Earning and learning is plain sailing for Jenni
FOR South Devon College Customer Service Apprentice Jennifer Stoneman being aged 23 was no barrier to taking up an apprenticeship since the Government has now removed the age ceiling to allow anyone in a job to become qualified.
For Jenni, a former Torquay Girls' Grammar School pupil, landing a job at Bluewater Sports, in Long Road, just up from the college was a welcome change after leaving school to work three and a half years each in the fast food chains of McDonalds and Subway – rising to supervisor in both.
She says: "I started working at McDonalds at 16. I didn't see education as important – I thought earning money was. Then I thought that apprenticeships were the best blend of both – earning while you learn."
Jenni, who enrolled through the National Apprenticeship Website 'so she could work and study at the same time', originally wanted a Business Administration Apprenticeship until she was offered the customer service role at Bluewater, a fast expanding innovative diving, kayaking and sports equipment suppliers on the web (bluewatersports.com).
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Bluewater, have just opened a new showroom and Jennifer will be the face of the new showroom, selling the company's vast range of products which now fill 12,000sq ft of warehouse and operates from a further 5,000 sq ft of office space.
Jenni is the second employee of this family-run firm which was started by Steve Mackay nearly seven years ago when, as his son Adam says, 'he discovered scuba diving and eBay'. Steve bought secondhand diving equipment on eBay 'cleaned it up' and resold it – and the company Starlight Distribution was born.
Adam, 33, a former software specialist who helped his dad set up a website to 'get things going' first picked up a distribution deal with an American scuba gear company, other wholesalers followed and the firm outgrew first his father's double garage and home office in 2009.
"The garage was jammed pack full. My mum, Julie, was working 12 hours a day putting things in jiffy bags and sending them out. It was then that I decided to give up my job and come and join dad full time. And my sister, Lucy, did the same," said Adam who moved back from Bath to South Devon with his wife, Zoe, who now does the accounts, and their two children Lily, four, and Flynn, 18 months.
Their next move to a small warehouse in Brixham lasted eight months before it filled up, then at the end of the summer last year they came across their present premises.
"We were only interested in the warehouse originally, but it came with a nice suite of offices and it allowed us to put together this showroom."
He added: "Since we have had the showroom we have contacted suppliers both for kayaking equipment and wetsuits, scuba diving, general beach equipment and it is very easy to get decent accounts now because they like what we are doing. They like the fact that we are attracting local people."
Now they have one of the biggest range of modern kayaks in the South West at very competitive prices – and part of their success is down to the fact that they keep as many goods in stock as possible. Quick delivery and customer-friendly service are a hallmark of the firm.
Now Jennifer will be selling inflatable kayaks, wet suits, prescription masks, scuba equipment (including BCDs), rigid kayaks and a huge range of other water sports and beach items from top brands such as Mares, Cressi, Typhoon, Sevylor, Teksports and SEAC.
Says Jennifer: "Working here has been great. It is a calm atmosphere and really relaxed. You are not rushed off your feet. In my previous jobs it was 'get the customers in and out as fast as you can'. Here you have time to talk to people… and I am going to get a qualification at the end of it."