This Spotlight feature is somewhat of a 2-in-1 as we spoke to Andrew May, owner of both WJ Bennett and Eddie Franks on the high street in Rye. With WJ Bennett's history spanning back over 100 years, this was a very interesting chat indeed! Take a look...
1. Could you give us a quick description of the two shops?
WJ Bennett is an independent men’s clothes shop specialising in formal and casual menswear. Eddie Franks is a men’s apparel shop specialising in casual, urban streetwear.
2. When were they both founded?
WJ Bennett was originally founded in 1919 and we opened Eddie Franks in 2017.
3. So, what's your background? How did it lead you to where you are now?
WJ Bennett was first opened by Mr Bennett back in 1919. In fact, there had been a menswear shop on the same site even before then – Delves.
Mr Bennett ran the shop until 1950 and when he died, he didn’t have family to pass it on to. Mr Padgham bought the shop from Mr Bennett’s estate and when my dad – Frank May - left school he joined the shop to work alongside Mr Padgham.
When Mr Padgham retired, my dad and John Pope bought the business. When John retired, I joined the business to work alongside my dad – I’d have been around 14 years old at the time.
My Dad retired eight years ago, and I now run the two businesses alongside my wife Hayley, who does our bookkeeping, and we have a team of two full-time and two-part staff.
4. What do you feel makes your business unique?
Certainly, with WJ Bennett we try and stock things that are a little bit different, clothing that you can’t get elsewhere. A lot of our brands are European, some made in England. I think I’ve probably been responsible for introducing more lines that are a little bit out of the ordinary – I enjoy the buying process. I do the buying and merchandising for both stores.
With Eddie Franks, we stock some well-known brands – some of which have a particular following – Hey Dude shoes for example. We also sell online on our Eddie Franks website, but footfall remains all-important.
In terms of our customers - for both stores, we have regulars who are locals as well as regulars who are repeat visitors to the town and the area, and then we have customers who pop in on their weekends or holidays to the town – both from around the UK and our overseas tourists.
5. What are your values as a business?
We’ve always sold quality products - I hope with good customer service too.
6. What are your plans for your business in 2023? What areas are you going to focus on?
I think it’s business as usual for the time being. We’re concentrating on what we do well and keeping things running smoothly.
In this industry we’re always working a year ahead – so we’re looking at spring/summer ’24 lines now, and we’re already taking deliveries of our autumn/winter stock.
7. What challenges is your business tackling this year?
As with everyone – running costs have gone up significantly. Stock prices have gone up. It’s the same story for all businesses, I think. At the moment the increased cost of living hasn’t massively affected footfall although we are conscious of customers being a little more cautious.
8. What are you most proud of in your business?
Keeping a business that’s over 100 years old going – and going well. The last year was a
very good year for us, so we’ll work hard on keeping going.
9. If there was one piece of advice you wish you’d had been given when you took on your business all those years ago, what would it be?
Hard work pays off! We’re open seven days a week. I’m here 5 or 6 days a week. The shop opens at 9am – we keep at it!
10. What's the biggest change you've seen to your business or your business sector since you started?
Technology has changed – sometimes for the good, although not always. It’s great when it works, but when it doesn’t you’re in a spot of bother!
While it’s possible to source stock online, I think it will never replace the importance of trade shows for clothing – you have to see things, feel things, and try things on to be sure of the quality, so I still visit trade shows in London and around the UK, there’s a nice one in Florence too – but I haven’t made it to that one for a while!
Follow us on Instagram to watch the quick-fire question Reel with Andrew! Always a bit of fun.