The Datesand Story – Part 1

As we celebrate Datesand’s 40th birthday, we thought it important to take a step back and delve into our incredible journey to date to see just how far we have come and how on earth we got here.

 

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The early days

It’s fair to say that Datesand started from very humble beginnings. Barry Wood, a chemist by training, had been working for Honeywell Medical Supplies London looking after sales of medical equipment here in the UK and internationally. With his family firmly based up in the north, Barry grew tired of the weekly commute and had a desire to start up his own business here in Manchester.

In 1980 he moved back home with his family in Sale and began the process of getting his business up and running. Datesand started in a small upstairs box room office in the family home with one telephone, one double drawer filing cabinet and a typewriter.

As a trained chemist, Barry had access to some innovative chemical formulae that would prove very useful in his business venture. These included the formulae for Datesand’s very first products; Betadet 99 and Betadet 101 which are effective glassware detergents aimed at the hospital and laboratory markets.

Barry’s next move was to hire a tiny lock-up garage just down the road in Stretford, Manchester. This became essentially the company’s ‘chemical mixing plant’ of sorts. The simple but effective equipment consisted of a couple of large blue vats and a wooden oar that was used to stir the concoction. Barry’s two sons Nick and Jonathon Wood were there getting involved in the action as children and teenagers, helping to dispense and mix the powdered chemicals and liquids, carefully testing and packing finished products. After lots of trials and tribulations, eventually the Wood Family team produced their first official batch of Betadet 99, a product which has seriously stood the test of time.

The first of many customers to come on board with the infant company was the prestigious Paterson Institute Cancer Research Laboratory where the staff took to Barry straight away and saw that his disinfectants and detergents were just the kind of simple, effective and, above all, safe products they’d been looking for. Now as well as actually mixing the product in the Stretford ‘facility’, Barry would also suit up, deliver the products and use his undoubted salesman skills to try to gain increased business. Datesand was pretty much a one-man band in those days, with a little family help on the production side.

Building a product range

As he met more and more clients, Barry would always try actively to discover what other products the scientists and technicians needed in order to run their operations effectively and safely. Armed with this information, he started to build up the product range with new products like disposable gloves, masks and famously, aprons (Barry came up with the unbeatable strapline ‘No more wet socks’ for the latter). Between 1980 and 1983 Barry was able to add a whole raft of laboratory consumables to Datesand’s catalogue.

The business started off very locally with all of the original clientele based in and around Manchester. By 1983, after meeting with technicians and scientists in a number of hospital and research laboratories, one much-needed product that did become apparent was high-quality laboratory animal bedding. At this time, to Barry’s surprise, labs were using fairly basic and often rather rough sawdust residues from local sawmills. To meet the demand for something much better and more appropriate, Barry set up a partnership with a local wood processing company, Wood Treatment Ltd based just South of Manchester, with the aim of developing and manufacturing bespoke bedding grades from quality raw material. Working with this enthusiastic new partner was to become a key pillar of Datesand’s progress. This new partnership and the quality, refined bedding products the teams were able to develop, really helped the business to start to make strong progress (and some actual profit).

A basecamp is established

In 1986, the company moved into its first official (but still rather small) premises in Openshaw. Though Nick and Jonathon were still in school at this point, the boys would spend their summer holidays working at the family business doing ‘warehouse’ work like helping to pack up the products for delivery. At this point, Barry’s wife Janet Wood also started to get more involved and so the company became more and more family based.

Now that a little money was starting to come in, it became possible to invest in some essential new (pre-loved!) machinery. This included a guillotine for cutting absorbent paper products, a laminating machine and a slitting machine for cutting down the master reels from which the trayliners were cut (Back in the 1980s, under-cage metal trays with absorbent paper liners were just as or even more commonly used than wood bedding) This pretty ambitious investment helped Barry and the team to run a much more efficient service and provide clients with the consumable supplies they needed, when they needed them.

After studying at South Trafford college, Jonathon then came to work full time for the family business. He found a real love for the thrill of a sale and was excited to follow in his father’s footsteps. Nick meanwhile went to pursue a career selling advertising for the Manchester Evening News.

 

The next chapter will be published here 3rd April 2020

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