Clinton Burhouse, Geological Salesman extraordinaire!
If there were 'Geological Oscars' Clinton Burhouse would most certainly be a nominee. The question would be 'in how many categories?' Clinton Burhouse is the founder and chairman of Burhouse Ltd, the UK's largest crystal and mineral wholesaler who has now been trading for 40 years.
Before you ask, this isn't one of those 'Advertorials' that you see accompanying advertisements, indeed Clinton has no idea I'm even writing this piece. It's a measure of the man that he never seeks publicity for his business, but that said, he does produce some excellent 'ammunition' for people like me to fire, so here goes! (I hope I don't hear from your lawyers Clinton!)
The present Burhouse business operates from a former mill building on the outskirts of Huddersfield. It's so high up I swear there's still snow on the ground when I visit in June! To gain entry you have to ring the security alarm, the door is then released and you venture upstairs to the showroom which is packed full of minerals, rocks, fossils etc etc. I once referred to as 'the shop' and got a very dirty look from the manageress Kath!
All this is a million miles from the start of the business, way back in 1967. Clinton, himself a mining geology graduate of the Royal School of Mines, as Clinton himself recalls: "I'm no expert, but familiarity is a cheap substitute. My trading started with a sale to Gregory, Bottley & Co., at their premises in Old Church Street, Chelsea." In true Burhouse style that sale is recorded for posterity as "40 Trilobites, Ordovician, Builth Wells £5.00".
It's a measure of Clinton's nose for business (or was he driven to it by poverty?) that this early sale was made whilst he was still a student at Imperial College. It must have given the young Clinton a real buzz to sell to Gregory Bottley who had been founded back in the nineteenth century and were the people to buy specimens from. Even today Brian Lloyd carries on the name as the firm trades as Gregory Bottley & Lloyd from new premises in the same general area.
From those humble beginnings the Burhouse trading empire just grew and grew. Today there's a second generation of Burhouses to keep the company going with two sons and a daughter now involved in the business with it's many facets.
Some things don't change though. Customers still have to make appointments: "Why you might ask?" "Because" says Clinton "we want you to enjoy the 'wholesale' experience, also we try not to have too many clients here at one time. We want genuine buyers who have been checked first. We also feel our goods are often valuable and it's prudent to make checks on callers. Lastly, we don't want your customers getting to know us!" Burhouse are still strictly wholesale, which from the retailer's point of view is good to know.
Clinton's success has been built on scouring the world for material. The products of that world are then brought together under one roof at the warehouse where it is: "Big enough to do justice to it and allows the clients to pick their stock." From the early days Clinton described his business as "importers and merchants" of basic bulk materials. These days there's much more to be done with many items now sold as finished products.
This has led to more employment in the company and a rapidly expanding stock of lines which can be seen in craft outlets up and down the country. Whilst stone sculptures aren't my particular bag, I can see the attraction and they sell well.
I'll finish this brief account of a man who is to geology trading what Fred Dibner is to steeplejacks with mention of a newsletter about Quartz sent out in June 2001. The newsletter was billed as "Quartz News No 1". "Why?" asks Clinton, "No reason except a lot of what we sell one way or another is Quartz." That somehow sums up the man who runs what is arguably the most successful geological business in Britain - it's certainly the most original.
Congratulations on 40 years Clinton and family - when's the party?