Retail

Old by name but not by nature as 112-year-old family business welcomes its customers back

Edward and Samuel Old, great grandsons of Robert Old and the fourth generation to run the independent family business founded in 1909. Picture: Dorset Biz News.

By Staff Reporter [email protected]

Published: April 16, 2021 | Updated: 17th April 2021

1909.

The year:

  • Louis Blériot became the first man to fly across the English Channel.
  • The national old age pension scheme came into force.
  • Selfridges department store welcomed its first customers in London.

And in Bournemouth a young, enterprising man by the name of Robert Old opened an elegant tailor’s studio.

On April 12, Robert Old – now run by Samuel and Edward Old, great grandsons of the founder and fourth generation – reopened together with tens of thousands of other retailers across England.

For a business that’s seen, and survived, two world wars, The Great Depression and, in the last 70 years, eight recessions, the pandemic has just been the latest challenge.

Sam, 35, said: “We’ve missed out on 32 weeks of normal trading but we feel optimistic about the future and are relishing the chance to open our doors again.”

His younger brother Ed, 30, added: “There are some very positive signs and we know that many of our regular and loyal customers can’t wait to visit us again.”

Robert Old describes itself as an independent luxury retailer ‘providing discerning gentlemen with simply the finest menswear.’

Its well-known Westover Road store, spread over three floors, offers quality men’s garments, tailoring and accessories.

The business is proud of its historic pedigree with 1909 built into its logo.

Apart from stocking some of the most famous designer labels, Robert Old has its own label – the Robert Old Collection.

It also has a made to measure service from Ermenegildo Zegna, as well as in its own tailoring – handcrafted in Italy.

In many respects Robert Old is the most traditional of businesses, one of a dwindling number of individual men’s retailers outside London.

Its ethos is very much customer service and face to face personal shopping.

Yet it was one of the first to fully embrace e-Commerce 17 years ago.

Online retail now accounts for around 25 per cent of turnover.

About half of its online clients are international, including the USA, Australia, Japan and China.

Ed, left, and Sam Old. “We feel optimistic about the future and are relishing the chance to open our doors again,” says Sam.

And Sam and Ed, who were appointed as Directors in 2013 and 2016 respectively, are determined to keep evolving the business.

Sam said: “It’s our strategy to evolve the business by ten per cent every year, bringing in new labels, designs and other innovations.

“Generations of the same family have shopped with us and we have an offering that will cater for any occasion.

“Without doubt, we are a key destination for many who visit Bournemouth and Dorset every year.”

Of course, quality doesn’t come cheap.

Shirts in the Robert Old Collection, handcrafted in England, start from £189 while a brown Shearling leather overcoat, hand tailored in Italy, will set you back £2,389.

But then you are talking about the finest quality materials from some of the most exclusive labels and providers in the world.

Cashmere is a particular passion.

Robert Old holds one of the largest collections of styles and colours to be found anywhere in the world.

Sam, right, and Ed with an 8ply pure Scottish cashmere shawl collar sweater.

The Robert Old cashmere selection, created in the heart of Scotland, includes cardigans, roll necks, vees, crews, polo shirts, and scarves.

For Sam and Ed, who have two older brothers, Tom, 40, and Will, 38, becoming part of the family business was not an automatic rite of passage.

Both attended the University of the West of England – Sam studied Construction and Management while Ed did a degree in Business Studies,

But, said Ed, working with their father, Michael, now 74, on the shopfloor in school holidays and between their university degrees had given them a love for the business.

Sam said: “We just didn’t fall into it but I love the variety.

“No day or week is the same.

“It’s so good to see a satisfied client go out of the doors happy with their purchase.”

The brothers attend two major trade shows – at Florence and Milan in Italy – annually.

In February 2020 orders were committed for the autumn.

Then the pandemic struck.

Ed said: “The rug was pulled from right under us.

“But many of our suppliers were forced to cut production.

“In the end, things have turned out OK but inevitably the supply chain was badly disrupted.”

Robert Old employs a loyal and experienced staff, regarded as an extension to the family.

The businesses ‘elder statesman’ – Michael – is still very much involved in the business.

Sam said: “Our father’s 50-plus years of retail experience has proved invaluable, especially over the last 12 months.”

These are tough times for retail and Bournemouth is, like many towns and resorts, facing challenges on a number of fronts.

The brothers believe its future lies in providing a boutique experience with high quality, individual shops offering excellent customer service.

Sam said: “Bournemouth is at a turning point.

“M&S, Beales and now Debenhams have traditionally been drivers of footfall but they’ve gone or are going.

“But there’s a real opportunity to create a unique retail offering.

“We feel we very much have a part to play in that.

“In the meantime, we can’t wait to welcome our customers back again.”

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