A sharp idea put former BNFL employee Peter Fox literally at the cutting edge of business in Cumbria. A year ago Mr Fox, 52, accepted a redundancy package from his job in quality assurance at Sellafield and became self employed.
Now, he is well established as Sharp Edge, travelling the county and into southern Scotland from his home at Arlecdon, near Whitehaven, to provide "all your sharpening needs". Time and technology have moved on since the days when knife grinders pedalled from house to house with a sharpening wheel. Mr Fox has equipped his van with specialised electrical equipment to give a new edge to knives and scissors, shears and secateurs, wood planes and chisels and the variety of clippers that keep people, dogs, horses and sheep in trim.
Experience as a former teacher of craft subjects, including woodwork, metal work and computer studies, helped determine the way ahead for Mr Fox when he started to look for a new lease of life after Sellafield. From what he didn't find in the Yellow pages and the local phone book there seemed to be an opening in the sharpening business. So he took up a Business Link training course - "that's something I can strongly recommend" - carried out market research and produced a business plan that earned a start-up grant.
"Since then it just kept on growing." says the man from Lancashire who is now so much a part of Cumbria that he had Blencathra in mind when he named his business. The service he offers extends to a risk assessment and some servicing of portable electrical equipment such as vacuum cleaners, kettles and irons. "You'd be amazed at the dust and fluff that collects in a commercial hairdryer. They need regular cleaning and the bearings oiled to keep them working properly." he explains.
Mr Fox has his own high standards of quality. To make sure he knew what he was doing when he acquired his initial sharpening equipment, he toured car boot sales and bought knives and scissors with which to hone his own skills. Now he is a member of Quality Guild and says: "I sharpen most things but I don't do the blades of cylinder lawn mowers or wood saws, which need specialist equipment."
Business is booming, and, although he accepts work through the post, he is out and about four days a week and does the sharpening requirements of about 75 per cent of hairdressers in West Cumbria and Carlisle. Then there are the needs of farmers, retail butchers, gardeners, hotels and, of course, restaurants. A large commercial kitchen he deals with has four chefs who handle 40 knives - that's an awful lot of sharpening.
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"Far from the busy crowds tumultuous din." - H Kirke White