Hello soap lovers. Anyone who wishes to see the factory in all its glory could tune in to Quest at 9pm tonight (25th September 2019) . Drew Pritchard and the team at Salvage Hunters came round to see if we had anything worth buying. Watch to see if we did! And to be amazed at the amount of old stuff we do actually still use in the factory.
Although we don’t import directly, all the oils we use (coconut, castor and sustainable palm) are commodities which are traded worldwide in US dollars. After the vote on 23rd June 2016, the pound dropped in value and nearly all our costs went up. We hoped, of course (like everybody), that this would be a temporary state of affairs, but 10 months later we are still in the same situation. So as our costs go up, so does the pressure on our finances. This year we will have to raise prices to our customers, who will not be happy, and maybe retail prices will go up. I doubt an increase in glycerine soap prices will make the headlines, but I am sure we are not the only SMCG manufacturer in this situation, so there will be supermarket price increases and the consumer will have to bear the brunt. I don’t remember if this was well articulated in the pre-vote arguments, but this will be one of the many consequences of the decision.
My happy place
So we have a load of old stuff in the factory. In fact let us call it ‘Heritage’ equipment. Sounds much more valuable. A lot of this stuff was built in the days when obsolescence was a dirty word and when over-engineering was the same as engineering. Why make something extra light and manoeuvrable when the simple addition of some extra steel would make it extra strong and require only three or four extra people to move it? One of these things is the large steel frame we use to pour the hot liquid soap in once it’s made.
These are VERY HEAVY as you can imagine, even more so when they’ve got a tonne of soap inside. So the wheels are like ancient cast iron things which are at least 60 years old. And one broke! While the soap was being rolled into the cutting area! The cutting area is a part of the manufacturing area where the soap is cut up. It’s not officially called the cutting area, but I am just calling it that to differentiate it from any other area of the factory and also to explain why the soap was being moved. And also to add dramatic tension. So the wheel breaks in two as if cleaved by a hefty blow from Mjolnir. Unlikely in downtown Chorley on a Wednesday afternoon, I grant you, but these things are really tough and would be really hard to break on purpose. Apparently we’ve had trouble with that one before. About 25 years ago. So the whole thing tips to the side and becomes an immovable object.
Well, we managed to save it. With the fork lift truck, a pallet truck and some blocks of wood, we moved the whole thing a few metres to the appropriate area for cutting (the cutting area), although with the wrong orientation so cutting had to occur ninety degrees to normal, which is unheard of and also which may have affected the feng shui. Can you test soap for that? Anyway, the point to the story is that you think ‘Old cast iron wheel? How are we going to get another one of the those?’. Well as it turns out, you can buy them. On the net. A quick google, some informed discussion (informed, that is, by the discussees, rather than the discussor), and we are now the proud owner of two brand new cast iron wheels, now improved with a polyurethane tyre for extra something. They are being fitted as I type and I expect the next time that frame is used, the whole batch of soap can be moved around with the push of a finger. That might be a little unlikely, but the new wheels certainly look good. If they last 60 years, then that will be even better.