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How Kennards of Croydon became one of London's best department stores

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KENNARDS of Croydon was one of the most successful department stores in London during the first half of the 20th century, and was considered one of the jewels in the borough's crown.

The store, which is believed to have been established in 1853, was founded by William Kennard for just over £100.

Within a year of opening, the store had served up to 8,000 customers. This early success can be attributed to new railway stations opening up in the area, as well as the emergence of a middle class in the country.

Croydon was expanding at an alarming rate and so were its businesses. Retailers such as Joshua Allder (Allders) and Grant Bros (Grants of Croydon) were all expanding and competing with one another to grab the attention of passers-by.

North End and the surrounding area was the setting for these family-owned businesses to do battle, with Kennards being well situated in the middle of North End.

William Kennard died in 1887 and his sons, who were affectionately known as Mr Williams and Mr Arthur, took control of the family business.

They renamed the shop Kennard Bros. By the turn of the 20th century, the sons had expanded the store to unexpected levels. They had even acquired the building of their local rival, Messrs Buckworth. One of the main keys to their success was the use of full-length windows running the length of the shop, a rarity then.

Full-length windows set the shop apart from its competition as it allowed for shoppers to study their merchandise. The Kennard brothers also followed the trends of the day by focusing stock towards women.

At the start of the 1920s the store was going from strength to strength, with a newly acquired delivery fleet of motor vans.

This was an impressive accomplishment, considering a couple years earlier deliveries were done with the use of horse-drawn vans. The onset of the First World War had prevented any real expansion within the store, but this all changed during the 1920s.

A new main entrance was added to the shop as well as a whole new level, transforming the store into a three-floor establishment. A fourth floor was added in 1928.

By the 1930s, Kennards was a household name in retail. Despite the store's great success it still remained true to William Kennard's philosophy of selling reliable goods at very low profit margins. This policy made the store popular among working class women, who now had more money than ever before.

One of the biggest achievements during this time was the creation of a new arcade, which showcased goods from around the world. The arcade was the first thing shoppers saw as they entered the store, and it was the job of Roy Driscoll to ensure it did just that. An immigrant from Australia, Mr Driscoll was integral to the success of Kennards. With a keen eye for detail and original ideas, he was best equipped with coming up with interesting designs and exhibitions for the store.

He helped to make the store innovative with things such as an osteopathy (massage) parlour for customers and staff members.

The store still managed to flourish during the 1940s, despite many family-owned businesses going out of business as a result of the war.

However, towards the end of its time, Kennards was a shell of its former self. There were no more great exhibitions that captured the imagination of local people and by 1973, Kennards, Croydon's oldest department store, was laid to rest, as Debenhams took full control of the store and an era had passed.

Reference – Kennards of Croydon, The Store That Entertained To Sell, by Vivien Lovett.

How Kennards of Croydon became one of London's best department stores


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