How It All Started: the story of the creation of the ZIG-ZAG HOE
A few years ago when I was living in Shropshire I would buy home grown vegetables, flowers and fruit from a retired farmer friend. He had a great sense of humour and whatever we talked about we would always return to our mutual love of growing vegetables. One day I arrived to find him hoeing his vegetable plot with a very unusual hoe, he handed it to me and said, “try this and tell me what you think?” I was impressed by the easy action of this hoe and became rather obsessed by it. It was so effective with little soil resistance, just brilliant.
It was a very old tool and had most-probably been hand-made, I have searched but never found one like it.
I moved from Shropshire to Lancashire, on the Cumbrian border, and set up as a self-employed gardener. I would often look at the photographs of the hoe wondering if it would ever become a reality. So my search began to find someone who could make me a prototype.
Had I known at the time that it would take me almost five years to achieve my goal I would have been shocked. I thought it was going to be so simple. During that time I approached five different companies whose attitude I can only describe as disinterested and sluggish. They pretended they would show me something in a week or two, but clearly had no intention of doing anything. I would regularly phone and visit them to try to spur them on, they would mumble about being very busy and it would definitely be done by next week. Next week never came, they were obviously just stringing me along. It sometimes crossed my mind that I was not being taken seriously because I was a woman. It was all very disheartening, I really began to feel that I was asking the impossible, but it was just a hoe, not a jet engine, people make tools every day. I believed so much in the potential of my hoe and I was never going to give up.
Then a wonderful thing happened, a friend recommended J. Mortimer Fabrications Ltd., in Kirkby Lonsdale, a highly skilled sheet-metal company (who were practically on my doorstep). I went to see Simon with my photos and he was genuinely interested and enthusiastic, this was a unique experience for me!
It was a Thursday and he said that he would make me a model out of a cereal packet and would send me the images on Monday. That same evening an email came through from Simon with three beautiful images of my hoe. I won’t ever forget that moment and how Simon made it all become possible.
My son Quinn was always right behind me urging me not to give up. He had recently finished A-levels and decided to join me in developing the business. I was really happy to have someone else on board who also feels passionate about the Zig-Zag Hoe.
When our first batch of fifty hoe heads were made it felt like the impossible had finally become a reality and this was the beginning of something exciting.
Our next challenge was to find a manufacturer who could produce our hoes more cheaply. The hoes from J. Mortimer Fabrications were hand-made which sadly made them too expensive to be selling on to the customer, particularly for retail. Our search began again and was proving to be yet another challenge, we just could not find a company to meet our needs and there were many suggestions that we should look abroad. This had never been an option for us, we were determined to have our tools made in Britain.
We were beginning to lose heart. In the meantime, we were so fortunate to have had the support of Bay Business (Morecambe & Lancashire). We looked forward to our visits to see Nik Grimshaw, he gave us hope and encouragement when we were overwhelmed by problems and brought us light relief with his funny stories. Nik has given us so much advice and invaluable information. He put us in contact with with Charlie Rea, a manufacturing adviser with MAS. We are so grateful to Charlie, he has given us sound business advice and also found Tek-Neek, a family run sheet metal company in Blackburn.
We had an idea of how we wanted the finished product to look. We had already deviated away from the original design and so wanted our creation to be as close as possible to the image we had of it. Some of the old sheet metal processes had since been replaced by new methods, or are no longer possible (e.g. tempering). The design we visualised was neat and fluid.
Our search for wooden handles was to prove another headache. We only wanted responsibly sourced ash shafts (FSC® certified), as we wanted our product to have as little environmental impact as possible. We searched and searched for the right wood, but results were limited to expensive parallel shafts. Yet again it seemed as though we would never find what we wanted, let alone have shaped handles to fit the collar of the hoe heads. Then we chanced upon W. E. Holden at Laithes Mill in Laithes near Penrith. We did not hold out much hope but Quinn gave them a call and got through to Thomas, a highly skilled Wood Lather.
They spoke in depth about the hoes and the quality of shaft we were looking for. We soon visited him to show him the hoe and to discuss the styling of the shaft. We wanted a unique feel to our shaft so that it would fit well in the hand and can be used comfortably for extended periods of time. Thomas has been so attentive to our needs and has made us beautiful shafts for both the long handled hoe and the hand hoe; Laithes Mill is one of a kind.
We have been so lucky to have found amazing engineers and craftsmen who have made our unique hoe a reality.