In these days of multi-national companies and faceless conglomerates, Oswald Bailey Ltd. is among the small number of thriving 'household name' businesses to have remained a family concern for three generations.
Now with an annual turnover in excess of £8 million, and more than 120 employees working in 20 shops throughout southern England and the midlands. The company was born in 1906 when Oswald Bailey - the son of a local boot and shoe-maker - opened a small shop in Newtown Row, Birmingham, selling miscellaneous second-hand goods.
An energetic entrepreneur, Oswald soon took his business forward, opening more shops nearby, moving away from junk and into clothing, and earning the right to call himself a 'Government Contractor' by establishing trading contacts with a local army depot. His service connections stood him in good stead when, after the war, a booming trade in army surplus goods led to healthy profits being invested in further premises and, in 1927, to the incorporation of the business with limited liability.
The company's financial strength enabled it not only to weather the world-wide recession of the late '20s and early '30s, but to expand into new areas. In addition to establishing a dominant position in Birmingham's Bullring, Oswald Bailey Ltd opened its first shop in Bournemouth during 1930, with others following in Poole and Southampton. By this time, Oswald's two sons - Frank and John - had become directors of the company and, upon his retirement in 1948, Oswald decided to split the business between them.
Frank, with the success of his diversification into a greater range of new goods, sports and casual wear, industrial clothing, tents and camping equipment, opened new shops in Southampton and Portsmouth, while his brother continued to build on the company's solid base in the midlands.By the time of Oswald's death in 1962, his name had become synonymous with the great outdoors, appearing over the doorways of no fewer than 14 shops.
In 1980, the two parts of the business were brought back together and Frank's son Stephen took over as group director, initiating the use of computerised stock control the following year. Despite being a long-established family firm, Oswald Bailey is continuing to innovate and adapt to the ever changing market place as well as making full use of e-technology to streamline the selling, ordering and distribution of the ever-wider range of goods demanded by today's outdoor enthusiasts.
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