A timely lesson in brand longevity

March 2014

I recently made a trip back to the high street where I got my very first job nearly 40 years ago. It was Sutton High Street in Surrey, and I was there because I was staying in a hotel in the town having travelled down from my home in the north of Scotland to meet up with my old dad for his 83rd birthday, as he lives relatively close by.

It was probably a good 25 years since I’d walked down this high street, and certainly 38 years ago since I last worked there. In any event I was immediately saddened by what I saw: the stereotypically run-down UK shopping street with a mix of empty units, too many multi-national coffee shops, cheap and cheerful general stores selling junk nobody actually needs, and an eclectic mix of street furniture and paving which the local council was no doubt adding to each year with no real thought about the overall visual effect. But it wasn’t just all that which nearly brought a tear to my eye, but the fact that I couldn’t recognise a single retailer from my time as an apprentice in the flag ship department store, Shinners, all those years ago. And not only had my much-loved department store long gone, but so too had its main building – replaced by an ugly yet nondescript affair which now housed a book store (multi product category replaced by single product hardly represents a good deal for local folk in my view). Then there was the lovely old Victorian arcade and, as I clearly recall, complete with a tiny independent shop which specialised in grinding a host of different types of coffee beans to order. That had all been bulldozed and replaced with, well, something that could also reasonably be described as nondescript, though in this case also masquerading as a shopping arcade.

But just at the point I was concluding it was all doom and gloom and that I needed to head for the nearest pub, I spotted a retailer’s name I recognised. And the shop was still in the same place, albeit now partly modernised and extended. Its name is Pearson Cycles, and if you care to Google it after reading this blog you can learn more about how they’re now the oldest cycle shop in the world having been established in 1860. I had no idea about any of their heritage ahead of researching the name after the sheer delight of rediscovering them, though I certainly do remember when I was growing up in the area that Pearson was certainly regarded as THE bike shop. And apparently it still is.

So my trip down Sutton High Street at least ended up on a happy note, but the real point here for me is that despite every other independent retailer either going bust, giving up or having their premises bought by a greedy property developer, Pearson have survived on the strength of their specialist offer and the strength of their brand. They really have moved with the times, exploited the increase in the popularity of cycling, invested in their premises, invested in a decent website (albeit not a responsive one – they need to get that sorted) and, at the same time, stuck to their guiding principles which are well articulated on their website. They’ve also kept it as a family owned and run business and that alone speaks volumes about how they’ve managed to retain their strong brand values. Good luck to them.

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