A FAMILY BUSINESS - SUTERS LIMITED - 1970s by Richard Ensor and additional inormation by Philip Suter
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Over the years the Uxbridge store had been up graded. A new two storey front, then an emergency stairwell on part of it. The light wells had been filled in to give more sales space on the first and second floors. The large 1930s style staircase at the back of the store that went from the ground floor to first floor was also removed and escalators put in.
In the 1970s it was decided to re-vamp the store, lower lighting levels and replace the 1930's units. Instead of using an outside company, it was decided to employ local tradesmen. Peter Curry was responsible for drawing up the plans and supervising the installation with Dick Suter being in charge of the project at board level.
A workshop was set up in the large building at the rear of 20 India Road, Slough and Harry and Stan set up shop. Two more tradesmen would go to Uxbridge every day take out the exising fixtures and return them to India Road and they would then be transformed into modern fixtures, painted in bright colours and returned to their new lease of life in Uxbridge. This recycling project went on for a few years as to keep up with modern trends, some of 1960's fixtures at Slough were also becoming dated.
Power cuts at Suters in the 1970s
When the Slough store was built it was equipped throughout with emergency lighting that was powered by a large number of batteries in the service basement. They would last for approximately 3 hours, however could not keep the store open for business in the events that followed in the 1970s.
First of all the car park behind the store was complulsory purchased and as Tom Suter describes it in Suters Limited - A brief History of the company and the people behind it "This car parking facility which Clarence Suter deemed as the most vital adjunct to a successful store was compulsory purchased by Slough Borough Council for inclusion in their Queensmere shopping centre and for which they actually paid in the centre of the town "agricultural land value". Work started on the Queensmere shopping centre and regularly the power cables to the store would be cut by machinery, making it impossible to trade.
As a result of the Government being in dispute with the coalminers, there was a fuel shortage and electricity had to be rationed. The Three-Day-week meant that there would be regular cuts to non essential services like shops. Suters purchased a generator and it was installed in a large off white Austin/BMC FG lorry with a "Luton" style body. The objective being that when the power in Slough was off it should be in Uxbridge and so the vehicle could travel between the two branches.
Philip Suter remembers when working at Bourne and Hollingsworth in Oxford Street, London during that period that the emergency lights were quickly converted to strip lights from single light bulb units and when there was a powercut their generator would come into action. Naturally the Sweda cash registers could not operate, but they all had handles so business went along regardless.
At Suters, as this type of event could easily occur again, it was decided to take the generator off the van, use the lorry's upper casing (Luton Body) as as a cover and have it placed in the outside passageway that had fire escape doors from Suters, Marks and Spencer and Art Wallpapers at Slough. At Uxbridge a new generator was placed on the roof at the back of the building and a structure made to shield it from the elements.
SUTERS IN 1970
In 1970 Suters celebrated 50 years of trading in Slough, but also abandoned plans to extend the Slough store which had been linked to the redevelopment of the town centre. The company emphasised that the decision reflected no loss of confidence in Slough as a trading location. Nevertheless, the decision was the first check by the Suters directors to the firm's development since George William Suter and his son Clarence opened the Slough shop in 1920.
Under the headline "Suters backs out of plan to build on new town site" the Windsor Slough and Eton Express on the 16th January 1970 reported:
Suters, one of Slough's large department stores, has backed out of a plan for an extension in the new town centre because of high building cost.
A joint statement signed by the firm's chairman, Mr W.C. Suter and Alderman Godfrey Odds, chairman of Slough Planning Committee, said yesterday that it had been "reluctantly decided not to proceed".
The statement said the company had recently reviewed its position in the light of greatly increased building costs and the substantial rise in borrowing rates. In particular the company has been most concerned at the magnitude and complexity of the comprehensive reorganisation on each floor of the present store which would be involved, including the complete removal of the goods servicing and lift to another part of the store, major alterations to various services, and consequential refitting.
At a Press conference yesterday Mr David Suter said "It has been a question all the time of keeping pace with all the various requirements of building regulations and fire regulations." The existing store, in the region of 70,000 sq. ft. was built only eight years ago. The work on the extension of about 25,000 sq. ft. would have cost as much as the whole store did then. "I can assure you it doesn't betoken any lack of confidence in the town centre redevelopment. We were being squeezed by the building costs problem."
Alderman Oats said "It is not like somebody taking a store and starting from scratch. Suters would be involved in far more costs than somebody coming into the scheme as such."
Mr J.G. Martin, development manager for St. Martins Property Corporation, said "The area will be redeveloped for retail purposes."
The statement explained that the council understood the accommodation released "will enable St. Martin's to satisfy some of the great demand for larger shopping units from first class retail companies."
