The Rohan Regional Shows 1981 – 1986 part of Rohan Life
When we started Rohan in the 1970’s we assumed that we would sell our garments through the UK outdoor retailer. Such was the order of things at the time. This assumption proved to be correct. The first garment, the Rohan Salopette and the subsequent Super Striders all sold through the existing outdoor retailers. The very first retailers was Pindisports Holborn and YHA Manchester.
As the range started to grow and the Rohan Bags, Striders, Pampas, Action Jacket and others came onto the market, we noticed something change in the buying patterns of the outdoor retailers. We experienced resistance to stocking the newer ranges.
On one hand, we had retailer reluctance and on the other the level of demand for the Rohan range was growing fast. Customers turning up at the Rohan HQ in Skipton and later Airton became more and more common.
This is a quote from a letter that accompanied the 1982 catalogue:
… Rohan is not easy ” walk into a shop, see it, buy it,” sort of clothing. Rohan is hard to see and hard to buy, but that’s all part of the Rohan story….
I guess that goes under the banner of making a positive out of a negative.
By the time we entered the new decade the story developed very rapidly.
The decision to enter the retail side of the business was not taken lightly. It was I remember one of those very big decisions, but also we had no choice. I remember the hour, even the moment when that decision was taken. Sitting on a dustbins outside the German Trade Show, which was in Cologne all those years ago. We had listened for 4 days to every reason under the sun why the Rohan lightweight range would not sell and why most retailers would not stock it. With a few exceptions of course. So on our way back we devised our plan. We would do what the music industry did and still do, take Rohan on the road.
We had built a good customer mailing list and had a deep understanding of our customers. So it was simple, choose a location, invite our customers, turn up with the range and everybody would be happy. Well, everybody except the retailers. They were not happy. In fact, they were very unhappy and decided to have nothing to do with us again. A manufacturer could not sell direct…
I add there was one exception to universal rejection that was Field and Trek, deep into mail order themselves. I think they had a better understanding of what could happen if one manufacture broke rank. Paul & myself had a high regard for F&T during that time.
The very first Rohan Regional Show took place at the Stickle Barn Langdale. Unfortunately, I can’t pin down the date. It’s my guess it was 1980/81. A great success and many Regional Shows followed. Aberdeen to Plymouth and all points in between. Some of the more unusual venues – Scratchwood services M1, an idyllic location in the centre of The Peak District, many Holiday Inns and the Cumberland Hotel on Marble Arch.
The first show consisted of the Howcrofts, Gail, our very young son, two dogs and our customers. As our team grew most of us did the shows. It was part of Rohan life. Looking back it was an amazing effort by all those who participated, especially our customers. The regular show team consisted of Gail, Chris Townsend , Ed & Ade with Colin C. holding the Long Preston fort. Jon worked the magic words. Ron and Shelia worried about the money and stock.
Great times guys. Without your fantastic efforts over those years, the story would have been very different.
As our the Rohan shops opened the shows wound down.
So what actually did the Regional Shows do?
Opened the door to Rohan retail. Secured Rohan’s future and facilitated the rapid Rohan growth in the early 1980’s.
However, they did something else as well. They broke the mould. They proved a totally vertically organised company could succeed in the outdoor business. It was many years before others followed in the UK.
My own reflection, above all it gave us very close contact with our customers. A closeness most manufacturers never experience with their end users. I think this, above all, gave us the big opportunity to push the company forward and provide our customers with what they actually wanted.
This was a decision that I am very proud of.
Above all the decision to open up our own retail side worked because of the fantastic support of the Rohan Customers. So to all of you who supported the shows in far off parts of the UK – you made it all possible.
Any memories of the Regional Show, please share them in the comments below.
Sarah Howcroft Co Founder