Why Rohan?

The first Rohan Ambleside next to Zeffirellis

Welcome to the second part of Rohan a family affair.

Al and Joy talk about how the first Rohan Franchise started and have shared with us some tips on running a successful family business through good times and bad. Very topical!

Always expect the unexpected

Q. Al and Joy: That brings us to Rohan. So over to you how did it all start? Why a franchise?

Over 30 years ago, whilst still running a conventional outdoor shop, I started to think that a franchise business might be a very interesting concept.

At that time there were not many examples to look at but I felt the idea was worth examining. I thought that in it’s favour was the following.

The most important advantage was that a franchise with one manufacturer would help the customer, both potential or existing, to understand what you are about even before entering the shop. Take Rohan as an example, because you are not cluttering the shop up with a thousand and one items you can present your stock in a clear and attractive way so that although that image etc. will not appeal to everyone many will find the shop easy and enjoyable to use. The next point was that by only stocking one brand you are able to stock in far greater depth than you would if you dealt with a mass of other brands. One other point, administration has to be easier both in paper work and also in the normal face to face dealings with suppliers is cut down to one company. The only real major problem I saw was that you would be putting all your eggs in one basket and if you did not find the right company you could have difficulty with things like delivery, quality of stock,finance, etc and anyone of these could take you down.

Why Rohan?

Once I had firmed up on the idea of trying to get a franchise the next step was to search for a company in the outdoor world that had the potential to fulfil their side of the bargain .We knew most brands, some big, some small, some in the UK and some elsewhere, so shifting through all these took quite sometime. Then I came to Rohan. We had sold Rohan and used lots of the products since about 1978 and although compared to some set-ups the company was fairly small with only a limited range, what they had stood out a mile because of it’s design, innovation and quality. For example over a number of years I’d used Rohan Salopettes for ice climbing and ski touring and even my French climbing friends thought they were a pretty amazing bit of kit. Ice climbing is very tough on clothing but these things were not only incredibly functional and comfortable in all conditions you just could not wear them out!

Paul and Sarah Howcroft were not only very clever people but also incredibly passionate about what they were doing. Another strong point in their favour for me was that they were looked upon by a lot in the trade as odd ball and eccentric and I just love people who are prepared to have a go at doing things in a new way. I well remembered going to the annual Harrogate Outdoor Trade Show where 99% of the stands were set out in the conventional way of being wide open, loads of lights, dolly birds plus food and drink whilst somewhere in the middle of one of the halls was a big black box with a discrete Rohan sign and you had to give the door a knock in the hope that Paul or Sarah would allow you in to have a look at their latest designs…wonderful stuff.

The first Rohan Shop in The Lakes in Windermere a few doors from Daryl's Cafe

The first Rohan Shop in the Lakes in Windermere a few doors from Daryl’s Cafe

The day after thinking about Rohan I rang Paul and nervously popped the question to him.”would he be prepared to offer us the franchise for the Lake District“. Paul answered by explaining that at that very moment he was sat with his property chap asking him to get up to The Lakes and find a site … but, even though they had never franchised before he would be very happy for Joy and myself to give it a go. We very quickly bought a site in Windermere and got cracking fitting it out. It’s a testament to how business can be done that the four of us went ahead with no written agreement just the mutual trust and belief that between us we would make a success of ROHAN in LAKELAND.

Q.Al and Joy: Any businesses that has traded successfully for 25 years has a successful formula. Give us a few tips.

I believe you require a fair amount of the following for a business to work.

Al  - Chuffed after finding this 1932 Alto chair basement Ambleside 1992Passion – We have only ever been involved with products we believe in and have passion for and Rohan fits 100% for us.

Past Experience – We have been involved in a fair number of businesses and therefore have seen many ups and downs but as in life you have to keep plugging away. Remember what Samual Becket said “Try again, fail again but fail better”.

Aims – You must have aims. From mountaineering I’ve learnt that you must follow the three rules of navigation. Know where you are – Know where you are going  – Work out how you are going to get there.

Product – You have to have a good product and you have to understand what it can do for your customers.

Good Relationships – You have to work hard at having good relationships with all the people you come into contact with, suppliers, our own team, your co-directors and of course your customers.

Location – Keswick is one of the best locations for promoting Rohan and we are sited in the best street there.

Management – As you can see from the above list what we do is not complicated. Operating a shop is not brain surgery but you do need to keep focused because it’s still possible to make a mess.

The first Rohan Keswick Shop 1988-2003

Q.Al and Joy: Could you share with us some high and lows of the business

High and Lows – Oh dear like most business people I could go on for ever. No business stands still, it either goes up or it’s going down and so highs and lows are part of your life.

Highs can be due to little things like a customer telling you that the shop has given great service but equally and thankfully only occasionally you might get the other side of the story and you feel very low if a customer is unhappy about the way you operated. We have always been on an high when we have found ways to expand the business. We are not money driven people but we do enjoy having to expand the size of the shop or move premises because we feel it shows that your products are in demand and you are not standing still.

Lows have included the various credit crunches which have seemed to have happened once every 10 years. These give you a few stressful years ,then,if you include the sad times like the foot and mouth disasters then the two serious floods that Cumbria has experienced during the last 5 years you begin to wonder if there have ever been any highs but the truth is that luckily the lows sink away in to the back of your mind and its the highs that stay with you.

The most savage low that we ever had was the period after Sarah and Paul sold Rohan to Clarks and I must say we did not enjoy the experience. It seemed to us that Clarks did not fully grasp what the Rohan brand stood for and during their ownership Rohan struggled to move in the right direction. The final nail in the coffin for us was just before Clarks themselves sold Rohan on and were trying to maximize the value of Rohan and we were trying to move the Ambleside store from Compston Rd. to the present site. We knew that it would make a fabulous site for Rohan but unfortunately for us so did Clarks and they maneuvered us out of the deal and left us high and dry. Their was nothing that we could do but put all our energies into Rohan in Keswick. Happily for us, Clarks went to pastures new and the new owners worked hard with us to build the great relationship we enjoy today. Nevertheless it’s a good job our company motto is “always expect the unexpected“.

Rohan Keswick 14-16 Lake Road, Keswick, Cumbria, CA12 5BX.

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One Comment

  1. Pam Burthem says:

    I am now 83. I bought a pair of Rohan trousers to participate in the long distance walk, the tour de Mont Blanc, when I was in my forties. Bit threadbare now but I still wear them.

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