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