Digger: Hello Andy.
Andy: Hello David.
Digger: Can you please tell us
a bit about your background Andy?
Andy: Iím originally from the motor trade. I'd always had an
interest in all things retro - the vehicles, the phones and so
on. With the fifties and sixties, any era in fact, I find the clothing, the cars
and the current affairs sort of represent an era. I love
the fifties and sixties in general. I'd also studied things
like The Great Train Robbery and the criminal element at the
time - that was something I'd studied at school as well.
Digger: Were you also familiar with the lives of The Krays and
Andy: Yes, in fact I know Charlie Richardson because, in between the
motor trade and what I do now, I actually ran a security
company for a number of years.
Digger: Ah! There's a rule that there's often a fine line
walked between the police and the criminals. Did you see that?
Andy: I would tend to agree with you having witnessed it first
hand. I was a qualified close protection officer - personal
protection and that sort of thing. And one of the tours that
I'd done was with a guy who had written a book about the
underworld and so I got to meet a lot of those people. We did
the security for Tony Lambrianou's funeral. I think if you're
looking at an era, then something like the Train Robbery was
groundbreaking at the time in the same way as Brink's Mat was
in the eighties. When you think of an era you think of the
music and what was in the news at the time and they are the
Digger: That's true, and also the fashions as well. Which can
include things like photography and design and so on.
Digger: What sorts of cars appealed to you?
Andy: I've always been into vintage and classic cars, and in
the days when I could afford to, I used to restore old Jaguars.
Digger: You are reminding me of The Sweeney with all this talk
of The Krays and Jaguars!
Andy: If I was to run you through a list of cars I've had... I
must admit I've been terrible - until we took Unicorn over - I
am a bit of a hoarder, I'm afraid. For me being in
the motor trade, it was vehicles and we got to the point where
I had restored several Jags over the years. And Triumph Stags
and others. I said to Becky, my partner, that now that we're running the
business we're just not going to have the time to do all
of this. I've got a big collection and we had a big clearout -
you'd cry if you saw some of the stuff we got rid of. Early
XJ Jaguars and a Triumph Stag and a very late Ford Capri, a
Dolomite, a Mark II Cortina and those sorts of things that I
kept meaning to get around to. They all did go to good homes.
I said to Becky "I've been doing these cars for twenty years
now - but we've got Unicorn now and there's something else to concentrate
on" so I said "Pick one car that you really like and I will
restore that but that's the last one that I'm going to do." So
I'm just in the early stages now of doing a 1959 Cadillac
Sedan Deville, the one with the big fins on.
Andy: Not only are we keeping it for ourselves but when it's
finished that's going to be the Unicorn promotional vehicle.
I'd like to keep it as original as we can and it just fits in
so nicely with what we're trying to do.
Digger: Of course it does Andy and you just keep telling
yourself that. (Both laugh)
Andy: It's my justification anyway.
Digger: Please tell us more about Unicorn. What 50s
products are on offer?
Andy: We do ladies and gents. The larger part of our sales is
the gents - things like the drape jacket, which is our number
one seller. We took the business over from a lady who
started it about 27 years ago and she'd run it to the point
where it was providing a full income for her and her two
daughters. She reached seventy and decided that she wanted
to retire. Their initial plan was that they were going to sell
everything off to retire. Becky and I were ex-customers and it
quickly became apparent to us that there were a lot of items
that they did which we weren't going to be able to get
anymore. Obviously, that was a source of concern for us and
quite late in the day we were looking to do something. We
approached Debbie, who was the daughter, about the possibility
of taking over rather than the business closing down
altogether and seeing what we could do with that. That was 12
months ago and they were quite a way into running it down. So
we're now on the uphill trying to get the stock levels back to
where they were with the previous owners.
Digger: And stamping your mark on it?
Andy: Yes, and we're trying to emphasise that it is relatively
young people who are running this because I think that helps.
There are a couple of companies around but we're finding a lot
of the people who get into this era are not just people who
remember it the first time round. We're finding a lot of
teenagers and early twenty-somethings that are really
interested in this and we find that quite encouraging.
