Pete Waterman was and is a very successful pop record producer he had a very popular Saturday evening TV show called ‘The Hit Man & Her’ in the late 1980’s – he became infatuated with Koi around the same time.
I mentioned earlier my first ‘Trade Customer’ being Rick Astley, well he was signed by Waterman in later years and Pete moved into a lovely house only two miles from my Koi business to be close to both Granada television and where Rick lived. As most of us know, Rick Astley became a significant world pop star in later years.
It was Rick Astley who first brought Pete into my shop to show him the Koi and immediately Pete was hooked!
Pete travelled between his home and London to make recordings along with Stock & Aitken and commissioned a local Koi outlet to build a pond for him in his garden after becoming obsessed with Koi. I don’t know where he got the information from but he’d heard that a pond was better the deeper it was excavated and so he instructed his pond builder, John Chadwick, to make it 17 feet deep! John did as he was told and the base was cast before I learned of this. I mentioned to Pete that it would not be advisable to have such a depth and so did a few others. In the end John filled the hole up to a 7 feet depth with ready-mix concrete!
Whilst recording in London, Pete would often visit an outlet in Kent where he purchased some Koi and the owner suggested he should visit Japan with him (the owner had only visited Japan once before). Pete readily agreed to go and the owner made the mistake of warning his agent in Japan that he would be bringing a very wealthy and very prominent man in the UK music industry with him. Without mentioning the agent’s names involved they were met at Narita airport with a limousine and entertained throughout their journey in Royal style. Pete purchased many Koi whilst the agents commented to him as to how truly wonderful his ‘eye’ was for a foreigner!
Pete’s Koi arrived back home and then he became absolutely engrossed with them, he asked me to go round and look at them to find that most of the general stocks I had for sale were far better than the ones he’d brought back from Japan. I do remember once advising him to put a cover on his raised pond in order to prevent any Koi jumping out, I also remember his reply which was ‘Oh, it’s no problem, they never jump’. I think it was a week later that one of his gardeners rang me in a panic to say a huge black fish was flapping around all over his lawn and would we come and rescue it!
On occasions Pete would ring me from London and ask if I could send someone round to check out his water and I’d send a guy named Dennis Mitchell around to do the basic checks. Some months previously a friend had begged me to give Dennis a job and a weekly income as his failed motor mechanic’s business had put him into serious trouble with the UK tax office, so much so, if he didn’t come up with a weekly repayment amount they would send him for a holiday at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. In view of the fact I had several vehicles needing regular attention, I gave Dennis the job.
One of the guys later ‘promoted’ Dennis to mixing Malachite Green solution and bottling it one day only for me to find my brand new white Porsche 911 Carerra covered in green stains as I went to drive it home that night! I don’t know about green but the air was a deep blue after I’d finished with him and had to wait hours until he’d brought it back to showroom condition.
Another nice touch of Dennis’s was when he was driving the large truck to Heathrow to collect Koi and he’d filled up at one of the motorway service areas. He paid for the fuel and then drove onto the motorway – with the petrol pump still attached to the filler cap! I think that cost me £3,500.00 or so.
Thankfully Pete and Dennis became quite close, Dennis even got tickets for his TV show. Some months later, Dennis came to me apologetically and said that he would be leaving to work for Pete as he was opening a very large Koi outlet and had asked Dennis to be the manager. Although the news of the Koi outlet was very surprising I breathed a sigh of relief inwardly as our Dennis seemed to be prone to various disasters in his day-to-day duties.
Alas, that was only the beginning of the saga because Dennis, whilst working his notice with me, decided he would impress his new boss by copying several of my container invoices from Japan that detailed all my dry goods I purchased for Infiltration and then keeping them to show Pete when the outlet was ready for stocking.
On the other hand, Dennis had no idea at all as to the price of any Koi!
Then there was the matter of a very good Kohaku that Pete had purchased a 25% share in alongside 3 other agents. The breeder honestly thought it would take ‘best in size’ award at the All-Japan the following January and it very nearly did – it got 2nd. Award instead – still a world class Koi.
In truth, Pete’s 25% payment more than paid the breeder in full for the Koi and yet three others owned 25% shares in it!
When Pete decided to open his Koi business he approached the other three owners and asked how much they would take for their shares so that he could own it 100%. Of course, being good agents and wishing to help Pete, they all said he could buy their shares for exactly the amount Pete had paid for his and Pete readily obliged! I know the cost involved and it was truly eye watering, the three agents received a substantial amount each for something that had not cost them a penny!