Mr Martin, explaining this, said he did not think it would cause any delay in the town centre. On which work will start in the next three months. "It just means that the consultants have to work 24 hours a day instead of 23", he said. - Windsor Slough and Eton Express - 16th January 1970
…..Confirming the position Mr J.G. Martin ….said that it had not yet been decided whether the space would be allocated to one large user, or to two or more. The council have made provision for a new department store in the shopping precinct. It will provide 60,000 square feet of shopping space, but the design allows for extra storeys to a maximum of 100,000 sq. ft. if required.
Asked whether Suters' decision to abandon their extension had been influenced by the new store, Mr Suter said: "No. On the contrary, we welcome it as good for business. - Slough Observer - 16th January 1970
While the decision not to expand in Slough may have been an early reflection of a loss in confidence which, a few years later, led to the decision to consider offers for the sale of the business, it did not result in any immediate lack of effort when it came to promoting sales.
24th September: 10 page advertising/editorial supplement in the Evening Mail
This supplement will include an outline of the company's development; photographs of the building(s) over the 50 year period; editorial features about merchandise departments, [senior] staff (e.g. Mr Buggins), advertisements of merchandise from various suppliers (all of whom are paying 100% of the cost of their individual ads), an advertisement for Suters announcing special offers, demonstrations, etc.
24th September: 16" x 6 column ads in Buckinghamshire Advertiser Middlesex Advertiser
25th September: 16" x 6 ads in Bucks Free Press Windsor, Slough & Eton Express Page in the Slough Observer
The Evening Mail "editorial" included on Pages 2 and 6 an article on fashions by Christine Webb featuring the new ranges of "Midis" - calf length or just below the knee - in coats, dresses, skirts and tunics and emphasised advice from the Traffic Lights boutique aimed at the 15 to 24 age group. It, also, quoted views from Ann Fletcher "Suters youngest buyer" as to top fashion colours for Autumn and Winter "all the latest trendy dresses, coats and trouser suits, accessories and 'undies'.
Page 4 featured Men's fashions and Jose Romans from the Suters men's-wear department - "Even the older men are being persuaded by their wives to wear brighter coloured shirts and ties". Wider ties were still in fashion "although the extreme kipper tie is less popular". He noted that "apache style neck scarves" were "ousting ties from popularity". A photo (below) showed Mr Romans holding a tie ready for inspection.
Page 7 featured the toy department and a short biography of Arthur Holmes, a senior salesman who had previously owned and managed a toy shop and had responsibility for climbing frames, rope ladders and such like and other larger toys and, also, the Dinky and Corgi toys and Dennis Eaton the department head. Mr Eaton predicted a great demand for Corgi "rockets" (a large expanse of track with a car which speeds round it) and the Thumbelina doll "which moves like a real baby when you pull the string" from the Dolls' boutique.
Page 8 included an interview with Frank Tomlin, the controller of the China and Glass department and the whole of the lower ground floor, who had worked for Suters for 24 years and recently visited the Littala glass factory in Finland.
Page 9 displayed a photo (left) of Ron Buggins - Suters longest serving employee - in the furnishing fabrics department and his recollections of travelling out on his bicycle as far away as Maidenhead to measure up for curtains or covers. "Cotton material for kitchen curtains cost only 1s 3d a yard, now this would cost eight or nine shillings more". He was looking forward to retirement before "the metric system comes into operation".
Apart from the Evening Mail Supplement, The Slough Observer carried a full page advertisement of 50 Years Birthday Offers and details of the Demonstrations and Fashion Shows marking the anniversary. Both Slough and Uxbridge were to have displays of 1920's fashions in their windows and, at Slough, there would be a Week of Fashion in the Restaurant from the 25th September to 3rd October when, according to the article by Christine Webb on page 1 of the Supplement:
Five models will show a wide range of clothes for autumn and winter, from modern midi dresses and raincoats and fashionable pantaloons to classic style suits for more mature women. The models will walk around chatting informally to customers and answering their questions about the garments. The shows will be held daily …from 10 to 11.15; 12.30 to 2 p.m.; and 3.15 to 4.30 p.m. On Wednesday (half-closing) there will be a morning fashion show.
Two special shows with an accent on winter shoes, boots, and accessories can be seen in Suters Uxbridge store on October 2 at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Other demonstrations included "Horrockses Miniature Loom" in the Ground floor Linens department and a Poole Potters hand painting demonstration in the China Department on the Lower ground floor.
