Eureka moment

The head office of Timpson, John Timpson arrives, looks around and raises a conspiratorial eyebrow. "James's indulgences," he says, referring to his 37-year-old son, the managing director of the business and the fifth generation in the family firm. "He wants to make it the wackiest office in the north of England." At the shoe repair and key-cutting firm, is on a drab industrial estate in a Manchester suburb. But inside defies expectations.

In the reception, We head upstairs to his office, which he notes, his son has left untouched. "I think I'm going to be pretty well spared," he deadpans with a pool of water is projected on the floor, with fish that dart away to a babbling soundtrack when you step on it. On the wall, the locations of the hundreds of Timpson shops up and down the country are listed in neat lines. The sofa looks as though it has come direct from the Conran Shop. The loo even has a fancy hand dryer.

"Shoe repair did fantastically well, particularly in November when the recession started to hit people, this sort of make-do-and-mend idea, and it has kept up," Timpson says. The company says shoe repairs last week were 4% higher than the same time last year, and watch repairs were 21% better. The most recent figures available showed his holding company made a profit of £10.6m in the year ending September 2007, on sales of £92m,which is that rare business: a beneficiary of the recession. Shoe and watch repairs might be regarded as in long-term decline amid an increasingly throwaway culture, but as times have got harder, they appear to have come back into more widespread use.

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