Barkers to invest £3.5m in revamp of stores

Family matters:  From left, Guy Barker, Sally Chapman, Anne Smirthwaite, Ian Barker, and managing director Charles Barker.
Family matters: From left, Guy Barker, Sally Chapman, Anne Smirthwaite, Ian Barker, and managing director Charles Barker.
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A family-run department store is investing £3.5m into its outlets, and creating up to 20 jobs, to ensure they remain key shopping destinations for future generations.

Barkers, which has been in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, for more than a century, is spending the bulk of the money increasing the size of its Yafforth Road furnishing store by a third, to create more room for contemporary furniture, homeware and accessories.

Another £500,000 will be spent revamping its 180-seater first floor restaurant and fashion floor at its flagship High Street department store, helping keep pace with customers’ changing expectations.

The expansion, which was originally planned for 2008, but got put on hold due to the banking crisis, reflects the growing confidence in the economy, said managing director Charles Barker.

Despite the rise of online shopping, Mr Barker said people would still go out shopping as long as it was an “attractive proposition” and “people can come and have a nice lunch and just have a nice time and buy things in the process”.

They use their website now just for marketing after finding transactions were complicated and expensive and that people still wanted to get a physical feel of what they were going to buy.

He said: “We ran a transactional website for around four years but never made any money out of it and it cost us quite a lot of money to run it. We found in the end that people would look at the website then ring up and inquire about something and then come through.

“That is one of the reasons we have invested in making the store a destination and that seems to be working as we draw customers from all over Yorkshire, the North East, and even from down South.

“When people go out shopping they like to see new things and that’s something we are very aware of .

“There’s always someone who will say they liked it the way it was, but by and large people like to see new things, because the world is changing all the time and we don’t want to stand still.”

Mr Barker agrees with Andy Street, managing director of John Lewis’s assertion that predictions of the death of the High Street are premature: “He said it was absolute rubbish and people like to go out shopping, they don’t want to sit in front of their computers. That’s the reason why we have three cafes, two in the High Street store and the other in the furniture store.

“We have invested quite a lot to make them really good and give people a pleasurable shopping experience. A lot of people like to come to Northallerton for the day, the parking is good and there are some lovely shops there.”

He said the family firm was in the fortunate position of having the next generation to take it on in the shape of 26-year-old son Guy, nephew Ian Barker and niece Sally Chapman.

“An awful lot” of family firms had fallen by the wayside “very often because there is no interest from the future generations”, he said. “If someone is not interested in it, it soon shows and customers realise.”

The £500,000 revamp, which begins this spring, will see new flooring, lighting, counters, chairs and entrance, with an area selling luxury gift food, biscuits and chocolates. The revamped restaurant will also have a conservatory with sofas and an area that can be sectioned off for special events.

Work on the £3m project at Yafforth Road will start in May and should be complete by Christmas.

From small beginnings...

The history of Barkers dates back to 1882 when young William Barker decided he didn’t want to go into farming.

“His father took him into town and got him an apprenticeship working in a small shop,” said Charles Barker. “Eventually he became a partner in the business and the next stage was he bought the other people out.”

Mr Barker, who is now in his early 60s, says he doesn’t want to hold the next generation back.

“I am quite conscious I am going to start doing less,” he said. “I couldn’t bear the thought that I was one of those old ones that hold the younger generation back – I have seen it happen not only in retail, but in farming and numerous other businesses.”