The Slough Observer also included an article "50 Years of trading" telling the story of the Suters company in Slough and a separate article about the same time profiled Clarence Suter and told his story - "Clarence Suter - 50 years a draper"
Having mounted a successful promotion to coincide with the 50th anniversary in September, Richard (Dick Suter) followed it up on the 1st December with an eight page "Suters Christmas mail" special. This time he concentrated on products for the Christmas market rather than company history and staff biographies. Staff members were, identified when included in photos. Thus Page 1 contained editorialised details of delivery arrangements and opening times - including the news that Wednesday half day closing had been abandoned - and also bargains in electrical goods.
Jane Buckley and the Kiku bathique
Page 2 concentrated on perfumery and ladies tights. Jane Buckley was shown demonstrating a "Kiku bathique" which contained bath oil plus a convenient ladle, bath soap, bath cubes, scented moisture balm, shaker talc, cologne spray and a 'bubbling bath' all for 19 guineas. There was, also, similar set from Worth at £22 and from Chanel at £26.10s. Tights were offered at from 9s.11d to 27s.6d per pair - expensive by 2007 standards. Pages 3 and 4 profiled Traffic lights boutique items including the "Switch" night-dress/dress - "no-one would turn a hair if you turned up at any party in one" from £3.19s. to £7.5s, accessories and the latest boots - "red 'python' or white with silver trimmings at £17.19s. Also, cosmetics - "mauve" was "the 'in' colour" that Christmas. "Chokers" could be found either at Traffic Lights or the jewellery counter for up to £3. Carol Cozens was shown with one wrapped round a counter model with a very long neck!
Carol Cozens and the long neck
Page 4, also, advertised the delights of a fondue party where guests enjoyed a "do-it yourself dinner" and cooked raw meat, cheese, vegetable or fruit in a fondue set - available at 19 guineas -which included a burner, stainless steel top, fondue forks and a set of bowls.
Nanette not about to play golf Page 6 offered sports equipment but not the model holding the golf club and Page 7 featured children's toys including a photo of Beryl Campbell (right), the department manageress, and Sharon Raymond who was a toy demonstrator (Below)
Page 8 contained a whole page advertisement showing the identical contents of two very large Christmas stockings and claimed that where the goods were bought in Suters they cost £113.13.6 but if bought elsewhere in surrounding towns and villages £137.19.1
The ad using the old 1920s logo (Suters for the utmost value) was comparing prices with the competitors. Unlike in 2014 whereby a competitor would be named the ad purely said:-
£137.19.1 £113.13.6 so where's the difference? Recently we went shopping around a few towns and villages. To see how much Christmas presents could cost you. We compared the selling prices in the other shops with our own selling prices for the identical articles. And we mean identical articles. Then we totted up our "shopping lists". Which made pretty interesting reading. especially as we found we could save you money.
We hope you'll give generously this Christmas. But we wouldn't want you to throw away your money. So when you're stocking up for the 25th why not select the store that gives you the utmost value.
As well as the Suters Christmas mail, press cuttings from this time cover a presentation by the Suters Directors to Harry Ponton (bottom row centre) who had completed 25 years with the company. During his time with Suters, Mr Ponton reckoned he had measured up for curtains, loose covers and carpets in 16,000 homes in Slough and district. A photo showed him with the Suters Chairman - now Frank Suter - Bottom row right)together with Clarence (bottom row left) and John Suter (centre back row) of the older generation, and also David (back row left) and Richard (Dick) Suter (back row right).
A further cutting contains a full page article by Jean Fetherstone profiling Ann Twitchen who, at age 21, was buyer in the sports and separates department. Having started in retail age 17 at Debenhams in Manchester she moved to Suters to run the Traffic Lights boutique and a few months later was appointed a buyer for both the Slough and Uxbridge stores.
1971 - A DAY OUT AT SUTERS
A regular treat for certain customers was a day out at Suters in Slough.The visit included shopping but a main event would be an appointment at the Salon Bruno ladies hair dressing experience.Three Salon Bruno Price Lists have been preserved all from before the switch to decimal currency in February 1971. The latest in date offers a Plain Shampoo and Set for 11/6 though the price increased to 14/- if the customer wanted Mr Bruno. Permanent waving cost from £2.18.6 to £4.4.0. Salon Bruno maintained a "Children's Department" with a range of cuts, shampoos and sets for babies and children from 2/6 to 12/-.
After a morning in the store the customer would all have lunch in the Tirol Restaurant. Several pre-decimalization menus have survived - one of them in French!. There are also special menus for a "Two Week Extravaganza of English Food and Wine" and "Ireland - Land of Surprises at Suters".
The restaurant provided both fixed price and "A La Carte" menus. A three course fixed price meal could be had from 9/- to 12/6d and consisted of fruit juice or soup followed by a choice of two or three fish or meat courses with vegetable and a sweet which might be apple charlotte, ice cream or cheese.
Anyone choosing from the a la carte menu could have Pate (5/-) or Smoked Salmon (8/6) followed by Scampi and French fried potatoes or Alpine chicken " secretly spiced and topped with pineapple" - both 12/6 plus two vegetables (4/-) and one of eight or nine sweets (2/- to 3/9) or cheese (2/-) followed by coffee (1/-) Total cost might be about £1.10.0.
Wine, beer and other drinks were available. One menu has a list of 12 wines at prices between £1 and £1.5.6. per bottle and £2 per bottle for Champagne. Another more extensive list - probably from about 1966 - offers a choice of wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy plus Italian and German wines. Interestingly 1961 Liebfraumilch Blue Nun is priced at 34/- a bottle while a good white Burgundy - 1959 or 1961 Grand Meurseault is offered at only 29/-. Liebfraumilch was highly rated in the 1960's! Southern Hemisphere wines were not available and if an Australian or South African wine was found in a wine merchant it would be of poor quality.
The special "Two Week Extravaganza of English Food and Wine" offered a three course meal for 9/- or four courses for 12/6. The menus changed each day and were offered with a "selection of English Country Wines" though none would have been made from grapes. There was no English Wine industry in 1971.
During the Spring of 1972 Dick Suter asked Wendy-Ann and Richard Ensor if their daughter Lucinda could be part of a Suters advertisement - "Do Suters deliver the goods" - which would show a harassed mother staggering home with a mountain of shopping which could just as easily have been delivered to her door. He needed a small child jumping for joy at the sight of all the parcels and nearly tipping the mother onto the floor in the process. Lucinda obliged and jumped enthusiastically on demand for dozens of photos.
Suters in 1972
By 1972, Suters Limited provided employment for three members of Wendy-Ann Ensor's family - her father and both Dick and Robert as well as most of her cousins. The family stores were part of the fabric of day to day life and while the possibility of a sale was sometimes aired it was not something seriously contemplated, at least by her or, even less, her mother.
Nevertheless the possibility of life after Suters was coming closer and, in July, the Directors received a report which described the Company and contained projections of its future trading prospects. The report makes no recommendations and states that it was "designed to serve as an introduction which may be used, as necessary, as a basis for further enquiry." With the benefit of hindsight it was clearly intended for the eyes of prospective purchasers and confirms that by 1972 the Directors were actively considering a sale. It also provides a snapshot of Suters in 1972.
Suters had the stores in both Slough and Uxbridge but had disposed of its three smaller shops. The Slough store was approximately twice the size of Uxbridge having a total of 69,317 square feet of floor space compared with 34,969 at Uxbridge. The principal selling lines at both stores were clothes for men, women and children, soft furnishings, hardware and electrical goods, toys, prams and sports goods. The Slough store also had a restaurant and hairdressing salon.
The Company developed from the family partnership originally formed between Clarence Suter and his father in 1920 when they were setting out to buy a drapers shop in Slough. In 1924 both Arthur and Frank Suter joined as additional partners and the enlarged firm bought a second and larger shop in Uxbridge. It was incorporated in 1929 and by 1972 the ownership of 190,000 Ordinary Shares was divided between 26 shareholders all of whom were members of the Suter family. Just over 51% of these were held by Directors of the Company.
The policy of the Company since the war had been to accept the sons of each of the four Suter brothers as assistant managers at the age of 25 after a period of relevant training elsewhere. A Directorship followed after 2 years. The four Suter brothers had "jobs for life" in that they were appointed non executive directors when they "retired" at age 65 from executive responsibility and when one of the four brothers died his widow succeeded to the non executive directorship.
In 1972 there were four non executive directors aged between 76 and 65 and six executive directors aged between 43 and 28. The three non executive directors received a salary of £6,500 a year plus use of a company car, staff discount on purchases of 33 1/3%, and a BUPA subscription. Executive directors received salaries of from £5,000 to £2,235 depending on time spent with the Company plus use of car, staff discount, BUPA and also in their case a pension contribution.
In addition to the Directors there were three members of staff regarded as senior - the Company secretary, the Slough store manager and a merchandise manager. They had all been with Suter for more than 12 years. Salaries received were from £3,400 to £2,500.
There were 424 other members of staff of which 302 were at Slough, 99 at Uxbridge and 23 were Buyers for both stores.
David Suter was Managing Director and with Tom Suter and Tony Suter formed an Executive Committee. Responsibilities were divided under the heads "Store Management" (Tony Suter), "Merchandising" (Tom Suter) and "Finance and Control" (David Suter).