Digger: To be quite brutal, a lot of the people who remember
it first time around are getting fewer and fewer, aren't they?
Andy: If we had to rely solely on those people who remember
rock and roll from its infancy, and without wishing to sound
unkind, we would have something of a shelf life and that was
something we initially wondered about. But we quickly realised
that it wasn't just the original people who were into this.
Digger: Why are youngsters being attracted to the fifties rock
Andy: Weíve thought about this long and hard and I think there
was a certain innocence about the era which people find quite
comforting compared to the era we're living in now. And if you
look at sorts of things that my kids are listening to now,
they're not going to look back at it in forty or fifty years
time and say "Ooh, classic"- there's a special something about
the rock and roll which has meant that it has endured.
Digger: Could you have been doing this for the sixties as well
because you said you had a passion for the sixties?
Andy: Yes. The possibility is there and what we've decided to
do, because there are a couple of other companies that are
involved with similar products to us... We sat down and
thought about this when we first took over. We decided that,
rather than make ourselves the same as all the others -
there's one that does fifties, sixties, rockabilly, country
and western - so rather than be a jack of all trades we wanted
to remain a master of just the one, as it were. Unicorn has
been running as a designated fifties and rock and roll style
business for over twenty years and it was a working formula
that we didn't consider needed fixing.
Digger: Sounds good to me. If a youngster finds all this sort
of thing appealing and is thinking of getting into the fifties
scene, what advice would you give?
Andy: It would always be worth realising that although it's a
niche market they're certainly not on their own and that would
encourage them a great amount. There are probably more young
people that are interested in this sort of thing than would be
prepared to openly admit it. But if they went to one of the
events or concerts and had a look in the audience, they would
realised there a lot of people of a similar age that are into
it. It's one of those things nowadays, and particularly for the
younger kids, anything that is perceived as different then
sometimes they're not quite so confident to advertise the fact
Digger: No that's always been with the way with youngsters -
they want to rebel and be different yet in doing so they tend
to conform to groups and styles.
Andy: I do think certainly there are a lot that are interested
and it's a safety in numbers thing. Once people realise
that they're a lot more confident about getting involved.
It's also very importantly because the whole rock and roll
period, you've got to remember, was that whole transitional
period between the years after the war when everything was so
rigidly controlled and straight-laced. Rock and roll and
the fifties era was a very important part of the development
of our society and our country.
Digger: It was the first time we'd had a youth culture.
Andy: Thatís right. Thatís the reason why itsí so important
for the development of our society as well as just the clothes
and the music. It all forms an era that was important not just
for us but for other countries.
Digger: Where are your customers
coming from Andy?
Andy: Our customers are from the UK but also places like
Germany, Holland and so on because weíre finding theyíre not
able to get hold of the items as readily. There arenít that
many places left doing them because the issue that we have
here is, because this is a niche market, itís not necessarily
something which booms when thereís a recession on. Itís a
non-essential item Ė itís not as if weíre producing food. So in order to make it work, we decided that I would keep my
job on anyway and Becky my other half has also done so. This is
a part-time business which weíre trying to turn back into a
full-time business. Itís important to us to keep the business
viable and thatís the reason why we run it from home, for
instance, rather than having a shop which we couldnít afford.
Thatís why a lot of niche market businesses are falling down -
they canít afford to stay open on the revenue theyíre
generating. The only way we make it work is by making it a
part-time business that we're able to do in and around our
regular work from home.
Digger: You certainly couldnít be doing it without The
Andy: No. The one decision we did make Ė the previous owner had
a shop up in Nottingham. Retail premises up there would be
about £450 a month but where weíre based weíre looking at
three times that for something similar. A business of this
nature just will not support that, which is why The Internet
is absolutely vital because we wouldnít survive without it.
Digger: I love the irony of so many retro businesses taking
full advantage of The Internet and new technologies.
