As with any race, there are some points where you are in front and some where you are trying to make up for lost time. John Creasey realised this after he went into business with someone who didn’t share his vision of the future for his bodywork company Paint Perfect, a business that he has never given up on.
Now with a turnover of half a million pounds, John is looking to fulfil another dream – winning the British Touring Car Championship, the highest platform of British Motor Sport, after just three years of racing.
From a young age, John had a passion for cars, the sound of the engine and the finish of the paintwork. His ambition even as a teenager drove him forward into the world of automobiles. Originally wanting a chain of garages on the mechanical side of the industry, his vision quickly changed after doing some work experience at a bodyshop.
“I’ve always dreamed of working for myself. I always knew it was what I wanted to do,” said John. “I knew nothing about bodywork whatsoever but very quickly fell in love with it.
“I took every opportunity that I could at that stage to go there in the holidays and Saturday mornings. Anytime I wasn’t at school, I was working at the garage. I put everything into it. I wasn’t interested in doing anything else.”
He took a job at the bodyshop when he left school but he still wanted to go out on his own and create his enterprise. An opportunity arose three doors down and before he knew it, he was renting a corner space of another garage with his own spray booth and his journey began.
A challenging course
John’s father passed away when he was just 17, bringing him and his mother closer together. She became a guiding hand, helping him on his new venture. The company grew year on year, moving to larger premises and employing his first two staff. But as the company developed and things moved faster, things took an unaccounted turn.
“We got an opportunity to take a car sales business on that was selling up and we incorporated that into the body work side of things. But I took a partner on at that point and that was my biggest regret. It just never worked.”
With two different views on where the company was going and what the future held, John realised that it was a bad match. The company went into debt and John was left with less than nothing.
“After all of the hard work I had put in for three or four years, I really found it difficult then. I thought it would help in support with two people running a business. But we really struggled. It was a conflict of what we wanted to do and where we wanted the business to go. We had two different minds and it just didn’t work. It was a big, big learning curve, ultimately to the point that we nearly went bankrupt. We had a really tough few years.
“Then I got given the opportunity for here. We went our separate ways after deciding that it wasn’t working, calling it a day.
“Coming out of that, I basically started with nothing. We were in quite a bad state when we separated, with quite a lot of debts associated with the company. I took the decision to keep my reputation, work the debts off.
“Ever since I have gone back as a sole trader it’s just flourished, everything is on my head. So if you struggle, you struggle, but there’s nobody else to blame for it. If you succeed, it’s your own doing, your destiny is in your own hands.”
Back in the driving seat
By working 10-12 hours a day, seven days a week, and with sheer determination to succeed, John built the business back up, paying off all of the debts he was left with from the partnership. Now the business has a £500,000 turnover with 12 staff across three sites and some unusual contracts.
John will never turn away business as long as it’s right for both the customer and the company. The team recently took on a new bodywork contract with a difference – painting professional aerobatic aircrafts for a locally based company. However, the contract doesn’t come without careful consideration as the additional weight of the paint on the aircraft can have a detrimental effect to its performance.
One mistake could ruin hundreds of thousands of pounds or worse, if a bit of paint is sprayed in the wrong place it could cause the plane to become faulty during flight, putting lives at risk.
“It’s a very unusual sector to look at but this is what we’re like as a company. If we get an approach, we won’t say ‘well this is all we do’, we will look at anything and if it’s right for the customer and ourselves, we’ll take it on.”
So far, the contract has already provided more than £15,000 of work, with more on the way. “What it could turn into is anybody’s guess at the moment. But it’s an exciting thing for us and the team love it if we can present them with something different like that. They thrive on that. It keeps them on their toes and fresh, and it mixes their job up on a daily basis.”
Changing up the gears
With one dream nearing its goal, John started to look at other options to promote the business, creating a change of pace and a bit of fun for the team. He decided to enact his other childhood wish creating his own racing team so that they could blow off a little steam at the weekends. Little did he know that it would turn into a second business.
“I always wanted to be a formula one racing driver, as most young lads do at that age. It wasn’t until about five years ago that I really seriously started to get involved in it. I started realising the dream.
“We bought a track car off eBay. Just as a bit of a reward for the lads at the weekend to go out in and give the team something back. That developed very quickly to something more serious on a social level.”
It wasn’t long before the team stepped it up a gear, finding themselves at their first amateur race grid at Oulton Park. “We did jump in at the deep end and the transition was huge from the track days scene to the race side of things. It was a massive learning curve.
“But bodywork kind of goes hand in hand with race circuits. Accidents happen quite frequently. We saw it as an advantage to put ourselves in front of other teams to offer our services to them and it tied in with a passion of mine. It’s just developed from there.
“Within the space of three years, we have gone from a social club level up to about as high as you can get in British motor sport. It’s moved very quickly and turned into a business of its own.”
PP Motorsport was born, going hand in hand with Paint Perfect for the bodywork side of the business. It opened up new dialogues, relationships and partnerships and is something that is enjoyed by all of the staff.
Now that the racing team has graduated to the UK Clio Cup for 2016, just three years after starting to race, they are giving other companies the opportunity to get involved through sponsorships and partnerships. The team have made the move up to the series a year ahead of their business plan with future plans including becoming a multi car team in 2017 and the eventual goal of entering the British Touring Car Championship.
The future of the business is bright as even through John has just invested £10,000 for a new reception area and office, he has plans to move to a new premises where they can incorporate all three sites under one roof.
“We have really refined what we wanted to do. We’ve really been trying to find a niche. We have been trialling a lot of things out, waiting for the right opportunity to come up i.e the planes. The last three years has been about being patient in the growth on that side. Just getting the right structure in place for the staff and the customers.”
“After the next year or so we can have everything where we want it and really start to surge forward.”
This feature interview was first published in issue 69 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine.