CHORD  Workshop

Retailing, Distribution and Reputation:

Historical Perspectives


Tuesday 23 May 2017
University of Wolverhampton

PROGRAMME

 

ABSTRACTS

 

INFORMATION

 

REGISTRATION (this link will take you to the University of Wolverhampton’s E-Store)

 

MORE ON CHORD:

https://retailhistory.wordpress.com/about/

 

 

 

PROGRAMME

10.00 – 10.30        COFFEE  AND WELCOME

 

10.30 – 11.00        Nicholas Oddy, Glasgow School of Art, UK

British and Guaranteed: Reputational Maintenance in Meccano Ltd

Abstract

 

11.00 – 11.30        Erin Bramwell, Lancaster University, UK

Pharmacy atmosphere’: the impact of commercial spaces on patent medicines and their consumers in early twentieth-century Britain

Abstract

 

11.30 – 12.00        Johanna Wassholm and Anna Sundelin, both Åbo Akademi University, Finland

‘Ruck-sack Russians’ and the Local Community in the Swedish-speaking Regions of Finland, ca 1880–1920: Reception, Practices and Communication

Abstract

 

12.00 – 12.30        Thomas Mollanger, University of Bordeaux, France

Who is to be trusted in the Cognac brandy supply chain? The reconfiguration of retailers’ reputations as a tool to create trust in front of the growing power of producers’ names, first half of the 19th c. – first years of the 20th c.

Abstract

 

12.30 – 13.30        LUNCH

 

13.30 – 14.00        John Porter, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland

Consumer Credit in Ireland 1920-1960

Abstract

 

14.00 – 14.45        Ten-minute ‘work-in progress’ presentations:

            George Campbell Gosling, University of Wolverhampton, UK

            Retail as Fundraising: The NHS as a Case Study

            Abstract

 

            Evana Downes, University of Kent, UK

            Balancing the urban ‘stomach’: the impact of regulation on London’s food vendors, 1558-1666

            Abstract

 

14.45 – 15.30        COFFEE

 

15.30 – 16.00        Bethan Bide, Royal Holloway, University of London

‘The Junior Miss is…?’ How Bentalls built its reputation with young consumers at a time of austerity (1945-1951)

Abstract

 

16.00 – 16.30        Jon Stobart, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK

A world of goods? Products, promotion and place-names in English shops, c.1670-1820

Abstract            


ABSTRACTS

Bethan Bide, Royal Holloway, University of London

‘The Junior Miss is…?’ How Bentalls built its reputation with young consumers at a time of austerity (1945-1951)

In contrast to the prevailingly drab image of post-war London, a survey of shop catalogues, adverts and film footage shows that the city’s department stores were promoting an array of exciting and colourful youth fashions. Although the adoption of teenage fashions from the American market is most commonly associated with the 1950s, the youth or teen market can be clearly seen at the forefront of London fashion retail and promotion from as early as 1945. Retailers were not simply reacting to existing consumer demand for teenage styles, created by designers and media outlets, but actively pioneering youth fashions through promotion as trade publications alerted store buyers and merchandisers to research that suggested the youth market was potentially highly lucrative.1

 

This paper explores how one suburban department store, Bentalls of Kingston-Upon-Thames, used teenage fashions to rebuild its reputation as a modern and fashion-forward establishment in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. Using new archival research into Bentalls extensive photograph albums, press clippings and publicity material, it investigates how the store disseminated information and built new relationships with a young consumer base. Junior Miss fashions (aimed at girls between twelve and sixteen) provided excitement at a time of austerity, and Bentalls placed its newly formed ‘Junior Miss’ fashion department at the heart of its fashionable promotions between 1947 and 1950. This paper traces how it developed its Junior Miss publicity, from the design of the department, which encouraged young shoppers to view the store as a social space, to its Saturday clubs and special events such as fashion shows and garden parties. It investigates how the store used the ‘Miss Junior’ club to inspire consumer loyalty, for both teenagers and their parents. The paper concludes by considering how these activities mark a change in focus for the store’s publicity, away from seeking recognition with middle aged women and instead building a new type of reputation with a younger and newly affluent consumer base.

