Monday, 27 September 2021

Browns to close after a quarter century trading

A FURNITURE shop in Henley is to cease trading after 25 years.

Browns of Henley, in Duke Street, is currently selling off its merchandise and will shut at the end of February.

Tim Barber, who bought the business three years ago, blamed a fall in sales partly caused by competition from the internet.

He said: “In the last five years the whole nature of retailing has changed and for whatever reason I have become aware not enough people in Henley are now prepared to spend the levels required to sustain a business like this.”

He said hoped to continue the Browns name and would look for alternative premises in the area.

Mr Barber, 57, from Harpenden, had supplied furniture to the store for about 14 years before taking it over from Peter and Catherine Brown, who had run it for 22 years before selling up in 2011 to spend more time with their family.

He said: “Peter made no secret of the fact his turnover fell in the last two years he was here but when we were negotiating it was still at a level where we could still make a go of it.”

Since then trade had continued to fall. Mr Barber said: “People are doing a lot of shopping around and I’m pleased to say we have a percentage of loyal punters.

“However, they tend to be the 55 to 70-year-olds who want a level of service that this business has always provided and continues to provide and, unfortunately, there are not enough of them.”

The business is selling off about £330,000 worth of stock of classical and traditional furniture, including sofas, chairs, display cabinets, bookcases, dressers, occasional furniture, bed frames and bedroom furniture, pictures, lamps and mirrors.

On Wednesday and Thursday invited customers were able to look around the store and from today (Friday) the sale will be open to the general public until November 1.

The shop will then trade as normal until it closes.

Mr Barber said that he and his wife Wendy, who is also a director of the company, had made the business their own.

“We have made an effort to attract a younger element,” he said. “We have brought in slightly more modern designs and we have diversified so we’ve got a lot more lighting, pictures and mirrors.”

Some items Mr Brown would never have had on the shop floor, he said.

Mr Barber is the third generation of his family to be in the furniture trade.

He first met Mr Brown when he came to the shop and sold him a grandfather clock with an image of Henley on it.

He said: “I started in retail and then went on the road as a sales representative. I worked for a small upholstery company and then spent three-and-a-half years with G Plan upholstery, of High Wycombe, before deciding to become an agent.”

Town centre manager Peter McConnell said: “It’s always incredibly disappointing when a long-established Henley business closes but we have seen changes in the market place.”

He said that with the modern trend for interior design Browns was no longer offering what people wanted.

Mr McConnell said: “He’s not just competing with shops locally, he’s competing with John Lewis and Ikea and that’s really, really difficult for a high street business.”

He said the Browns shop was in a prime location and he didn’t think there would an issue in re-letting it, although it might take months to achieve.

“I don’t imagine we would see an independent retailer in there,” he said. “I imagine we would see a small regional chain or a national moving in there.

“It’s really sad that the shop is closing but it creates an opportunity. Unfortunately, it’s just part of the natural churn of the high street.”

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