Store Management duties were divided between the Store Manager for Slough (Mr Cyril Reed who was the Manager up until the sale in 1978) and the Store Manager for Uxbridge plus a Staff Training unit.
Merchandising was subject to "Merchandise Controllers" for Slough (a "senior employee" Mr Wells) and Uxbridge (Robert Suter) both of whom reported back to Tom Suter plus the 23 Buyers who also reported back direct to Tom Suter. A third limb of Merchandising was "Sales Promotion" under Dick (Richard) Suter which covered Advertising, Public Relations, Market Research and Display.
Finance and Control was divided between "Planning" and the responsibilities of the "Accountant" (a "senior employee - chartered accountant " Mr Peter Bradford).
During the three years 1970, 1971 and 1972 "Turnover" had varied between £1.82m and £1.78m and gross profits between £600,000 and £622,000. Trading profit before tax in each year had varied between 59% and 62%. Both stores were located next to areas in the process of redevelopment. In the case of Slough it was considered that the store would be enhanced by the redevelopment scheme which included a car park and "temperature controlled shopping area." The first phase was opened in the Autumn of 1972 and the entire development by the Autumn of 1974. At Uxbridge 1,600 square feet of sales area had been added in 1972 and a new shop front installed. The adjoining redevelopment scheme which included a car park was due to be completed in 1973.
Future profits were expected to fall from £63,000 (1972) to £37,000 (1973) but then grow to £70,000 (1974), £106,000 (1975), £156,000 (1976) and £159,000 (1977) . At Slough it was estimated that sales would grow gradually until 1974 but increase considerably thereafter following the completion of the redevelopment scheme. At Uxbridge the 1972 improvement were expected to increase sales by 7½% and in 1974 an increase of 36% was expected because of the completion of refitting within the store and the completion of the town centre redevelopment.
The sale of Suters Ltd was to Owen Owen Ltd , a company which already owned 22 stores in Britain plus some more in Canada. It had been approved by the Directors which included John Suter and his sons Richard (Dick) and Robert on the 17th. As a group, the Directors controlled just over 51% of the £1 Ordinary shares but the sale still had to agreed by the other 12 family shareholders which included both Philip who worked at Suters but was not a Director and Wendy-Ann Ensor.
John Suter had given 5,923 shares to each of his children soon after the war retaining 7,847 ordinary shares for himself and Bobbie plus 3,677, 7% and 4,319, 6% cumulative preference shares. The price offered by Owen Owen was about £12 for each ordinary share plus the market valuation of the preference shares.
The day following the board meeting all 340 Suters staff were told that a sale had been agreed "in principle" and those shareholders not on the Board received a letter inviting them to a meeting on the following Friday evening the 21st April. A press statement was issued and a press cutting, which probably comes from a Slough paper, is shown (above left). The Directors had been receiving offers for the company for several years, but the Owen Owen offer was the first one regarded acceptable.
A formal meeting of shareholders was called for mid June to approve the sale. The Owen Owen offer accepted by the Suters Directors on the 17th April 1978 was for £12.10 for each £1 Ordinary share and £1 for each £1 6% First Cumulative Preference Share in the company.
Left the Owen Owen Interim report for shareholders to 29th July 1978. The paragraph with red lines either says "Results of the Suters Ltd stores at Slough and Uxbridge, which were acquired in June, have not been consolidated in the group figures but would not have affected them to any material extent. Integration of these stores into the group trading structure is proceeding".
Suters of Slough headed paper from July 1978. The Directors are Owen Owen directors - J.A.H.Norman (chairman), M.G.Rider, W.Stothart and the Company Secretary was still Peter Bradford who was company secretary under the Suter family directorship.
Suters traded as an "Owen Owen store" for a number of months as this advertisement from October 1978 illustrates, however as the annual report to 27th January 1979 says "from November both stores have traded under the Owen Owen name"
©Richard Ensor - January 2005 and Philip Suter 2014 / 2015 /2016
In the book "High Street Heroes - The story of British Retail in 50 People" by John Timpson the Chairman of the Timpson Group published in 2015. Under "Philip Green" he writes "The leverage deals got progressively bigger and more ambitious. The purchase the following year (1994) year of Owen Owen, the department store chain that also owned Lewis's Department Stores (not to be confused with John Lewis) was more about property than retailing. Some stores were sold to Alders and Debenhams before Philip Green sold his stake (to David Thompson) and moved on to the next deal". More information here about this book
Lower ground floor:
We understand further information about Suters Ltd can be found at the Slough Museum, Slough Berks Find out more Here
©Philip Suter - December 2013
Source of images, unless otherwise stated - Suter family archives