 

1 Display (September 1947), p. 35.

 

 

Erin Bramwell, Lancaster University, UK

‘Pharmacy atmosphere’: the impact of commercial spaces on patent medicines and their consumers in early twentieth-century Britain

 

Patent medicines are usually discussed in a seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth-century context, giving the impression that scientific advances and the growth of the medical profession made these products ‘extinct’ by the twentieth century. In reality, patent medicine thrived in twentieth-century Britain and could be found in a variety of retail outlets, such as department stores, multiples, corner shops, and chemist shops, amongst others.

 

This paper will begin to unpick the multifaceted nature of patent medicines’ popularity, something that was worth between £20-28 million in 1937. Commercial spaces played a key role in this: these medicines were not purchased in isolation or in spaces devoid of atmosphere, meaning, and character. Indeed, styles of design have symbolic capacity, and can express important messages relating to character, reputation, and worth. When this is considered in a commercial context, the ability of shops’ design to affect the goods for sale, and in turn, the consumer’s experiences of these goods, becomes apparent.

Therefore, this paper will use the interior design of chemist shops as a case study to demonstrate how different retail spaces could enhance and shape consumers’ experiences of patent medicines. In consumer history, spaces such as department stores, goldsmiths, and banks have been investigated, however, the commercial space of the chemist shop and its impact on commodity goods is underexplored. Yet, like department stores, chemist shops’ elaborate interiors had communicative potential. This paper uses Mass Observation, oral history interviews, and photographs as a way of uncovering this communicative potential and consumer experience. It considers consumers’ relationships with different retail environments, framing the consumer as an ‘active agent’ in the geographies of retailing, thereby drawing attention to individual consumer choice and the ways in which this affected the sale of patent medicines. This gives a more nuanced, multi-layered understanding of popular commodities such as patent medicines: indeed, it recognises that goods were sold in environments that could shape and influence their meaning and symbolism.

 

George Campbell Gosling, University of Wolverhampton, UK

Retail as Fundraising: The NHS as a Case Study

 

Despite the visibility of charity shops on today’s high streets, retail finds almost no place within the history of charity in modern Britain. Likewise, despite the familiar sight of volunteer-run fundraising retail within the hospital, such activities have been omitted from the scholarly history of the NHS.

 

Critique and cynicism of the social act of handing over money was a defining feature of the politics that founded the British health service in 1948. Health Minister Aneurin Bevan was adamant that patients should not at any point be asked for money, which amounted to a ban on hospital fundraising – hitherto a vibrant field of community activity – to ensure medical care was understood to be a universal right of citizenship. This meant no more promoting pseudo-insurance hospital contributory schemes, no more calls for donations in the local newspaper, no more flag days, fetes or bazaars, and collecting boxes brought in from waiting rooms, railway stations and public houses up and down the country. Yet at the same time, he wanted to see the voluntarist tradition maintained in the form of linen guilds, libraries and canteens.

 

Once the dust had settled on the new service, however, leagues of hospital friends sprung up to restore much of the earlier volunteering and fundraising activity, even if without the same sense of urgency. Yet the pronouncements of Bevan’s six years as Health Minister have overshadowed the realities of the following 66 years that have shaped the place of charity in the academic understanding of the NHS.

 

This paper will highlight the place of retail activities identified within new research into the continuance of traditions of hospital charity under the NHS. These familiar yet under-researched activities ranged from ‘sweet and cigarette trolleys’ for the sales on the wards, to established hospital shops and canteens, to fundraising sales in the community in order to raise funds for the hospital. After noting the gender and generational characteristics of the volunteers who have always been central, whether as sellers or as producers of goods (usually knitted) for sale, this paper will conclude with some thoughts on where such endeavours might sit both within the history of the NHS and the wider history of retail.

