One of the first things you notice when you drive into Jobel in Millbay Road, Plymouth, is the fluttering of the Union Flags outside the Kitchen and Bathroom showroom which provides a hint to the military past of its founder, Mike Freeman.
His father had served both in the Army, and in the Royal Navy, when Mike was born in Germany in the year of 1955. When the family returned back to Britain, he decided he wanted to follow in his Dad’s footsteps.
He left school at 15 and asked his father if he could join the army at the age of 16, but his Dad’s response had been that Mike got a “proper job” and so he refused to sign the paper work to allow his son to join up.
That all changed when Mike turned 18 whereupon he visited the recruiting office in Plymouth. The staff told him that if he was serious about a military career, he would have to get a haircut.
Mike immediately went straight to the nearest barbers and had his hair appropriately trimmed before promptly signing up for a career that would see him serve around the world.
He may have signed on with the Devon and Dorset Regiment but he very quickly found himself part of the Coldstream Guards which, at the age of 18, was a huge honour, as it is the oldest regiment in the British Army in continuous service.
It was six tough months of training but he stuck at it to prove to his Dad that he could do it. His parents attended his passing out parade where his father showed his pride and approval with the words, “Congratulations, son.”
Celebrations were short lived, however, as Mike was soon to witness one of the worst IRA atrocities on the mainland when he was caught in the Guildford pub bombings of October 1974.
He remembers that night well as he had suffered cuts and bruises from the explosions which happened at two separate pubs, resulting in five people being killed and scores more being injured.
“I escaped death twice that night,” recounts Mike. “It’s made me drive myself forward. You see things that you don’t forget.”
One of his first military deployments was as in a peacekeeping role in Cyprus with the UN. It was 1975 and the island was in turmoil as it divided itself into the separate enclaves of Turks and Greeks.
Returning back to the UK, it wasn’t long before Mike once again became a firsthand witness to “The Troubles.” This time he was on the streets of Northern Ireland following his deployment to Londonderry / Derry from 1976 to 1978.
It was the height of tensions in the Six Counties and Mike remembers, on one occasion, being part of a thin green line of soldiers that were facing thousands of rioters. He recalls the confrontation today and recounts that it was certainly a moment when you had to “grow up quick.”
With more than 18 years military service behind him and service in a number of countries including Cyprus, Hong Kong and South Africa, Mike left the Army in 1992 as a Warrant Officer (2nd class).
His goal from then on was to work within the police service, but a freeze on recruiting saw him move around a number of jobs, including work in the prison service. In the evenings he went along to classes to train as a plumber – a course which would prove vital for the work he undertakes today at Jobel.
His military training meant that he had a keen eye to detail and strong organisational abilities which is something he still prides himself on. Oracle is interviewing Mike in his office and all of his files for on-going jobs are immaculately ordered on his desk.
By the mid 1990s, Mike was working in the bathroom and kitchen industry where he soon became a company Regional Manager and his work saw him cover a vast area from Bristol to Penzance.
Jobel stems from a beloved pedigree retriever which highlights the importance of family.
By 1998, Mike decided to go it alone. “I rented a shop at Cattedown in Plymouth and the fitters decided to come with me. All the money I made went straight back into the shop for displays and computers, soon we outgrew the premises and we moved to a new site,” explains Mike.
Investing into the business to help it grow is a key piece of advice that Mike still imparts to budding entrepreneurs.
“When you become successful,” he says, “don’t spend it; put it back into the company and you will see the results.”
He explains that being an entrepreneur is “not a 9 to 5 job and it’s not a job where you can simply leave the office at the end of the day, it’s there at the weekends and you have to put the hours in to make it work.”
The name of any business is vital and Jobel stems from a beloved pedigree retriever which highlights the importance of family. Mike is a proud grandfather and, having just turned 60, is starting to slowly hand over the business reins to his 28 year old son.
Mike says family has been a crucial part of his life and the support of his wife cannot be underestimated. “You need to have a supporting partner and someone who is an understanding person, especially when you start a business as money may be tight.”
He also believes that finding a niche market is an important part of developing your business plan. After all, when he started, few people were providing fitted bathrooms and kitchens.
His dedication to Jobel means he has never had a day off sick and he ensures he is at his desk before eight in the morning and does not leave before six.
His only day off is Sunday and even his hobbies involve building work (he’s even just finished his own extension)!
Certainly the high point for any entrepreneur is to watch his or her business grow and an important factor in achieving that goal is making sure that you treat staff well and that you plan ahead for the tax bills.
Mike has also continued to ensure that the business is constantly innovating and moving forward.
The team uses state of the art graphic design work to create 3D models of how finished bathrooms will look. Jobel also invested in specialised software which provides exacting figures and quotes for clients.
Mike’s entrepreneurial spirit is driven not by money but from what he saw in the civilian world, where he could spot areas that could be improved to ensure things flowed smoothly for both the client and his team of fitters.
Each job is carried out with the precision of a military operation so the team of plumbers, electricians, tillers and plasterers are all in the right place at the right time.
His own training as a plumber has come in very useful as he once found himself working completely impromptu at a client’s house.
“I don’t like to let people down and we were working on a job when one of my fitters was told his wife had gone into early labour,” recalls Mike.
“I didn’t want to let the customer down and so I put on a set of overalls and finished the work myself. I think they were bemused to see the boss turn up with his own tool kit!”
“It was a baby boy and we were all absolutely delighted at the news.”