The 101-year-old store adapting for modern age
By Heather Wood
Retail sales are on a continued decline, but that hasn’t dimmed the outlook at The English Sports Shop. The clothing store has weathered many a storm since Wilbur and Aubrey Lightbourn opened it on Queen Street in 1918 selling sporting equipment, sportswear and their famed Bermuda shorts.
Inventory changed when new owners moved the store to its current location on Front Street in 1954. An ongoing partnership with famed Savile Row suit-makers Alexandre of London brought made-to-measure and a suit department.
By the 1960s the shop also stocked leading brands from North America and Europe, was producing its own private label collections and had branches across the island.
The company believes it’s the little details that set TESS apart: consistent customer service, diversified stock and a tradition of excellence.
“It’s a carefully balanced combination of sticking to our roots while allowing a measured amount of change and innovation in our product,” Julia Hamshere Currelly, fashion director at TESS Group, said.
“Our service ethic keeps our clients coming back, and we are always looking for ways to improve that are driven by customer demands and not just the usual, ‘let’s renovate and have a new look’.”
However, the reality is that Bermuda’s retail sales are on a downward trend, having fallen for 11 consecutive months through January in inflation-adjusted terms. One of the issues for most retailers is that the internet has opened up competition from overseas.
It’s required a change in the way The English Sports Shop goes about its business.
“The impact of online shopping on the business has been huge across the globe,” Ms Hamshere Currelly said. “For Bermuda, this impact is especially acute as our customer base is so limited.
“Even a small number of our clients moving their purchasing online and sending their dollars overseas and out of our economy has an impact, not only on the volume of our business, but also on the economy of the entire island as those dollars stop circulating here.”
Compounding the problem has been the fall in the number of guest workers. With fewer people buying local goods, stores bring in less inventory which leads to less selection for customers.
“And thus, the endless variety available online becomes more appealing,” Ms Hamshere Currelly said. “It is a vicious cycle!
“We have been fortunate there was always a fairly healthy international demand for our own brand product which has been designed in Bermuda for many, many decades. Previously we had a strong mail order business from overseas clients but in the last few years, as the client has become more and more accustomed to the ease of ‘one-click’ website shopping, we have become aware of the absolute necessity to have a website. Our website has been in development for a while now, and we look forward to launching it as the summer approaches.”
By anyone’s standards, 101 years in business is a long time and more than sufficient to work out what works and what does not.
“We have a very hands-on management team, and you will find the owners on the shop floor serving customers on a daily basis,” Ms Hamshere Currelly said. “We provide a unique blend of British tailoring, preppy basics and island style.
“People love the heritage, and the fact that we are the home of the original Bermuda shorts definitely doesn’t hurt. It helps having a few core products like our in-house designed knitwear, polo shirts and Bermuda shorts which are perennials and always in demand.”
She added that being a business that caters to locals and tourists alike is advantageous as provides a steady year-round customer base.
“We are an entirely Bermudian business, and our buyers know Bermuda, know the clients, know the lifestyle and constantly consider which trends will work here and which ones won’t!” Ms Hamshere Currelly said. “We watch carefully what the clients are looking for and make the changes.”