 

 

Evana Downes, University of Kent, UK

Balancing the urban ‘stomach’: the impact of regulation on London’s food vendors, 1558-1666

 

This paper will discuss a first year PhD work-in-progress – ‘Balancing the urban ‘stomach’: the impact of regulation on London’s food vendors, 1558-1666.’ It will focus on breaking the project into three main components, outlining how each may be conceptually linked to investigate how regulation reflected and affected the working lives of early modern victuallers. The paper will begin by outlining its first, foundational theme – the political and organic body in the early modern city. It will discuss the interplay between organic political analogy and pre-modern medicine, arguing that an understanding of both topics (and the interactions between them) can help historians determine how public health laws were conceptualised and structured. The paper will then progress to its second theme – public health. It will argue that the health of urban bodies was of the utmost concern to municipal authorities during the early modern period, explaining how pre-modern ‘health’ encapsulated the moral and the physical wellbeing of citizens. Pre-modern public health regulations, then, were designed to limit the corruption of both body and of soul, ensuring the continued stability of city’s political and organic bodies. Finally, the paper will address the third topic – food vending regulations. It will argue that food vendors occupied a central role in urban hierarchies, and were considered capable of negatively impacting the health of other civic members, through their presence, reputation, wares, or practices. Analyses of food vending regulations therefore allow historians not only to glean insight into contemporary concepts of public health, but to determine how these ideas impacted the experiences of victuallers as a diverse occupational group.

 

 

Thomas Mollanger, University of Bordeaux, France

Who is to be trusted in the Cognac brandy supply chain? The reconfiguration of retailers’ reputations as a tool to create trust in front of the growing power of producers’ names, first half of the 19th c. – first years of the 20th c.

 

The aim of this talk is to analyze the marketing strategies of brandy retailers over the long run and to understand how they have tried to resist in front of the growing power of producers’ names.

 

During all the nineteenth century, alcoholic beverages’ retailers are accused of poisoning the public with mixtures they were able to create by themselves in their own cellars. The laws on quality can be considered as the first attempt to discipline the retailers and limit their latitude of action. However, they were still authorized to sell the products under their own brands and to bottle by themselves alcoholic beverages they received. Until the establishment of trademarks laws which favor producers in the supply chain, the coordination between the different actors of the supply chain relied on personal reputations and systems of ‘clienteles’ (personal networks). With the highlighting of producers’ names, the consumers rely no more on the personal reputations of retailers but transfer the device of trust on the producers’ names. The establishment of trademark laws, in the context of what historians have called ‘first globalization’ (1850-1914) characterized by the growing regulation of the markets and the establishment of new ‘rules of exchange’, has been favorable to producers. With the growing regulation of the markets (with laws on quality, on intellectual property rights), the personal reputations of retailers, which have been the main coordination tool to create trust among consumers, were no more efficient. The direct link that producers try to establish with consumers weaken the power of retailers’ reputations to create trust among consumers.

 

My study mainly considers the nineteenth century and the British case. In this paper I will try to show how the commercial strategies of retailers have been reconfigured after the establishment of new rules of exchange which change the balance of power in the supply chain. Producers take into their hands functions which were once of the responsibility of retailers (branding, retail price fixing, bottling, advertising). The presentation will introduce the shrinking of retailers’ activities and enhance methodological problems. Who were the retailers who sold Cognac? How did they try to create trust among consumers before establishment of trademark laws? To what extent the establishment of trademark laws, which is a part of the growing regulation of the market in the context of globalization during the second half of the nineteenth century, has reconfigured the issue of trust and  has challenged the power of retailers’ reputations as a device to create trust among consumers ? How did retailers react in front of the growing power of producers’ reputations to create trust (by the direct link producers were now able to establish with final consumers, by means of packaging and advertising for example)?

