by Sylvia Endacott
There is in London Road one building of which each of its occupant will raise a comment. Town centre stores will always evoke memories and for Bognor Regis residents and visitor alike we have the names of Marks & Spencer, Littlewoods and New Look. This week, therefore, I thought I would take a look at these stores.
In 1936 there must have been some consternation when a private house known as The Lawns had its garden wiped out by the building of new buildings and stores. This new construction was for use by Marks and Spencer and Burton’s.
The building itself, from a planning point of view, was completely out of keeping with the rest of London Road. The local press in July 1936 announced the opening of the new ‘Super Store Marks and Spencer at No. 4 London Road’.
Marks and Spencer advertised that in their store there was ‘nothing over 5/- (25p) and also extolled the fact that 90% of their goods were British’ and it was also possible to join their weekly club.
Part of their advertising claimed that they ‘simply bought in large quantities from the leading British manufacturers,’ hence their low cost. They were a shop where ‘your money would go further.’
Over the years they became a major player in the heart of the shopping centre and, of course, were an iconic chain store throughout the British Isles and abroad. Wherever you saw the green and gold M&S you could be assured of the quality and type of clothing on sale.
In 1997, it became the first British retailer to make over £1 billion profit before tax. When television advertising started in 1955, M&S resisted this medium relying purely on their reputation.
Ultimately in the mid 1990s their first television commercials for clothing were aired, today we have food and clothing advertised with the addition of national personalities to promote their goods.
The company peaked late in the 1990s and then the company shares began to drop and boardroom changes ensued. The icon was changing!
Finally Marks and Spencer left Bognor Regis with a shock announcement to the staff only minutes before the customers arrived, in August 1990. At the same time the company’s head office announced that they would be opening a second store in Chichester. The people of Bognor Regis felt they had lost a friend – someone they could reply on for their needs.
Soon this large impressive building was to be the home of another High Street store, that of Littlewoods, which to some people had been seen as not of the same standard of M&S but, nevertheless, able to serve the needs of the customer.
The Littlewoods Empire had been founded in 1923, only 13 years before the Bognor building was constructed. It, similar to M&S, was a family concern. John Moores who was a bricklayer started the company as a football pools business with a mill girl. Next, he expanded this business into mail order, which he operated with four typists and by 1934 this business had grown to over £400,000 annually.
After the Second World War, he moved into the trade of ‘selling over the counter’. The stores began to expand and their High Street presence was seen to rival M&S in many towns and cities.
In 1993, at the age of 97 John Moore died and the company was alleged to have made a profit of £97million, with its 127 stores. In 1996 there were still 35 members of the Moores family involved with the business and they commenced changes within the company to meet increasing competition.
However, people in Bognor Regis grew fond of their store and of course, like Marks and Spencer’s thought it was here to stay. Therefore, in 2005, there was another shock for the shoppers, when it was announced that nationally the well-known institution of Littlewoods was to be sold. It was said at the time that this was because of our slowdown in spending!
For the last 20 years in many of the stores there was the Index catalogue shop, but this was being squeezed in the market by Argos and other similar companies. So once again a large building in London Road was to be empty.
Over months there were many rumours as to who would take over this central building, including the comment, of course, could M&S return! Ultimately, it was announced that New Look would be moving across the road from their small store to the larger building.
It was also announced that for the first time the first floor would also be used, this did not materialise. What did we know of this company?
Apparently, their first store was opened in 1969 in Taunton and by 1990 they had 70 stores nationally and this rapidly increased to 200 by 1994.
As a privately owned company, they purchased 34 of the Littlewoods stores to assist with their UK expansion. During 2006 they were also planning to expand into Belgium and France.
Time will tell of their fortunes. However, it is interesting to see the similarities of these three names who have occupied this major building in London Road, Bognor Regis. All three selling clothing, albeit to a slightly different age group.
Family or privately owned organisations, each of them has names that are synonymous with shopping in the centre of towns. I am sure when New Look have opened in Bognor Regis people would be saying ‘oh we wish Littlewoods had not closed’ in exactly the way people lamented the loss of Marks and Spencer’s.
Our shopping requirements change and we are now offered many choices with ‘on-line shopping alongside the out of town shopping and an increasing base of available clothing stores that we can only surmise at the future.
No doubt someday there will be cries of ‘oh no, they can’t be closing,’ but let us hope that New Look will remain for many years to come and become the firm favourite that Marks and Spencer and Littlewoods became in London Road.