken bearded vegetarian gentleman is now a registered remedial masseur, consultant nutritionist and hypnotherapist, with a growing reputation as a thoroughbred professional with magic fingers and healing hands, who enjoys caring for the physical and nutritional well-being of his clients at his own consultancy and clinic in Middleton-by-Wirksworth. He has developed an integrated health programme which is tailored to suit individual needs, incorporating one, two, or all three specialised therapies and thus enabling clients to attain optimum good health.

Richard explains:

“The integration of nutrition, massage and hypnotherapy aims to encourage the body to attain homeostasis, the state in which the complex mechanisms of the body permit it to adapt continually to the various stresses and pressures which assualt it from all sides, inwardly and outwardly”.

Integration therapy

He went on, “This mechanism has been called the `General Adaptive Syndrome’, and good health is maintained by systems controlling tissue repair and regeneration, fending off substances which might cause allergic or similar reactions. Integration therapy sets out to bring all systems back into line, enabling the General Adaptive Syndrome to function normally again.”

Despite his roller-coaster career and nomadic wanderings, Richard has high hopes that his latest venture will succeed and fix him permanently in Derbyshire, the adopted county that he loves.

Richard Block is a gentle, caring and intelligent man with many strings to his bow – in fact, as if to validate my point - he is also the manager of the Holland & Barratt Health Food Shop in Matlock!

But no matter what he goes on to achieve in the future, - and we wish him well, this versatile ex-tomato growing driving instructor will always be `the man who put the B in B & Q!’

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