 

In order to study these questions, I have used a wide variety of sources. First, thanks to a public/private funding, I have used the archives of Cognac brandy firms (mainly the archives of Hennessy, nearly 6km of archives, from 1765 to the beginning of the twentieth century). In order to recompose the supply chain of Cognac brandy, I have also used wines and brandy importers’ archives (London Metropolitan Archives, New-York Public Library). I also used the general press (United Kingdom, United States, Australia) of the time and, most important, the press of the English wholesalers and retailers of the second half of the nineteenth century, mainly the Ridley & Co.’s Monthly Wine and Spirit Trade Circular which was the mouthpiece of the wholesalers’ community, and the Wine Trade Review which reflect the commercial strategies and concerns of the retailers. I also used legal archives in order to understand how the new laws of the second half of the nineteenth century were perceived and used, and on which basis, in the courts, producers prosecute retailers.

 

Nicholas Oddy, Glasgow School of Art, UK

British and Guaranteed: Reputational Maintenance in Meccano Ltd’

 

In May1920 the Liverpool based toy manufacturer, Meccano Ltd, introduced its ‘Hornby Clockwork Train’, a product that was to develop into a major element of the company’s activities; the brand is still significant today. The Hornby Train was not intended to be the beginning of a model railway system, it was originally designed as a constructional outfit, similar to a Meccano set; but, at the last minute, the company chose to launch it as a made-up model. The demands of a constructional outfit are very different from a made-up toy train. The play-value in the former is in building the outfit, in the latter it is running the train, which supposes load hauling and reliability. For this, the loco’s mechanism was severely deficient.

 

Meccano advertised their trademark as a ‘guarantee of quality and workmanship’, their customers took them at their word; a flood of returns were received by the company. A greatly improved model was hastily introduced in Spring 1921, but sales of the original had been so substantial that returns of these continued. In early 1922, in the context of an expanding range of new Hornby models and a steady stream of returns the Company took action to both maintain its reputation and save itself from having to provide free repairs to products that were now at least a year old. It introduced a formal guarantee.

 

The guarantee covered the 60 days following purchase. This allowed the Company to charge customers for repairs made to items returned after this time. However it did nothing to stem the flow of returns, particularly of the 1920-21 product, which, as components ran out, the company felt obliged to rebuild using a complicated mix of the returned and current. The ‘Service Department’ grew exponentially; at its height in the 1950s it processed about 2000 returns a week. Remarkably, it outlived the manufacture of the products it serviced by some five years.

 

In correspondence with Richard Lines, who was closely involved with the building of the Triang Railways brand that consumed Hornby in 1964-5, his comment was direct:

1)   If you advertise a guarantee you will get plenty of people taking advantage of it.

2)   If you don’t advertise a guarantee you will save yourself a lot of trouble and some money.

3)   If you offer “rebuilds” you are doomed!

In this analysis Meccano were doomed from an early date. This paper sets out to consider the economics of the willingness to offer repairs, the guarantee and its significance to reputation and brand identity. It sees Meccano as providing a particularly good example of reactive product management in the context of advanced advertising and branding techniques.

 

John Porter, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland

Consumer Credit in Ireland 1920-1960

 

Following the Financial Crisis of 2008 much blame was attached to the increase in consumer credit in Ireland, as well as other nations. The advance in consumer credit was blamed as a cause of the crisis, but there was also a clear moral culpability placed on consumers, especially poorer consumers, for assuming debts that they could not afford. In Ireland this blame was more profound because of the extent of the crisis and a widely accepted belief that consumer credit was a novel phenomenon for Irish society. Yet, in preceding decades the majority of Irish consumers were dependent on credit in order to make basic daily purchases as well as larger ones.

 

This paper proposes to explore consumer credit in Ireland in the years 1920 to 1960; from the foundation of the Irish Free State to expansion of the Irish economy in the 1960s. Access to different forms of consumer credit was, of course, mediated according to class, income, and regional divides, and for this reason, the paper will explore three examples from different segments of the Irish population. First, it will consider small farmers and the credit system that was available to them. Many rural parts of Ireland functioned practically as a cashless economy through most of the year and farmers depended on the extension of credit from local shopkeepers to survive. Second, the paper will discuss poorer urban consumers and credit facilities open to them, such as pawn broking and money lenders. Lastly, the paper will discuss middle and upper class urban consumers and credit extended in department stores. It will use the particular case study of one department store, McBirneys in Dublin, which recorded the reasoning behind credit decisions. The paper will suggest that in all cases the most important factor in credit decisions was perceived reputation. The reputation of the credit candidate may have even trumped their ability to repay the loan in some decisions.