Some weeks later, Dennis showed up in a brand new long wheelbase Land Rover and mentioned how lavish the new outlet would be with endless display ponds and a warehouse full of all the Japanese Koi dry goods imaginable.
(Soon afterwards I heard that one of Pete’s main intentions was to put me out of business.)
Thankfully for me, Pete had decided to stick with the Japanese agents that had supplied his Koi before and, after the lavish facility had been completed, Koi came into the outlet by the ton! One Japanese agent suggested to Pete that he employ one of his staff who was a ‘Koi Expert’ to take care of his stocks and soon afterwards Naoki Atsushi turned up to live in Pete’s home as Pete was then living on the farm where the outlet had been built.
Now I had met Naoki at this agent’s premises several times before where he was a customer who bought a few 3” Koi for a puddle in his garden. Naoki loved Koi but his real love was modern pop music so who better to work for than Pete Waterman? Naoki was also a daily link between himself and the Japanese agent who was supplying endless amounts of Koi at incredibly inflated prices to the farm and he kept his real boss fully informed at all times.
Dennis had not been sleeping in his managerial position and had faxed copies of my dry goods invoices to the Japanese agent who replied with a true masterstroke to say: –
‘Oh, Peter San is paying far too much for his dry goods and I can supply you with the same goods for 30% cheaper at a special price to you where I will make no profit in thanks for buying my Koi!’
(Now I assure you, I was paying 10% above manufacturer’s prices and that was commission for my agent in Japan who prepared all the containers and paperwork involved.)
What more could the UK Koi punter possibly want?
An outlet with all the Japanese Koi dry goods imaginable and a ‘Japanese Koi Expert’ to speak to (Naoki had learned some English by then).
In those days, the consensus was, if you are Japanese – you MUST be a Koi expert – and it worked like a dream with the UK public!
Thus PWL Fish Industries Ltd. was born amidst all the glitz and advertising possible in all the periodicals and people travelled for miles to gaze at pond after pond of Koi in all sizes and varieties and all commented as to how truly wonderful it all was.
No doubt, it decimated my business and I ordered no further dry goods for some time. Although I never visited PWL in its hey day, Naoki would visit my shop to buy Koi for himself – he even fell into one of the ponds on a cold December afternoon!
There was a disaster that took place where Naoki confessed to overdosing most of the ponds with Malachite Green and Formalin and hundreds upon hundreds of Koi were lost. Naoki said he had made ‘a miscalculation’ in dosage rates, which I found to be unconvincing when he related it to me. Thankfully the trusty Japanese agent was standing by to replace them all – and he did!
Eventually, even dear old Dennis realised something was not quite right with it all, he was selling dry goods at an alarming rate but very few Koi at all. It was after speaking with Bernard Channing who could supply him with Koi at less than 70% of the prices he was paying that the penny finally dropped that he was being stiffed. He reported this back to Pete immediately, Pete advised Dennis to order the Koi from Bernard (but only after the existing stocks had been sold) and just use the Japanese agent for dry goods as he needed more and more container loads.
That was when the bubble finally burst and Naoki related all this back to his Japanese boss who had been happily losing 20% on his container shipments because of the 700% profit on the Koi supplied! It was then pointed out to Pete that no more containers could be supplied at those prices unless the Koi purchases continued – stalemate!
I think it took 3 years or so from start to finish of PWL Fish Industries Ltd. After Pete’s accountants told him he had already lost 2.5 million pounds and would be crazy to continue. As a result, everything was sold off at ridiculously low prices and the place was closed.
As to the Kohaku mentioned earlier, a customer of mine begged me to go with him to the farm, as he was interested in buying it at a knockdown price. It was the first time I’d seen the place and it was like a bombsite, Dennis had left a few weeks earlier to start a new business.
I looked into the pond with a few big Koi and pointed to the Kohaku, it was netted and placed in a bowl, everything about it was perfect so I advised the guy to buy her. My customer then said he could get a better price if he took three Koi and pointed out the other two. I told him to pay more for the Kohaku and discount the other two as they were completely worthless and not even worth considering. My customer, always in search of ‘a deal’ bought all three, the Kohaku won the BKKS National show that year and, as expected, he eventually gave the other two away for 10% of what he’d paid!
As to the Kohaku itself, it was purchased from PWL for 5% of what Pete had actually paid for it!
Yes indeed, the Hit Man got hit but not enough that he’d really notice it; just a few bruises here and there but despite all the money he threw at it, he still didn’t manage to close me down.
It’s a lesson not to go into anything unless you know something about it first – especially where Koi are concerned.
It did however; send repercussions throughout the UK Koi dry goods industry that took another three years before they were to recover.