PROBABLY the borough’s oldest businessman, 94 year-old Ken Smith, is showing no signs of slowing down as he relaunches EH Smith following a £400,000 investment.
Founded by Ernest Howard Smith in 1922 using a horse and cart, Ken joined his father’s company in 1938 and is still there, five days a week, 10am- 5.30pm, 75 years on.
“I still enjoy it as much as ever. It’s what keeps me going,” he said.
“It’s death, retirement. They’ll have to carry me out.”
Even Ken’s first memory involves the business, being strapped to the back of his father’s motorbike, aged four, as they made deliveries to local builders.
“Father believed in a hands-on approach. I learnt everything from him.
“I went to night-school to learn how the materials were made.
“I even did practical bricklaying and I went out roofing after that.
“Things haven’t changed that much; the builder’s trade is still the builder’s trade.
“People still use a lot of the same materials they used in the old days.”
EH Smith continued operating through the war, going into roofing to help repair bomb damage across the country.
“We had 350 men drafted to us to help fix all the war damage, which was a bit of a mixed blessing,” explained Ken.
“We were in Coventry four days after the Blitz. Most of the city was rebuilt by us.”
The company has also survived a number of devastating recessions, including the Wall Street Crash, which saw many of their competitors fall by the wayside or taken over by ‘the big boys.’
“This is definitely the worst we have seen,” admitted Ken however.
“You have to keep your head down and just keep going. My father never spent a lot of money on himself, he ploughed all the money back into his business.
“I think we’re starting to come out of it now. This is why we decided that now was the time to expand and get our depot up to date.”
That major investment, £400,000 over the last 12 months, has been used to open up the Shirley depot as a ‘one-stop shop’ for builders, contractors and the public with ‘touchable’ stock supplies, and on-site timber mill.
With hints of further investment on the horizon, the company, which had a £100 million turnover last year, is determined to remain an independent, family-run business.
Councillor Ken Hawkins officially relaunched EH Smith in the company’s first ever mayoral visit.
“It has been a godsend to Solihull,” said the outgoing Mayor.