 

 

Jon Stobart, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK

A world of goods? Products, promotion and place-names in English shops, c.1670-1820

 

Eighteenth-century consumption is often characterised in terms of an expanding world of goods, but we rarely stop to think what this actually means: what world or worlds were represented in the things available to shoppers and how did this change over the course of the eighteenth century as the range and variety of products expanded? Some have seen a growing role for empire in shaping the provision of goods and the consciousness of consumers, especially in terms of groceries; others have argued for that Europe, and especially Italy and France, were predominant in the minds of retailers and their customers. In this paper, I want to build on these studies by exploring the place names with which a wide range of groceries and textiles were labelled in stock lists and newspaper advertisements. My concern is to examine the varied meanings that these place names carried: sometimes indicating provenance, but often overlaying this with messages about the material qualities of the products. Rather than mapping actual patterns of supply, therefore, the analysis opens up the mental geographies which helped shopkeepers and consumers to comprehend the world of goods available to them. In doing so, it provides important insights into England’s changing position in the eighteenth-century world.

 

Johanna Wassholm, Åbo Akademi University, Finland and Anna Sundelin, Åbo Akademi University, Finland

‘Ruck-sack Russians’ and the Local Community in the Swedish-speaking Regions of Finland, ca 1880–1920: Reception, Practices and Communication

 

International research has indicated that ethnic minorities played an important role in itinerary trade in 19th century Europe. This was also the case in the Grand Duchy of Finland, where among others East Carelians, Russians, Jews and Tatars traded on town markets and on the sparsely populated countryside.

 

This article examines the cultural encounters between East Carelian itinerary traders ("Ruck-sack Russians") and the sedentary local communities. The focus lies on three themes: 1) the reception of the itinerant traders by the local community, 2) the trading practices, and 3) language and communication – including the role of the itinerant traders for spreading news and rumours.

 

The analysis is based on ethnographic material on the East Carelian itinerary trade in the archives of the Department of Ethnology at Åbo Akademi University, newspaper articles in the Finnish National Library's digital collections and depictions of itinerary traders in popular literature.

 

The study shows that the previously under-studied itinerary small trade played an important role as an arena for cultural encounters in 19th century Finland. It will nuance the tendency in previous research to depict Finland as ethnically more homogenous than it was in reality – a result of the national paradigm methodological nationalism in history writing. It will also shed light on the importance of itinerary trade for the growing consumption of the lower social classes in19th century Finland.

 

In a broader context, the results will give a better understanding of the relations between trading ethnic minorities and local communities, and of the implications that the inclusion into the multiethnic Russian Empire had for small trade in the Grand Duchy of Finland. The study paves the way for further studies on ethnic minorities engaged in itinerary trade, not only in Finland where e.g. Jews and Tatars were active, but also elsewhere in Europe.  It can also be used to place questions of ethnicity, mobility and small trade in contemporary society into a historical context.

 

INFORMATION AND REGISTRATION

The workshop will be held in Room MH108-9, on the first floor of the Mary Seacole (MH) Building, City Campus, University of Wolverhampton.

 

The Mary Seacole (MH) Building is located on City Campus Molineux (North), a short (10/15 minutes) walk from Wolverhampton’s bus and train stations.

 

For maps and directions, please see:

http://www.wlv.ac.uk/about-us/contacts-and-maps/all-maps-and-directions/map-and-directions-for-city-campus-wolverhampton/

 

The fee is £ 20

 

To register, please complete the registration form available here (The link will take you to the University of Wolverhampton’s E-store)

 

For further information, please e-mail Laura Ugolini at: l.ugolini@wlv.ac.uk

 

Details of other CHORD workshops and events, including past events, can be found here: http://home.wlv.ac.uk/~in6086/chord.htm

 

 

Last updated: March 2017