Andy: Yes, weíre lucky inasmuch as we took over a very
well-established name Ė Unicorn. People recognise it. If you go
to rock and roll shows and talk with people they will
recognise the name and the product straight away and that
helps us. But that would not be enough on its own in this day
and age. We do get people coming to the house to try things on,
but we wouldnít see any of the business that we have done from
Norway, Denmark, northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and even
California without The Internet. The long-term plan is that we
want to make the business viable enough to move into a retail
unit somewhere in the Oxfordshire area.
Digger: And give up the day jobs as well?
Andy: That would be lovely. I work from home already so I can
balance the two and if the phone rings with a Unicorn enquiry
Iím usually able to handle it there and then. Thatís the sort
of thing that helps us to make it work where somebody else
might not be able to.
Digger: Do you do the Shows and
Andy: The previous owners certainly did because they attended
the Hemsby rock and roll weekend and The Butlins and so on.
When we initially took over, we simply didnít have the level of
stock left to be able to do that. Whether or not that will be
possible by showtime this year Iím not entirely sure. But what
I wouldn't want to do is only turn up with a limited amount of
stock when I know that weíre capable of so much more for the
sake of waiting twelve months. Iíd rather people see the whole
lot once weíve got it up to its full extent. I would like to
try a couple of the smaller festivals this year but the
long-term plan includes going back to Hemsby and so on. We are
in this for the long run and so if it takes a little bit of
time to get things right then so be it.
Digger: Itís good, isnít it, that there are people like you
that are prepared to do this sort of thing and keep things
Andy: I donít think this is just something you could do as a
job Ė you have to have a passion for it because you would get
fed up with it very quickly otherwise.
Digger: What are the most enjoyable aspects
of what you do?
Andy: I enjoy being involved with it because we meet people
that we perhaps otherwise wouldnít have done. We enjoy walking
into a concert and have people that we have never met walk up
and say ďYouíre the guys from Unicorn. Iím so-and-so. Nice to
meet you.Ē Because they'll have bought a jacket or something
like that and itís almost like walking into a room full of
friends, even though a lot of the people there you havenít met. We
went to a concert in Ilkley in Yorkshire Ė it was
Showaddywaddy and it was Dave Bartramís last concert. Afterwards, we stopped at a kebab shop, a guy walked in
wearing one of our shirts and we had a bit of a conversation
with him and he said ďI got it from Unicorn.Ē And when he told
me his name the name rang a bell. Iíd never met him before and
I remembered heíd had a bootlace tie as well and itís just
nice, particularly for me where Iíd worked in security for
years and all everyone wants to do is shout and swear at you.
To come into this genre, where everyone is pleased to see
you and pleased to deal with you is like a breath of fresh
air. Even on the very, vary rare occasion if you sell
something to somebody and itís perhaps the wrong size or
something like that.
Digger: Itís also how you
handle it Andy. You can even turn a negative into a positive
if you deal with it right, as you know.
Andy: Because we donít have the shop facility
for people to try things on Iíve always said to everybody "If
you get something and it doesnít fit or if you just donít like
it when it arrives then just pop it back to us. I will,
without any quibble whatsoever, replace it for something else
you do want or I will replace it no questions asked." I think
people like to have that protection if they canít physically
try something on before theyíve paid for it. Youíve got to be
fair with people Ė itís a niche market and not many of us
itís not worth falling out with people over something as silly
Digger: And realistically, because it is a relatively small
community the news travels fast as well.
Andy: Yes it does.
Digger: Andy, Iím looking forward to meeting up with you.
Digger: Iím sure our paths will cross soon.
Andy: Your website is fascinating.
Digger: Thank you.
Andy: You donít realise that a lot of these people you
interview on the site are still
working. The guys from Showaddywaddy for example Ė we actually
supply all of their stage gear. The jackets, the shirts Ė
Digger: I always wondered where they came from.
Andy: Itís all from Unicorn and they are all such a wonderful,
approachable bunch of guys. And one of the best things about
what we do is meeting people from all walks of life that we
probably wouldnít meet in ordinary life.
Digger: Sounds like you're onto
a winner Andy. Thanks and all the best.
Andy: Thanks David.