It appeared to be serendipitous.
Their appointed watcher spotted an opportunity: a firm likely to go bust shortly. It was a long established business, selling old-style, "classic" furniture to the upper classes; the higher echelons of society. This was a market that had been dubious for a long while.
Furniture, particularly quality well-made pieces, had a ready market on the colony planet of Rehome, if it was at the right price. The colonists wanted furniture that would last for years, and not fall to bits too readily, as much modern furniture had a tendency to do. The Lownie business group catered to supplying the retail market on Rehome with a wide range of goods that were not readily obtainable in the circumstances of a recently established colony, light years from Earth. Furniture for the home was a good seller, if it was the right price, they had found, so another opportunity to add to this sector was welcome.
A telephone call to the firm was the first step. A young lady answered. "Hello? Tompkins Quality Furnishing - Furniture for the Discerning. Can I help you to find what you need?"
"Can I speak to the owner of the business, please?"
"Certainly, sir. Whom shall I say is calling?"
"Alexander Lownie. I am in the business of bulk purchasing of furniture, should the price be right."
"Hold on sir. I shall get Mrs. Blenkinsop for you." There was a brief hiatus, as the call was put on hold while Mrs Blenkinsop was briefed to take it over in her own apartment upstairs.
"Hello? Mr Downie, is it? " The voice was elderly, and a bit shaky. "What can I do for you?"
"Lownie, madam, if I may be permitted to correct you. Mrs Blenkinsop, I understand that your business may be up for sale shortly, and I am looking for such a business opportunity as far as your stock is concerned. However, my available resources do not stretch very far, so we would have to negotiate a price that satisfies both me and you."
"I don't know about you buying the business, young man. This firm has been selling to the gentry for nigh on a hundred years, and we have a good, well-established name among the better class of person in this country, I assure you."
"I am sure you are quite correct in what you say, Mrs. Blenkinsop. Nevertheless, time moves on, and markets develop new tastes and any firms that cannot cater for the new clientele, with their new tastes, end up having to close."
"Close? Certainly not, young man. We are simply affected by a temporary downturn in the economy, and people are tightening their belts. This has happened in the past, and we have always got over such temporary awkwardness."
"I take your point, Mrs Blenkinsop. Who knows the vagaries of the market? You may be right, madam, but it is always wise to explore the possibilities of realising cash from a dwindling asset value, don't you agree?"
"Of course. I am not averse to looking at all aspects of the business. I keep telling my granddaughter that we should explore making the business more attractive to our core customers, but she seems to think we should be selling flat packs via the Internet, of all things! As if our clientele made use of such new-fangled technology! Our clientele look for quality, high quality, and we provide that class of furnishings. We have a name, a name that is valued by our clientele, and to go downmarket is not the way we should be looking, I say."
"That is a viewpoint I would happily agree with, madam, but unfortunately I am not looking for a business that would be continuing to trade, so your esteemed business name has no value for my company, I regret to say."
"What? You would close down my business!"
"Madam, I assure you that I would do no such thing. Your business is closing itself down, through your clientele become less and less willing to pay your prices for quality furniture; or perhaps they themselves are not looking for such quality these days. Modern times, dear lady!
It is an unfortunate situation, but every cloud has a silver lining, and I am willing to purchase your entire stock. This would admittedly be at knockdown prices, but you would be able to lay your hands on a large pile of ready cash, instead of sitting on furniture that is not readily shifting into the hands of your normal clientele, or so I am informed. Shall we at least start by having a look at your stock?"
"Well, I have no objections to you looking at my stock, but you would have to get my grandchild to show you around. I am not as mobile as I used to be. I took over the business from my own grandfather, you know - Alfred Tompkins, the founder.
My father was killed in the Great War, and Mum pined away until she died – she was not much use to anyone - so grandfather was left in charge well past his "sell-by" date. He was a doddery old fool, not understanding half of what was said to him, or what he was doing, when the lawyer finally got him to agree to hand it over to me, but I and my husband put the business back on its feet by buttering up our customers, and we did well for many years before the Lord took my injured Samuel into his arms for eternity.
