John Aspin reflects on 40 years of Spring Fair visits

The Spring Fair’s 40th anniversary has prompted John Aspin, chairman of housewares supplier Aspin, to reflect back over the many Februarys since 1976 that he has attended the exhibition.

“Back in 1976, I was working for Western Glass Works Ltd (now known as Western House). Having joined them in 1974, I would jump in my Leyland Maxi and may have enjoyed Tony Blackburn or Johnny Walker on the radio on the way.

I started my working life in 1968 as a management trainee with B.O.A.C (now part of British Airways) specialising in purchasing and management accounting.

It was later, when I was cabin services and equipment buyer for B.O.A.C, that I met Tim Heppner, the managing director of Western Glass – and my future boss.

I purchased drinking glassware from Western Glass for both the Boeing 707 and 747 airline fleets, and also for the recently introduced Concorde ‘supersonic’ service. Back in those days, you would be served with stainless steel cutlery, glasses, china plates, cups and saucers – quite different to the compact plasticware and disposable utensils you may receive on a flight today.

When Western Glass relocated from London to Basingstoke in 1974, I I was invited to join the company, initially to assist the buying director David Crawley in project-managing the firm’s move.

This was at a time when Aspin’s current managing director was just a toddler, and I had swapped my Triumph 1300 for a Leyland Maxi. I also had a Leyland Mini, and fondly remember fitting a custom wooden dashboard, rev counter and racing style wing mirrors!

I later became Western House’s supplies manager. Significantly, my move to join Western Glass was the beginning of my long business relationship with the giftware and housewares sectors.

I attended that first Spring Fair in 1976, at which Western Glass was exhibiting, and I’ve continued to attend the Spring Fair virtually every year since.

The show used to consume Halls 1-5 back then, and you could smoke anywhere indoors – can you imagine people smoking at the show today? Despite this being a habit I’ve never indulged in, a smoky atmosphere was just something you were used to and it didn’t seem to bother people.

My annual visits to the Spring Fair until 1979 were in relation to Western Glass exhibiting, and then from 1984, after I had formed Aspin Management Systems Ltd.

It was while I was lecturing at Basingstoke Technical College in the early 80s that I decided to merge my knowledge of the giftware and housewares sectors, with my then growing experience and understanding of the commercial benefits of computerisation for small to medium size enterprises (SMEs).

As a result, Aspin decided to design computer business systems primarily for the giftware and housewares sector, to produce commercial software that ‘thought’ like the companies in those trades.

I knew it was especially important to address the task of managing extensive stock ranges to be supplied to large customer bases. Critically, Aspin needed to supply logistical and analytical reporting to enable our customers to succeed in this very fierce competitive market place.

Aspin registered as a limited company in 1984 and we had six members of staff. Popular haunts for our employees back then were The Bolton Arms or The Crown in Old Basing for a game of darts. Staff would dress smartly – collars and normally ties.

Aspin’s first software product back in 1984 was called ATOMS, which was renamed in the 1990s as UniSoft, and in 1998 was greatly re-engineered and rebadged as AMSolve. AMSolve is still part of Aspin’s portfolio of software solutions.

ATOMS and UniSoft was installed in the 1980s for such giftware and housewares companies as Western Glass, Heppner & Stent, John Artis, Barbecco, John Jenkins, Bodum, Candlepower, HP Gibson and Pomegranate.

Today, Western House, John Artis, John Jenkins and HP Gibson are still successfully trading, and still rely on AMSolve as their back-office accounting and sales & stock management system.

Later, in the 1990s, Aspin produced specialised modules for AMSolve which addressed the operational and commercial requirements of greeting card publishers. Publishers such as Carte Blanche, Noel Tatt, Images & Editions (now part of Otter House) and Paperlink all installed AMSolve, and continue to use that software right today.

So next week, when I attend the Spring Fair and meet many old friends and acquaintances from the giftware and housewares trades, my memories of the past 40 years of the exhibition will be very much in my mind.”


Aspin chairman John Aspin


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