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Attention to detail: The Allspars Story

by Mark Jardine 2 Mar 12:00 GMT
Andy Postle, Allspars founder © Allspars

We recently spoke to Andy Postle, the founder and co-owner of Allspars in Plymouth, about his own sailing, how he started out in the marine industry, starting Allspars and how the company has expanded since then.

Andy first started sailing while he was at school, sailing Cadets at Frensham Pond when he was eleven years old, with a friend's older brother. Two years later he got his first Cadet, an old glass fibre boat which needed a lot of work on it to get it up to pace.

"I remember going to the Nationals at Burnham-on-Crouch, racing in the B fleet, and I found the boat was not quick. Mum and Dad then bought me a second-hand wooden boat, 7433 was the sail number, and I had that the whole way through my Cadet racing until 17."

Andy then moved to Cornwall and bought a Fireball which wasn't finished or complete, so sailed a Laser for the first season he moved to the South West.

"I was way too light for the Laser, so the following summer I finished building the Fireball and sailed that for the next five years, culminating with a trip to the Fireball World Championship in Adelaide in 1987."

After this Andy decided to move into the Osprey fleet at Mount's Bay as there was a massive fleet of them there including the likes of John Matthews and Des Menear who were strong in the class at the time.

"We messed around with that for a couple of years, including getting an 'interesting' new boat from Porter which was still in the tins when we went to collect it!"

After this Andy decided to have a go in the International 14 fleet...

"Porter owed me a favour after the issue with the Osprey not being ready, and they had an old Cross III mould in their shed. Blue Arrow had just started in Falmouth, so Porter lent me the mould and we took it down to Blue Arrow and, with the help of the team down there over evenings and weekends, built a Kevlar/carbon hull with a modern fit-out inside, going on to the 1989 World Championship in the legendary venue of San Francisco.

"I have a great Roger Lean-Vercoe photo on my wall from the event where I just wish we were twin-wiring! It was just too lumpy and only the very top guys like the McDonald brothers were brave enough to both get out on the wire!"

Andy then built another International 14, after Morrison made a carbon shell for them to the Morrison 7B design.

"We sailed this boat for a number of years, finishing up with the World Championship in Kingston, Canada in 1993. The arrival of my first child was the point the I14 had to go! It was when the class was just about to go through a significant development stage with taller carbon rigs and bigger sails, and we'd had a really good level platform for four or five years with the Howlett 1B boats."

It was clear that with many of Andy's boats, he'd had to spend time either repairing and modifying them, or building them from scratch. Clearly the groundwork for his time in the marine industry was being made at this point.

"I'd always enjoyed the sailing and I got a job in a local chandlery in Falmouth, just as a summer job to help me avoid going back home to Hampshire. That involvement and my constant tinkering on boats evolved into what I do today: 'bimbling' as we affectionately call it, is the bit that I enjoy. At the end of each Fireball event my (long suffering) crew, Chris Webber and I would strip down the boat, clean and wash everything, check everything was ready for driving up the A30 the following weekend for the next event.

"With the International 14s I didn't enjoy actually building the boats. Finances dictated I had to, but I enjoyed the fit-outs but didn't ever have the patience to do the painting, so I always got somebody else to do that part."

So, in starting Allspars, Andy had taken the part he'd become passionate about with his own sailing and turned it into a profession.

"It didn't happen intentionally in that way, like all these things. When I was working at the chandlery there wasn't really a rigging industry; there was Spencer's on the Isle of Wight, Peter Morton in Poole, Peter Lucas in Dartmouth and we were doing some bits and pieces in Falmouth and we were very much learning our way.

"We rigged the schooner Adela when she was first launched and ropes had to be designed for these new high loads. The engineers and designers could calculate the loads, so we went to the rope manufacturers and worked with them to develop the ropes and splices which were needed. It was really early days and I've been lucky to be involved as the industry has evolved and developed."

After working for the Falmouth Chandlery, Andy decided to start up on his own in Plymouth, or 'in England' as they call it in Cornwall.

"It was close enough to home, yet well connected to the major south coast sailing locations. I had the support of some really strong people in the industry in those early days who backed me, who gave us credit and allowed us to get started."

It has now been over twenty years since Andy started Allspars, ably supported by his wife Lisa in the accounts office and the company has gone from strength to strength.

"I couldn't have imagined it growing into what it is today. I remember having a conversation with Simon Cash-Reid from XM Yachting, asking him, 'Is this going to work?' and he said, 'Trust me Andy, it will work, and you'll be fine.' We ended up achieving exactly what he said we would in turnover within two years. He was a very strong supporter of us in the early days."

Since then it has been the team which Andy has built up which make Allspars what it is. While Andy steers the direction of the company through his experience, it is now the team's relationship with customers which has fuelled the growth.

"David, who is now a director of the company, joined three years after I started the business as a young guy on the shop floor and has grown in his role as the company has evolved. Russell, who was the first 'nipper' I took on, still works here and runs the fabrication shop."

"We've worked really hard to create a family environment for people who work here. The 'work-life balance' is good here, so when we're busy we all work really hard, working all hours to get the job done and make sure the customer gets what he needs done, then when it's not quite so busy, and the guys want some time out, then we're more lenient on those things. We want a working environment where people enjoy coming to work, as opposed to it just being a job."

Allspars' reputation for quality is what the business lives or dies by as Andy describes: "Probably the hardest thing I've found as the business grew from me and Russ in the early days, through to now, was knowing that there were jobs going out that hadn't passed my eyes. That was hard as I'm a bit of a control freak and need to know that everything is right! It then came down to training and having regular discussions, reminding ourselves of the essentials that just have to be done right - methodologies to make sure that we don't miss things. I'm very lucky to have a team who have the same ideology as me. Our mantra is to deliver to the customer a job that is better than anybody else could do and ensure that the customer has enjoyed the journey."

Allspars take on projects all the way from dinghies up to superyachts, which proves a challenge due to the range of sizes and the location where some of the yachts are based.

"I happily spend as much time talking to a customer with a 40ft yacht who wants to spend five thousand pounds doing a refit, as I would to a 14-year-old who was asking how to improve his Mirror dinghy. It makes no difference to me. That Mirror dinghy is the most important thing in his or her life and we would spend just as much time getting that right. We've sponsored various young sailors and we're keen to get more kids into sailing. We've brought their boats into the workshop and made sure everything is right - the blocks, the ropes, the splices and the rig are all set up perfectly - and set those people up for their sailing. Bella Fellows in the 49erFX and Dan Ellis in the Moth are great examples of exceptional sailors we've supported since their early Topper or Mirror sailing days."

While Allspars support grass-roots sailing, they also work around the world for clients. "Most of our clients are UK citizens, but their boats are all over the place. We now travel a lot more, especially to the 50 ft plus yachts, which are generally not in the UK. We travel into Europe mostly, Scandinavia and the Caribbean. We opened a Southampton office four years ago and clearly there are bigger boats in the Solent area. Overall I'd say 15% of our work is no longer in the UK."

It's great to see another marine industry success story, and hear how Andy's attention to detail continues through his team, nurtured by the ethos of the company.

Find out more at www.allspars.co.uk