I had hoped that my late daughter might stay in the business, but she married a wastrel and that would not do. Her own daughter helps me out now, doing what she can for the business, but that girl has some peculiar ideas about sales techniques."
Sye Lownie commented, "Mrs Blenkinsop, I am a great admirer of enterprise such as you have shown in the past, madam, but today that enterprise has changed, and new ways of disposing of your stock have to be looked at. I may have a possible market – a very DISTANT market that I can locate for your stock, but like other people, they do not have the readily available cash that one aspires to, and so I have to find a way of getting them quality goods at prices they can afford. Have a word with your granddaughter about showing me your stock, and I shall ring back tomorrow to make an appointment for viewing."
"Very well, Mr. Downie. Farewell."
Sye put the phone down, and sighed at the woman's repeated mistake. He said to Gail, "I do hope the granddaughter proves to be more on the ball. I need a competent person to deal with."
He remembered to phone the next day, and when the girl answered, he gave his name and his requirement to visit the furniture store's warehouse.
"Oh, yes, sir. Granny gave me the key and asked me to show you round. The old dear doesn't really know what we have in stock, so she relies on me to keep an eye on things. Your visit would have to be this evening, as I can't leave the shop unattended during opening times."
"Don't you have an assistant to cover for you?"
"I do, but this is her day off, and I couldn't demand that she come in just for a short while. Is 8 p.m. all right for you? The warehouse is a little way off: low rental normally determines the location of a warehouse, but this one is actually owned by the firm and has been in the family for absolute eons!"
"I do hope it has been maintained, and that the stock has not been affected by damp."
"Don't worry about that, sir. There are no leaks in the roof, I am pleased to say. The warehouse itself is one of our business assets, never mind the contents."
"Thanks you for your candour, young lady. My interest is in the contents, rather than the building, so if you would prefer that the business disposes of the warehouse separately, that is fine by me."
"I hadn't really thought, sir. Granny is the owner of title, so I shall speak to her about that point. Here is the address of the warehouse: if you can be there at 8 p.m. I will let you in, unless our cleaner is working in the area at the time."
At the appointed time, Sye stepped out of his taxi, and looked for the warehouse door. There was no name in evidence, but the number on the door was correct, so he pressed the door buzzer.
Within moments the door opened, and a young woman stood there. "Mr. Lownie, is it?" she asked.
"Indeed it is, my dear."
"You are younger than I expected, Mr. Lownie. I am Claire Johnston."
"That is a fine compliment you pay me, my dear Claire. You, yourself, are also quite young to be in such a responsible position in the business."
"Please come in, Mr. Lownie. I am afraid I am an only grandchild, and my parents are dead, so all the problems devolve to me, I am afraid."
"Is Mrs. Blenkinsop a widow, then? She sounded a trifle old, on the phone."
"She is getting on in years. Her husband died from war wounds, so she has been a widow for a long time, sir. Can I show you around the place?" She raised her voice to call loudly: "Effie? Will you put on some extra lights?"
The unseen Effie clearly heard her, as more lights cam on, illuminating the store more effectively. "Feel free to wander about, if you wish, Mr. Lownie, though I only have fifteen minutes or so, before I have to leave for another appointment. You will have to leave with me, for security and insurance reasons. I gather this visit is to give you an impression of our stock profile?"
"That is so, my dear. It will assist me in considering what figure would be most appropriate to offer for the total stock."
"Well, I think you will be quite impressed with all this, sir."
Sye said nothing more, and instead started to prowl the lanes between the furniture that was built up on steel frames to allow up to three layers above the floor. He looked at what was visible on each side, and walked along, moving his head from side to side, as he went. Getting to the end of the lane, he went round and into the next lane, and slowly but carefully examined the total contents.
.... There is more of this story ...