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Beating path to business success from a bodyshop
KARL Durham left school at 16 and his first job was as a £46-a-week panel-beating apprentice on the Youth Training Scheme (YTS).
Now 43, he says the ‘university of life’ has led him to become head of a £30m-a-year business employing 70 people, spanning everything from the automotive industry to energy drinks.
After training as a panel-beater in his father’s workshop, Car Body Banbury, he left to set up his first business, Paintbox, at the age of 19, specialising in paint-spray equipment for luxury car makers, such as Bentley and Rolls-Royce, and the motorsport industry.
He said: “My cousin had already come into my father’s business and there was no room for me really, so I thought it was best to set up on my own. “Then Paintbox amalgamated with a North American business, Adac, and I didn’t really get on with them, so I decided it was best to leave. “I wanted to work with something familiar, so we started a business supplying coatings and consumables to Paintbox, and to car body workshops generally.”
As the recession deepened, he bought back Paintbox, which is now run by his co-founder James Sharp.
In 2009, he diversified into a completely different area – supplying retailers with fast-moving consumer goods such as food and drink.
He believes the remarkable expansion of his group, International Applications, was possible partly because he was not dragged down by debt. “That’s probably why the business was able to grow in the recession. We had had a good run and had been banking the cash, as it were, keeping it in the business, so we didn’t have to go to the banks and ask for money.
“I think it has been a great benefit to be able to make these decisions without seeing a bank manager.” Four years ago he moved from Brackley to Sibford Ferris, near Banbury.
Finding new schools for his four children led to another business opportunity – taking over St John’s Priory, in Banbury, where his twins were being educated. He said: “They had five changes of headmaster and the owner was having trouble. It’s very different to anything we have done before, but we felt we could secure the future of the school and we have done exactly that, with pupil numbers doubled.”
With the twins now eight, and their other children 13 and 15, Mr Durham's wife Debbie was ready for a new challenge and their latest venture is The Italian Larder, a wholesaler at Banbury’s Beaumont industrial estate, supplying restaurants and the public.
He is not yet ready to slow down, launching a new drink, Positive Energy. “We will start with the African market and then roll it out in the UK,” he said.
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