Miranda Jessop steps back in time with Nick Parkin, Director of Johnsons Shoes.
Just before the new school term starts, like many other parents in Twickenham, you'll be sure to find me in Johnsons Shoes as my three children take turns on the measuring stool and are each expertly fitted with a pair of shiny new shoes. It goes without saying that Johnsons also has a fantastic selection of men's and ladies' shoes but I am not here today to have my feet sized up; I am meeting with Director, Nick Parkin to find out more about the history of this successful family business which was started by his grandfather in 1952.
Percy Cyril Parkin was born in 1906 and lived most of his adult life in Hampton. After the war, Percy worked as a travelling salesman, dealing in linens and haberdashery. In 1947 he bought a drapery business in Sunbury from a lady called Ada Johnson. "My grandfather moved the shop to Teddington a year later but he always kept the name Johnsons as he didn't want to miss out on the rationing coupons," explains Nick. At the same time, Percy continued on the road as a salesman until, one day, he was offered some shoes which he started selling from the back of his car. Such was the demand, in 1952 Percy decided to open a specialist shop, Johnsons Shoes, two doors down from his drapery shop in Teddington. "There really wasn't anywhere else in the area selling quality shoes with fittings and the shop started to do very well." A year later, in 1953, he opened a second shoe shop, this time in Twickenham. The original site was at 12 Heath Road, moving to the current premises in King Street Parade in 1961. Percy sold the drapery business in 1955, before opening yet more shoe shops in East Sheen and Walton-on-Thames in 1958.
After Percy Parkin died of pancreatitis in 1965, his son Graham took over as Managing Director and today there are fourteen shops with five of the branches trading under the name of Bowleys Fine Shoes. Two of Graham's children, Nick and Vanessa, joined the business in the late 1990s and are now directors of the company. At the age of 77, Graham is still the Managing Director and regularly works a three day week. The company has gone from strength to strength winning an award in February 2015 for Family Independent Footwear Retailer of the Year. After an electrical fire devastated Richmond's Bowleys branch earlier this year, the shop has been completely refurbished and recently reopened. "We were so touched by the loyalty of the local community. We temporarily relocated our staff to our other shops and many of our regular Richmond customers were spotted in nearby branches," says Nick.
Before I leave, Nick shows me a copy of a letter that his grandfather sent to customers in October 1958, informing them of the new shop opening in Walton-on-Thames. The letter reads, 'As we are now approaching Christmas, we would like to draw your attention to our attractive selection of slippers, which, of course, can solve many a 'what shall I give?' problem. We would also mention that we have an extensive range of Morlands Bootees for those frosty and snowy days..... We are confident that you will receive personal attention at our new branch, and we trust we may have the privilege of attending to your footwear requirements and problems in the forthcoming years.'
Times may have changed a great deal since those early days but the ethos of the company still remains the same. "We will always be a family business run for your family," says Nick. And he's absolutely right. Next time I'm back in Johnsons, it will most probably be with my entire family in tow.
37-39 King Street Parade
020 8892 9012