• Kemp Sails

From a Holiday Job a Business is Born

After finishing my O levels, yes it was quite a few years ago, I got a bit bored sitting at home applying for apprentice positions in large engineering companies all to no avail, it was the early 80's and the country was in recession, so thought I should get myself a holiday job to earn a few quid to pay for my sailing over the summer seemed like a good idea. After a quick scan through the yellow pages, that was a big yellow book full of local companies phone numbers, the internet did not exist yet, I tracked down a couple of local sailmakers and got busy on the phone.

Rob Kemp onboard his Sunfast 32 - Quite some years ago...

First call was to Tabb Sails and to my delight I was told, come in for a chat we might need someone, nothing like a bit of positive news to get me motivated and head straight off. A few hours later I had something of a dilemma, yes they wanted someone over the summer but ideally they wanted a trainee full time, this was going to be some conversation with mum and dad when they finished work, my first big pitch was on the cards!

After some initial shock they did agree to have a chat with Dave Tabb, sitting in on the meeting was weird as they gave the then 28 year old Dave Tabb a proper grilling but to be fair to all concerned a deal was struck. Pretty sure my parents did not think sailmaking was going to be a proper career so they wanted me to continue in some form of education, Dave agreed to this so I was now a trainee sailmaker also doing an engineering course at Poole College on day release and night school.

Roll on 4 years, and the completion of my course, Tabb sails had grown massively, to be just a bit smaller than we are now with 20 odd staff, some were very odd but that's a different story! Dave wanted to employ a loft manager, so put my name in the frame. After much discussion Dave felt I was too young at only 19, being an opinionated teenager I did not in any way agree with this opinion, long story short, I handed in my notice

Just how hard can running a sailmaking business be I thought, then oh *!@£ need to explain this one to mum and dad!!

So it’s 1985, UB40 are number one with I got you babe, shell suits are in fashion (was not good the first time round now they are back!), Live aid just happened (I was there), the ozone hole was discovered, the first mobile phone call was made, Keira Knightley was born a massively important and momentous occasion, oh and I started Kemp sails.

I sold my sports car, borrowed £1200 from my family, rented a small unit in Wimborne, bought an old van which we hand painted, a couple of old sewing machines and that was the start of Kemp Sails. August 19th 1985. August 19th became something of a date in my life, a few years later got married on that date as well!

My mum ran a marketing company from an office at home so I used some of the office infrastructure she had to support my new venture and tried to work out how to get some sails to repair and make. Our first jobs were fixing and making windsurf sails, I used to wind surf a lot so spent many evening down the beach leaflet dropping car windows that had windsurf gear, this was OK but not yacht sail making.

A last minute call to the Boat Show organisers got me a late booking slot at the Southampton show so with some help of family and a few friends we managed to man the stand and - thankfully - sold some sails. Our first ever yacht sail order was for a local sailor Mike Blakestone, a main for his Seal 22 so for this reason we have a soft spot for the Seals and will always be forever grateful to Mike for helping us to get started on our pathway to where we are now.

34 years later, with lots of hard work by our team over the years we have grown from such humble beginnings to be one of the largest sailmakers in the UK proud to build all our sails in our Wareham loft. We also run a second site in Gosport to support our customers and add to our cover and service capacity.

So, just how hard is it running a sailmakers? It’s not easy it turns out; we are effectively a retail manufacturing company in the leisure sector, so we deal with most of the hard bits from each sector, but it’s fun. Our customers are great, many of which over the years have become good friends; we get to talk boats all day which for a bunch of sailing geeks is just perfect, and when we get one of those rare days out on the water sail testing or fitting in shorts and T shirts it beats the hell out of a proper job any day!


Rob Kemp, January 2019

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