Garment decoration may not seem like an obvious career choice for a former professional footballer, but Andy Blair has enjoyed a three-decade long career in supplying branded schoolwear and sportswear after a knee injury cut short his football career at the age of 30. P&P editor Melanie Attlesey speaks to the man himself about his two very different, but very successful careers.
When asked what the highlight of his playing career was, Andy states very clearly that to this day it remains his debut for Coventry City at the age of 18 in 1978.
This may be hard to comprehend when you learn that Andy went on to play for Aston Villa, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sheffield Wednesday. And it may be even more difficult to understand when you throw in the fact that Andy was part of the Villa team that beat Barcelona 3-0 at Villa Park to win the European Super Cup in 1982. Andy also has the unusual distinction of becoming the first player to ever score a hat-trick of penalties in the League Cup.
But as Andy explains: “You cannot replace the emotion that making your debut brings you. The adrenaline you experience and the desire to want to achieve, compares to nothing else. It was the biggest high I had professionally.”
Unfortunately a knee injury brought an end to Andy’s illustrious professional football career. But rather than dwell on what could have been Andy took a rather refreshing approach to the situation. “I felt that I was very privileged to have had the career I had, and I saw the injury as just one of those things in life.”
With children to feed and a mortgage to pay, Andy decided to take the route of becoming self-employed. “I wanted to become my own boss,” he explains.
Become your own boss
So after a rehabilitation period of around three years following the knee injury which rendered playing football impossible, Andy began to sell sportswear on market stalls across central England, sticking close to an industry he knew well.
After a successful few years of doing this, Andy wanted to expand business and to do so needed a base to work from. In 1991, Andy acquired his first self-named retail premises in Coventry. Business was going well, but at the turn of the millennium Andy realised another route market was needed to allow the business to continue flourishing. Given the rise of the internet and the likes of Mike Ashley and Dave Whelan dominating the general sports trade, Andy took the decision to move into the schoolwear market.
“It was a much needed natural transition. We needed to change, but stuck with garments that people needed to buy, which took us down the route of schoolwear,” says Andy.
With growth ongoing, the embellishment of garments became essential to the business. Services now include screen printing, vinyl printing and embroidery.
Over the years, Andy acquired a further two retail units, with the most recent one purchased only 18 months ago to cater for the growing demand of branded teamwear and workwear. This was an area that Andy moved into around six years ago to target local businesses looking for branded uniforms. This part of the business has seen steady growth over the years. As well as the three retail units, Andy also owns a specialised embroidery unit, where anything up to 400 garments a day are embroidered by a team of skilled embroiderers.
“We have all of the ingredients now to ensure we stay busy,” says Andy.
Across the four premises, Andy employs 11 full time staff (the parallels with football continue) and three part-time staff. During the peak period in the summer months, around 15 to 20 youngsters are brought into the schoolwear section to assist. Andy explains: “Their enthusiasm and energy is refreshing and to be part of their development is similar to any youth team at a professional club.”
It is clear that the fundamental team aspects of the professional game are replicated in all parts of Andy’s business. Consideration for others, work ethic, planning, dedication, determination and discipline are traits that are required in both professions. Andy has made a success of his second career because he has taken these attributes forward into his garment decoration business.
“Without the team around me this business could not have reached the level we have. There have been trials and tribulations, tears and tantrums along the way. At times, the harmony of all of my colleagues can be the toughest part of the job. We currently have the best functioning team I’ve been involved with, that said we’ve had some excellent team mates along the way,” he says.
Thank you to those who’ve helped
Andy is keen to say thank you to those that have helped his business to become a success along the way including Midwest Machinery, ETC Supplies, TC Threads, BTC activewear, PenCarrie, Ralawise, Banner, Falcon, Rowlinson Knitwear, Trutex and Winterbottom’s Schoolwear.
Andy concludes: “Three shops, a decent turnover, continuing to develop and evolve, almost 30 years later we are getting to know our job. During the last 12 months the business has effectively split in two parts. The teamwear and workwear side has grown hugely, needing its own platform to function more effectively with more efficiency. The schoolwear side continues to grow, but equally needed more room to bloom.
“After all this time we are only at the midpoint of the second half. It’s an exciting game, evenly poised at 2-2. Here’s hoping for a late winner, to take us to the next level. I would like to add that undoubtedly without my family’s understanding and support the business would not have reached the midpoint of the first half.”