Making a clean sheet
Jan Etherington talks to Nicky Thorpe, whose entrepreneurial spirit is cleaning up on the coast. Images: Sarah Lucy Brown
Nicky Thorpe spots a gap in the market for a linen hire service for the coast’s B&Bs
I heard Nicky Thorpe, before I saw her. She and her deputy, Sarah Botwright, were singing Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud – ‘Kiss me under the light of a thousand stars’ – while folding sheets and stacking towels, in the sparkling new workspace, that is the headquarters of Easy Coast Linen Hire. Office manager, Jason Robinson, who performs with local group The Invisible Band, sometimes sings along, in perfect harmony. But then, Nicky and her team have a lot to sing about.
The word ‘entrepreneur’ seems to be applied to anyone who sells a few jam jars on a market stall, but Nicky has a true entrepreneurial spirit. This is a brand new venture - supplying high quality, crisp, clean bed linen and towels, to commercial and domestic clients, in Suffolk. I’ve known Nicky since I moved to Suffolk, five years ago. She and Sarah were a familiar sight, whizzing around our village and coastal towns between Lowestoft and Aldeburgh in a smart white van, inscribed Nicky’s Cleaning & Gardening Services. Armed with vacuum cleaners and mops, they sprinted in and out of houses, never wasting time, chatting and laughing.
With so many hotels, holiday rentals and B&Bs along the coast, Nicky soon realised there was a need for a competitively priced laundry service. “I’d been taking my customers’ linen to the launderette.” Her philosophy is always ‘Let’s give it a go and see what happens’, so she found new premises, in Mount Pleasant, Halesworth, and hired her old friend, Jason, to ’run the shop’. He had spent 10 years in holiday parks management and learned excellent customer service skills. As he puts it, “I like keeping people happy.”
They seem to have achieved that already, with their existing customers. Edward Wright, of Walberswick told me that he had his wife had used a number of local laundry companies. “But we’ve switched to East Coast Linen Hire. It’s miles better – both the finish on the linen and the service. Always cheerful and efficient.”
Nicky’s commitment and willingness to help out, in all sorts of ways, together with her boundless energy, reliability and cheerfulness, has gained her many loyal customers and over the years, some have become close friends. She says: “For me, trust is the most important thing. I have people’s keys. I look after their homes, gardens and dog when they’re away. My reputation is everything.”
Nicky Thorpe has packed a great deal into her 41 years. Suffolk born, the daughter of a builder, her parents separated when she was 16. The same year, she left Sir John Leman High School in Beccles and spent two years in various jobs – Waveney Apple Growers, Sizewell and the White Hart pub in Blythburgh - before moving to Spain. For the next decade, she worked and travelled in Europe and Australia. “They were definitely character forming years,” she laughs. Returning to the UK in 2004, she met John, a plumber, and they married in Las Vegas, suffolkmag.co.uk
but divorced two years later. “He’s a really nice guy but we were both on the rebound – me from my travels and he from a past relationship.” She’s been with her partner, Yorkshireman Andy Baillie, for four years. He works at Sizewell and is also a dog trainer. “He’s got his work cut out with our spaniel, Charlie,” says Nicky.
Having always regretted leaving school with no qualifications, Nicky took an Access course, gained her A levels and, in 2013, earned a BSc degree in sociology and criminology at University of Suffolk.
She supported herself doing cleaning and gardening jobs. “I really enjoyed the work and it steadily built up.” Five years ago, she officially registered Nicky’s Cleaning & Gardening Services. That business – with Nicky ‘mucking in’, as always – will continue, while the new, separate company, East Coast Linen Hire, offers long or short-term linen hire, for a family visit, or a seasonal business, for example, and two grades of linen, Everyday and Superior. With a rapidly growing list of regular customers, is Nicky looking to expand already?
“It sounds like the logical next step but I like
‘I look after their homes, gardens and dog when they’re away. My reputation is everything’
to be hands on. I’ve been part of many of my customers’ lives – seen their children grown up and grandchildren arrive. Recently, I was the only non-family member who was invited, by a lady I worked for, to her husband’s funeral. My customers want to see me and I want to stay close to them, so at the moment, I’m keeping it close and personal.”
Time for another song, as the laundry is piling up. Ed Sheeran’s lyrics could have been written for Nicky Thorpe “I’ll make my mark. I’ve got my spark . . .”
Nicky Thorpe has started a linen hire business for B&Bs on the east coast, called ‘East Coast Linen Hire and Laundry Services.’ Nicky Thorpe and Sarah Bowright. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown