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A History of Banks Ltd.


Banks Ltd. now has now seen over 60 years of successful retailing in Birmingham.

The story of Banks is perhaps the quintessential Brtish one for an independent family-run store - robust and infinitly adaptable but founded and based on the unchanging principles of outstanding customer service.

The following extracts, taken from an article that appeared in the Birmingham Evening Mail, in our 50th Anniversary year of 2004, tell the encapsulated history of this "highly respected retail business" perfectly:


The company has its origins in 1954, when husband and wife team Thelma and Brian Banks started their first shop, a DIY store, in Park Road, Aston.

Mrs Banks well recalls that after a lot of hard work the shop did very well, but Brian came home one day very distressed, having received a Compulsory Purchase Order from Birmingham City Council for the premises, which were going to be demolished so that the Aston Expressway could be constructed.

Never beaten, Mr & Mrs Banks decided to start again. The year was 1959.

...At this point Mrs Banks’s brother John Power, who had been a top apprentice at ICI, joined and became manager of the DIY shop, having completed his National Service in the RAF.

Meanwhile, premises at 518 Slade Road came onto the market. “My family had lived in nearby Marsh Lane for more than 40 years and I asked them what other shop on the Green was needed,” said Mrs Banks. “They said a shoe shop, so a shoe shop was started and we lived in the accommodation above. By this time I had three small children, so I could not work in the shop full-time.

With the Banks' first shoe store launched - in the very same location in Stockland Green that our stores still operate today - in no time at all, the family began to consider the broader neighbourhood surrounding their new venture. In doing so they realised that there was something no-one else was supplying in the area. In looking to fulfil that need they took the first steps into the line of business that we are renowned for today...
 

1963 pic of Slade Road Shop


“There were around 20 shoe shops in Erdington’s High Street, so I had quite a lot of competition. I decided that I must sell shoes for the wide foot and also dancing shoes. I had always been interested in dancing, having been taught when I was young.”

Mrs Banks remembers well that there was another shoe shop not far away in Slade Road, owned by a market trader who also had a number of other shops. “He gave me six months to survive, but he has been gone many years and we are still there.”

Mr & Mrs Banks also opened a shop in Lozells Road, Aston, where they sold good quality clothing at low prices for all the family. This also did very well, but once again they were hit by a Compulsory Purchase Order from the council – this time Six Ways was about to be redeveloped.

Beginning at this Aston location, the Banks always tried to adapt to the current clothing trends...

Banks were in the forefront of men’s fashions, offering the “Mod” look and the “Teddy Boy” look, but slowly these trends died and the business reverted to the mainstream of menswear.

The formal B.J.E. Banks (Outfitters) Ltd. name was incorporated on 19 June 1964.

The business was always on the lookout to expand into new properties and explore different aspects of retail particularly around this time.


“Over the years different shops became available and, as we had done so well with the family clothing, we decided to open a drapery shop which sold ladies’ wear [this was located at 512 Slade Road], including clothes for the bigger lady and a men’s outfitters,” Mrs Banks continued.

“We also sold school wear for many schools and were well-known for our down-to-earth prices. A gentlemen’s outfitters came up for sale [in 1972] at Walsall Road, Great Barr which was also well-known for its school wear, so we bought it. This business went very well, but there was talk of changes to Walsall Road, so we decided not to renew the lease [this was in October 1992].

“We have altered our priorities over the years. We sold school wear for many years, but eventually the multiples began to sell more and more of these items, so we decided we would concentrate on menswear as a speciality.”

Mrs Banks explained that while she has always believed in advertising, her husband and brother were not so keen. “However, I think that as more and more customers came to the shop as a result of advertising, they were ultimately convinced that it did pay. Our relationship over the years with the Birmingham Evening Mail has always been first class and I must say a big thank you to them.”


By the end of the '60s Banks' run on Slade Road extended to the majority of stores between 510 and 524 on Slade Road. (All these shop fronts were orginally Edwardian residential properties. 516, previously a branch of the shoe repairer chain Payne's, had already become Mens' Shoes; whilst the new menswear oufitters mentioned by Mrs. Banks was the former AJ Fields' furniture shop at 522/24. The latter would eventually become Banks' mainstay Big and Tall store.) Each store featured signage in the well-known red on white livery.

Expansion, along with a new public affluence and enhanced mobility, did, occasionally, bring the odd difficulty.


“With the opening of the new motorways we had quite a few robberies. Criminals were driving up and down the M1, M6, etc., with their lorries, doing the robberies and then escaping back along the motorways. We had quite a few problems at this time.”

1971 Shop Pic


And as the clothing stores grew an outlet was needed to sell off excess stock at discounted rates. Enter a certain Mr Pants - still recalled with fondness by many Brummies of a certain age.

“We also had a flourishing market stall in the Newtown shopping centre, called Mr Pants, run by one of our employees who was always known himself as ‘Mr Pants.’ His real name was Dennis and we are sure he will be remembered by many of our customers in the Aston area and by stallholders. Sadly, Dennis passed away several years ago and is very much missed as he was a great character.

In essence the Mr Pants stall was a forerunner of our current discount store BigTall4Less.

1978 Banks' shop runThe early 1980's was something of a time of re-focus for Banks' stores on Slade Road. 514 saw its use change away from the Banks' brand (its interior layout had proved impractical), along with 510 which became Plaza Cars taxi service in 1985. Both of these new operations were instead run by Mr and Mrs B's son Colin. (Plaza Travel is a thriving business, based in the same location, to this day.) As the decade wore on the Banks' core lines moved more and more away from regular sized menswear and into the arena which they are known for today...



The Big and Tall Menswear Era, Catalogues and the Move on to the Web

“We have gone from strength to strength since we decided to specialise in clothes for the big and tall man,” said Mrs Banks. “John has produced many mail order catalogues over the past few years and these have proved very successful.

...

“In 1990 Ian Oliver, a young lad of 16, came to us on work experience from school, after which he joined us as a Saturday lad and then went on to full-time further education at Sutton Coldfield College on a business course.

“During this time Ian continued to work for us on Saturdays and on leaving college in 1994 [sic; this was actually 1993] he was looking for permanent employment.

“Unsure of the direction he wanted to take, Ian tried an alternative job for a short while, but returned to Banks for inspiration in which career to follow. He soon found out what he wanted to do with his college experience and began to produce the first all colour brochure for Banks’ Big and Tall Men’s Wear. Ian is now a director of the company.”

From this first brochure, sent out in July 1994; our Mail Order Department has continued apace ever since.

In 1998 Banks Big and Tall made the move on to the World Wide Web. The site became an ecommerce one in 2001. (The drapery store at 512 finally closed its doors to become a warehouse for the burgeoning online menswear trade around this time.)


“We are now on the internet and this has meant more customers, some of whom come from all over the world.

Another crucial piece of the jigsaw came in 2003 when John purchased the former tile shop at 520 Slade Road; after an extended period of re-developement it became the suit and extra tall department to the main store that it is today.

The rest, as they say, is history...


The Mail concludes its tribute by paying homage to some of the other
“wonderful, loyal staff,” both past and present, who have made an important contribution to the company over many years. Most are still with the firm to this day, whilst a few have retired or moved on.


Others who have played a considerable role in the company’s success include mail order manager James, who joined as a 15 year-old YTS lad at the Great Barr branch and has been with the company for 18 years.

Chris and Elaine, also both from Great Barr, have 30 years and 21 years service respectively, while Susan, manageress of menswear (26 years)[and] men’s shoes manageress Rhonda (14 years)... are also long-serving and valued employees.

All of the above named are still with the company and have now added another dozen years of service to those figures! Rhonda continues to head a flourishing department now very much to the fore of the company.

The final quotes from Mrs Banks in the article explain the philosophy that we have always used in selecting our staff and the priorities we hold dear in building a business within a community: 

“Whilst interviewing a young person for a job I asked her who was the most important person in the shop – she answered ‘you’! I replied ‘no, the most important person is the customer. That has been our philosophy all our lives.

“We have enjoyed our time building up the business. It has been hard work and we have had our ups and downs, but we are still growing strongly.

“One of the saddest things over the years has been the big reduction in the number of British firms we can deal with. I remember many that made both shoes and clothing that are no longer with us.

“We do, however, have many firms who support us and have done so over the years. We thank them for our mutual business growth.

“Our last thank you must be to the customers who have supported us all these years. From that little child buying her first dancing shoes and the elegant, dedicated ballroom dancer, to the big man buying his shoes or clothes, we are very grateful to them.”