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Clarks of Amersham: success from a standing start

Jul 14, 2017
Deputy Editor David Jordan takes a trip down the leafy lanes of Buckinghamshire to visit Clarks of Amersham; a family business that from humble beginnings has grown to become one of the county’s leading removal companies.

Amersham is an affluent, historic Buckinghamshire town about 27 miles north west of London, surrounded by the rolling Chiltern Hills.  With a direct link to London’s Marylebone station and the journey taking only 40 minutes, it’s no surprise that property here is at a premium with the average three-bed semi selling for over £500,000.  It was here that the man I had come to meet, Michael Clark, started his fledgling removals business back in 1993 and I was keen to hear his story. 

I met Michael at the company’s head office in Chesham, they moved here from Amersham, two miles away, around twenty years ago when they needed more space. By then the Clarks of Amersham brand was well established so it was decided to retain the Amersham name. 

Michael has been in the moving business all his working life. “My first job after leaving school was with a local removals company called H Hearn & Son here in Chesham,” said Michael.  “I started there as a porter and gradually progressed to HGV driver and later on to estimating.  Then in 1988 the property crash happened and everything took a turn for the worse. Hearn’s diversified into parcel deliveries and I found myself doing estimates for removals, going out on the vans, and knocking on doors trying to sell the parcel delivery service in between. I hated it.  I used to go home in the evenings and moan to my wife Lorraine about the job and how I was certain I could run a removals company better.” 

In 1992 Michael’s opportunity arrived. He’d been offered a job by another moving company in the town, Baxters, but after burning his bridges with Hearn & Son it all fell through. “Fred Baxter offered me an alternative position in Germany but for me at the age of 27, with a new baby and a new mortgage, that just wasn’t an option.  To say the least I was in a bit of a spot, then Lorraine gave me the kick I needed to get myself out of trouble,” explained Michael.  He remembers her words well. “You’ve been saying for years you could run your own removals business, so why don’t you put your money where your mouth is and prove it!”  

“I knew she was right, but I needed to find work fast. I called in to see Dick Ellis who I’d known for years, at Amersham Auction Rooms, and told him I was in the removals business and looking for work,” said Michael.  "To my amazement he called me the very next day and said he needed some furniture collecting from a care home in Gerrards Cross.  I hired a van and with the help of my brother-in-law Phil we did the job.  What with the hire charge, fuel and paying Phil for his trouble I made a loss of £36 on the deal. I clearly had a lot to learn.”  

Michael’s £36 proved to be a sound investment, 24 years on Amersham Auction Rooms are still a major client and Clarks’ association with them often brings house moving work from people selling unwanted furniture before moving home.  

The Clarks managed to scrape together enough money to buy a second-hand Leyland Sherpa van and by hand-delivering cards to houses for sale, a Yellow Pages ad and word of mouth, the business was soon providing them with a modest living.   

“In those days we had no office or warehouse, and while I was out with the van Lorraine would be at home answering the phone with the baby on her knee and sorting out the paperwork,” said Michael. 

Fast forward to 2017 and Clarks has grown to a workforce of 50 people (including Michael), a fleet of 19 vehicles and is a BAR member of 20 years standing.  

Lorraine still works in the business and as Michael says, “is the voice of reason, she calms me down if things go wrong and gives me a kick up the backside when I need it! It was her influence that gave me the drive to start the whole thing in the first place.”  

Their youngest daughter Jessica joined the company in 2015 and performs a variety of roles, including following up estimates and visiting customers. Several other members of Clarks’ staff are related too and people tend to stay with the company for a number of years: there is very little staff turnover. 

As well as house removals and work from the Auction Room, the company delivers kitchens throughout the South East for a top German manufacturer and has recently landed a contract to deliver orthopaedic beds and chairs for a specialist retailer. Storage is also a major part of the business with 22,000 sqft of archive storage on the Chesham site and a further 15,000sqft of container storage at the company’s other local warehouse. 

In 2013 Clarks won the Mayor of Amersham’s Business Award for services to the community in recognition of the activities the company has supported to raise funds for local events and good causes. More recently Clarks ran a ‘design our mug' competition for local school children with a cash prize being awarded to the winning school and the budding designer. 

Like most people in the removals business Michael is concerned about the ever-increasing regulation of the transport industry, especially the Euro 6 requirement for London coming in next year and of course the uncertainty of Brexit. However, given the challenges he and Lorraine have overcome during the past 24 years, I am sure the future of the business is set fair and will continue to prosper. 

Photos:  (Top right) Michael Clark; (middle left) Amersham Auction rooms are still a big customer for Clarks ;(middle) the staff assemble on Red Nose Day; (bottom right) 'Design our mug' competition winner Lucy Woods with Michael and Lorraine.

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