Last weekend was spent with my Mum in Staffordshire, furniture shopping for her forthcoming house move. On the way back from the retail park, we happened to pass a sign to an independent furniture shop, so we decided to stop off.

From the outside, the shop looked like an old school building, and that’s exactly what it was, a lovely, old schoolhouse with the former playground now a car park.

As we walked in, I knew immediately that this was totally the wrong destination for mum’s requirements, but my partner and I knew immediately it was our type of shop!

The interior had that ‘old schoolroom’ feeling, original parquet flooring, high ceilings, complete with wooden beams and skylights, and best of all, the original school bell, now located in the shop’s interior and the shopkeeper encouraging me to ring it when he spotted me longingly eyeing it up!

The shop’s owner was delightful, enquiring what we might be interested in. Whilst my Mum was looking for a set of matching pieces, my partner and I had been on the lookout for a single piece of oak furniture that would both compliment our existing decor and house his ever-growing camera equipment collection! Could this be the place we’d strike it lucky?

Our new shopkeeper friend was only too pleased to accompany us around the shop, telling us about different pieces as I continuously gasped in delight (mentally, I had already spent a small fortune!). He even took us into his workshop, crammed with beautiful pieces of oak, ready to be worked. The delicious smell of timber, wax and oil creating a carpenter’s perfume.

Mum had made herself at home on a large, plush sofa, the sort that just envelope you in luxurious comfort, leaving us free to browse still further. With no set theme or layout, furniture and decorative items had made use of every bit of space, so you had to look around several times to ensure you’d seen everything.

We weighed up each potentially suitable piece of furniture, but with a set location at home in mind, we were governed by size and sadly each piece was too wide.

I’d managed to collect one or two decorative items along the way (there was no way I was leaving empty-handed!) so I returned to where Mum was seated to pay, leaving my other half still browsing.

Mum was deep in conversation with the shop owner and he was telling her all about the history of the business. I left my purchases with her and said we were just about ready to go.

Before I had chance to say anything further, my partner appeared, covered in dust, and looking rather pleased with himself. Asking me to follow him, we returned to the very back of the shop with him excitedly telling me that he’d found exactly what we were looking for.

What he’d found was a slim, oak set of drawers that had seen better days…much better days. He’d obviously pulled it forward from the wall it had been leaning against (hence his dusty covering), and he turned to me in triumph.

In response, I looked at him in amazement, the piece was dusty, grubby and very scratched with the most ugly drawer handles I think I’d ever seen. The faded price tag made me wince and I asked if he’d ‘lost the plot’!

He reluctantly agreed that it was less than pristine and started to push the piece back into its former slot. We walked back to the front of the shop to collect both Mum and my purchases, but something stopped me following the others out to the car park.

I heard myself saying “let’s go back and look at that piece one more time”.

Back inside we went, with the owner asking if we’d forgotten anything. I said I just wanted another quick look at the set of drawers. Mum settled herself back in her comfy chair, leaving us to head back towards the rear of the shop.

Now this is where I get a little mawkish! This time I looked at the drawer set, really looked at it. Seeing beyond the dust, scratches and ugly handles. I knew the dimensions would be the perfect fit, even before we’d measured it and in that moment, even though it didn’t look as I wanted it to, I knew we had to have it. To leave it behind a second time would have been like leaving a rescue animal at the rehoming centre after promising to take it on.

Our friendly shopkeeper stepped forward and said he hadn’t thought we’d be interested in the piece as it had been overlooked time and time again. He then said that he’d reduce the price if we really wanted it and then kindly offered to clean it up and make good the scratches. He even offered to change the handles to ones of our choice if we wanted to order them and send them to him.

So with no further ado, our purchase was made and our new possession was carefully carried into the workshop, ready for a makeover to bring the beautiful wood grain back to life.

So why am I sharing this whimsical tale? Sometimes it’s easy for us to overlook what’s under our very noses. With time, effort and a little investment, sometimes a long overlooked piece can be brought back to life and improved upon, ready to be useful again.

And exactly the same theory applies to people. Great managers should always be talent spotting and succession planning, and sometimes it’s all too easy to overlook exactly the right candidate, tucked away for too long without the right development and investment to truly showcase their talent and skills.

We will collect our set of drawers next weekend and can’t wait to see it in our home, ready to give years and years of loyal service once again.

So look around your workplace, does everyone have a place in the shop front, or are there colleagues who would benefit and flourish after spending time in the ‘development workshop’?

Sue Alty – The Creative Coordinator

Contact Sue

We think Sue must be a ‘Master of the Dark Arts’, as she has hidden depths! Running our office with meticulous planning and capability, Sue is an avid list writer with a keen eye for detail. But don’t be fooled by that organised demeanour, for Sue is as creative as she is efficient! A skilled communicator with a humorous edge, Sue is as passionate about people and their learning and development as she is about becoming the future Mrs Tom Hardy or Mrs Benedict Cumberbatch (either will do!).  An interesting career path has taken her from the glamour of working in luxury London hotels to the chilled Distribution Centres of supermarket retail, and whether managing small groups or large teams, people are at the heart of everything Sue does.