Mark Manser began his career with the family business in 1979 at the age of 16, becoming the third generation to join. Although he would have liked to start earlier, he had to complete his education, which he found to be more practical than academic. He learned how to strip down a lawnmower, operate a chainsaw, drive a tractor, tend to sheep, and even build fires, which he found more exciting than solving quadratic equations, which he admits are still a mystery to him.
At 16, Mark's father considered sending him to West Dean College, which was known as the "restorer's university" at the time. However, the high cost discouraged him from doing so. Instead, Mark learned from their own skilled restorer, Hendrik Benakki, who was a master craftsman and had worked in Poland before coming to Europe with the Air Force. Mark considered himself fortunate to have witnessed Hendrik's extraordinary work, which he believed only a craftsman could truly appreciate. Despite his own mischievousness, Hendrik was kind enough to cover for Mark on numerous occasions.
Mark spent the first two years in the workshops under the shop, where the only mechanical tool they had was a small table saw. He introduced a radio, which at first was not well-received, but eventually, Hendrik gave in to listening to ABBA, which he loved to sing along with. Hendrik was a kind and sweet man who could repair, make, and fix anything, even his own shoes. Mark observed how hardworking Hendrik was and how skilled he was in his craft.
The business evolved organically, and Mark's role shifted as a result. He stopped restoring antiques, not by choice but because his father needed him to focus on other tasks, such as driving the mini clubman for deliveries and serving customers on Saturdays. Mark was fortunate to have many trade visitors who shared their knowledge with him, enabling him to learn from their experience. He was groomed to become a buyer without any set plan. The business eventually became the third largest antique dealership in the UK and the only company with a million-pound credit at Sotheby's. They expanded their reach throughout the North of England and became a staging post for the London trade.
As their business grew, they needed more space and eventually moved into a former nightclub that had once been a church. This move, only a mile away, proved to be an unexpected boon, as word spread about their business, and they began attracting dealers from the United States and elsewhere, sometimes working until midnight to sell their wares.