Four successful Norfolk heritage brands
The second part of our heritage brands series focuses on Norfolk businesses that have tapped into their successful history to establish customer loyalty and to generate sales. These firms have often remained in the same family. They have had to adapt over time, while retaining the key values that have sustained them over many generations. Developing these values ensures the ongoing longevity and future of these Norfolk heritage brands.
A local fixture in several East Anglian towns, Roys began in 1895 as a general store in Coltishall, run by the Roy brothers Arnold and Alfred. They quickly branched out into several more locations in Norfolk, and Roys came to be known as ‘Roys of Wroxham’ due to the supplies coming in by train being addressed to the Roy Brothers in Wroxham. They expanded throughout Hoveton and opened a pharmacy, a garage, a tailor, and even provided public utilities such as street lighting and public toilets.
Taking advantage of the large numbers of holidaymakers who came to Cromer and the Broads, in the 1930s they became known as the ‘world’s largest village store’. Following research by Fred Roy in the USA, the family adapted their business model to accommodate the shift towards self-service shopping.
Roys stocks over 1,000 local products from over 100 local suppliers, and it stays involved with the local community by supporting charitable causes. Throughout 2019 in total it raised over £35,000 and it is partnered with the charity Make a Difference Locally (MADL).
Roys joined the Carbon Trust in 2005, and since then it has been committed to saving energy through efficient light tubes, better fridges, and energy optimiser units in its larger stores. It has solar panels on the roofs of 8 of its stores and has over 3,700 in total, installed by Norfolk company Sands Renewables. In 2013, Roys launched an e-commerce website, bringing its range of home, electrical, garden products and more to online shoppers.
Roys to this day remains a family owned independent business. Alfred Roy’s grandchildren Ed and Paul Roy are directors of the company and continue to uphold the expansionist local pride of their predecessors while appealing to a sense of nostalgia. Through continued innovation, Roys is managing to thrive as a heritage brand in Norfolk where other family run businesses have fallen by the wayside.
Start-Rite was born out of a shoemaking business established in 1792 in Norwich by James Smith, making it one of Britain’s oldest shoemakers. The year 1792 features prominently in Start-Rite’s updated logo, demonstrating Smith’s legacy while instilling a timeless sense of adventure with distinctive ‘walking’ serifs. It was the first retailer to place an emphasis on the fit of children’s shoes and protecting their feet, as bespoke made-to-measure boots or shoes were historically restricted to children from well-off families.
Start-Rite attracted attention between 1947 and 1967 with a prominent poster on the London Underground. Along with the iconic Start-Rite twin boy and girl walking down a winding road together, the strapline read ‘Children’s shoes have far to go’. Start-Rite also carried out the first ever nationwide survey of children’s feet in 1943, bringing in multidisciplinary professionals in a study that shaped the industry and challenged existing perceptions of shoemaking for children.
Start-Rite continues to pioneer within its industry. Its commitment to designing shoes that suit developing physiology extends to shoemaker’s lasts, created in over 24,000 different shapes and sizes to suit growing feet. It takes into account the evolving ways in which parents buy shoes for their children, having developed an app in 2018 that enables parents to download a printable grid for their child to stand on; the app measures each foot and then recommends shoes based on the results.
At its premises in Norwich, innovative working practices encourage staff to collaborate in open-plan offices. In 2003, the company outsourced manufacture of its shoes to India and Portugal, necessitating investment in professional video conferencing connection to inspect the quality of products sourced abroad. In a 2018 interview, chief executive Ian Watson commented that increased automation would allow the company to “stop looking in the rear view mirror so much, and focus on the road ahead.” This includes the potential use of algorithms to predict demand for certain shoes in the future. Start-Rite has upheld its traditional founding values while staying on top of the latest research, technology and styles.
Norwich Union / Aviva
The insurance company formerly known as Norwich Union rebranded as Aviva in 2008 having previously merged with CGU to become CGNU in 2000. Norwich Union was established in 1797 as the ‘Norwich Union Society for the Insurance of Houses, Stock and Merchandise from Fire’, and as a collective of legacy companies, Aviva traces its origins back to the Hand in Hand Fire & Life Insurance Society in London.
Hand in Hand was one of Britain’s oldest insurance companies, founded in 1696 after the devastating Great Fire of London in 1666. The insurers at the time employed their own fire brigades to protect their policyholders exclusively, who could be identified by fire insurance marks on the exterior of buildings that can still be seen today.
Norwich Union has kept up with the latest trends throughout its history. When Samuel Bignold was secretary from 1818 to 1875, the company was already receiving electric telegrams from London. Their Norwich headquarters also boasted a single telephone at the beginning of the 1900s. It is deeply linked with Norwich, as is evident by the name 'Norwich Union', but this is reflected in their logo as well. The company used Norwich Cathedral as its logo from 1877 until its rebrand, which still references the original design. Norwich Union’s architecturally imposing premises at Surrey House opened in 1905, making the company a part of the fabric of the city. The awe-inspiring Marble Hall was constructed from marble initially meant for Westminster Cathedral and is still in use today. Aviva keeps an archive documenting its historical companies, forming the most important insurance industry archive in the United Kingdom.
Aviva is one of Norfolk’s biggest employers, with 5,200 staff. It remains involved in the local community – for example, it became the main sponsor for Norwich City Football Club in 2008. Aviva states that it has been focused on customer needs since 1696, ‘learning from the strength of our past and leading the way in providing the best possible service.’ The Aviva website takes inspiration from the company’s rich heritage, stating that ‘Quills and parchment might have been replaced by computers and smartphones, but what we do and why we do it never does.’ This is reflected by one of their core values, ‘Create Legacy’. This global business is at the forefront of progress while remaining rooted in traditional values built up over the centuries.
Department store and retailer Jarrold has been a fixture in Norfolk throughout the generations, but it is only recently that it exclusively focused on retail. The roots of the Jarrold business were in shopkeeping, and it then developed to become a leading printer and publisher during the 19th and 20th centuries. Contrary to popular belief, Jarrold did not start in Norfolk, but was established in 1770 in Woodbridge, Suffolk. Although it would perhaps be more at home in our Suffolk heritage brands article, Jarrold was indisputably tied to Norwich in 1823 when John Jarrold II moved there to set up a bookseller and printer’s shop in London Street.
Jarrold was a prominent name in the printing industry. For instance, Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty was first published by Jarrold in 1878. Jarrold took advantage of the popularity of ‘Poppyland’, a phrase coined by Clement Scott to describe the scenery in Norfolk. They produced poppy-themed guidebooks and postcards for tourists. By the dawn of the 20th century, the business had developed into retail. Branches opened up in Cromer, Great Yarmouth, Sheringham and Lowestoft.
The Jarrold family has been involved in the local community throughout the history of the business, with John Jarrold becoming Lord Mayor of Norwich in 1970, and Peter Jarrold being sheriff in the 1990s. John set up the John Jarrold Trust in 1965, which has raised over £3 million for charities in Norfolk. The trust is currently raising money for three main charities: Big C, the Prince’s Trust and East Anglia Children’s Hospices (EACH). Since its establishment it has distributed over £3 million, mostly to charitable causes in Norwich and Norfolk more widely.
In 2005, Jarrold sold the printing and publishing arms of the business to focus exclusively on property and retail. The management is concentrating its attention on enhancing existing ranges and investing in buildings as part of the Jarrold Group. Like Aviva, Jarrold has a company archive, with over 350 boxes being stored at the Norfolk Record Office.
In February 2020, Norwich City Council agreed to honour Jarrold in recognition of its contribution to the city by granting honorary freedom of the city. As the business turns 250 years old, it is one of the few remaining independently owned department stores in the UK. As stated on their website, ‘Jarrold is a family business that keeps people at its heart’, making it a true Norfolk heritage brand.
To be successful in the modern world where we are becoming increasingly brand conscious and globalised, it is essential for these Norfolk heritage brands to tell a story that is relevant to the 21st century, integrating past and present into their point of view and appealing to consumers. Our final instalment of this series will focus on four Essex heritage brands that have stood the test of time.
Read our previous article on Suffolk heritage brands.