Ruth Mitchell

Member Article

Stefan Lepkowski of Karol Marketing speaks to bdaily about building his business and his home

When Stefan Lepkowski first tried to buy The Fighting Cocks pub he received not one, but two very firm refusals from its then owners.

However, following the Geordie mantra of “shy bairns get nowt”, he persevered, and ten years later, he is speaking to me from his renovated office in the renamed “Old Pub”.

In his position of managing director of Karol PR and Marketing Consultancy, Stefan looks for opportunities for his clients on a daily basis, and this skill was vital to the project.

“I first dipped my toe into the building industry when I was looking for new offices in Newcastle, which would also give me room to expand,” he explains. “Even after I finally managed to buy the pub it stood empty for a year before we got going, but I had a vision of how it might be so it was worth it.”

The Old Pub was a learning curve for Stefan, and during the course of the project used cost reductions to a creative advantage, such as leaving steel and pipe work exposed and painting them in different contrasting colours.

After several years of soaking up the “oohs’ and “aahs”, of visitors to his Quayside office, Stefan decided it was time for a new challenge. So when he came across a dilapidated mill near Morpeth for sale in 2005, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.

“I’d been looking for a project, or something to buy,” says Stefan. “And when I came across the mill, my marketing skills came into play, and I could imagine how it could be transformed into something very special.”

During the course of the Old Pub project, Stefan was on site almost daily. After spending time watching the builders, Stefan came to the conclusion that he could do a better job, so took on the onerous task of project managing the build of his home.

“I would see what the builders were doing and I’d think ‘I wouldn’t have made that mistake’, or ‘I wouldn’t have done that,” Stefan recounts. “ So when I renovated the Old Mill, I got completely stuck in.

“I’m no building expert, but I had some great contractors on site who taught me the right skills to use. Don’t get me wrong, mistakes were still made but they just weren’t the ones I’d seen other builders make!”

While this undoubtedly put massive pressure on Stefan – who continued to work at Karol PR and Marketing throughout the build – it has ultimately given him immense satisfaction.

“All the time I was seeing different details and views of the project, and you don’t get any of that if you hire a contractor,” he says.

During the course of his second project, Stefan by Channel Four, who wanted to profile his build on the programme ‘Grand Designs’, Once again, his marketing skills came into play.

“Clients are often approached for sponsorship and endorsement deals, so I decided to flip this on its head,” he explains. “ The show provided massive exposure for the suppliers and contractors I worked with, and through going on the show, I just about managed to save myself £50,000 on the build.”

The builders and camera are finally out of the old mill, and Stefan and his family are now in. When asked how it feels to finally move into his dream home, Stefan’s response surprises me.

“The whole project was like a dream – albeit with a few nightmares in it. Each phase was an absolute revelation,” he says. “I feel like I’ve achieved the purpose of the project now – to create a fantastic family home. All it needs now is toys everywhere and the sounds of children!”

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Ruth Mitchell .

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