In the school holidays nearly 50 years ago, three brothers in need of pocket money started helping their dad count polythene bags into packs of 100…
Those lads – Sam, Martin and Julian Rayner – didn't have the faintest idea where it would lead them, but by sticking to their father's philosophy of ‘always look after the customer and the business will look after itself’, Lakeland has blossomed into what it is today – one of the UK's leading kitchenware companies.
Join us on a trip down memory lane and see how things have changed since the 60s!
Take a look:
Our plastic fantastic era
As Alan visited farms selling feed, he bought chickens to sell at Kendal market. He plucked and prepared them before packing them into plastic bags, and they sold better than the other smallholder's chickens. They asked if they could buy some bags from him, and word about Alan's bags began to spread.
Working from his garage, demand soon took off, and in 1964 Lakeland Plastics was born.
Alan went to his first Agricultural show (using his sons' pool table as a stand), where he sold plastic bags, covers for haystacks, silage sheeting and Lammacs – plastic coats to protect newborn lambs!
We outgrew the garage, and in the second half of the decade moved to Alexandra Road where we had more space to work.
The big freeze...
Alan retired in ‘74 and his three sons, Sam, Martin and Julian (who was still at school!) took over the family business. Home freezing was the ‘in thing’, and Lakeland was leading the way.
A moment of inspiration told us; people who froze food, also cooked it! So along came the ‘Everything for Home Cooking’ catalogue. We scaled down the agricultural side, and headed in the direction of all things kitchenware.
Michelle Kershaw joined Lakeland and quickly learned everything there was to know about home freezing and kitchenware. Our resident expert, Michelle was the face of Lakeland, and eventually became our Customer Director, a role she loved dearly until she passed away in 2004.
Time once more to move to a bigger location, this time into the disused Station Master's house. Our first real office – orders were taken from the front room, and customer records were stored in the cast iron bath!
Mail order pioneers
From mailing 6 page leaflets, we went to full colour catalogues... a big step that got our range under more of our customers' noses.
We moved to our current home, a larger space by the railway station where we could have offices, a warehouse, and a little store to be proud of, all under one roof.
We started to be known as one of the UK's leading kitchen and homeware suppliers, and we gained a reputation for excellent customer service.
What's in a name?
Our name ‘Lakeland Plastics’, didn't sit well any more because of the diversity in the range. After much deliberation, we renamed ourselves ‘Lakeland Limited’.
We opened a new distribution centre in Kendal, the base for replenishing the shelves in our mail order despatch department, and in our growing number of stores nationwide.
Closer to the millennium, we joined the World Wide Web. When all around were worrying about the ‘millennium bug', we took our first steps with our website.
Bigger and better
We were running out of space to pack parcels in Windermere. The solution, extend our Kendal site! The state of the art Direct Despatch Centre allowed us to send thousands of orders every day, a far cry from the days when the brothers wheeled parcels to the post office on a trolley!
The space this created at Windermere was transformed into our modern flagship store, which was more than double the size of our old shop. We added a café on the first floor, and gave our offices a make-over too.
In 2006 we became simply known as ‘Lakeland’.
Wendy, our Customer Ambassador, was coaxed away from the Tunbridge Wells store where she'd been manager for over a decade, so she could be the eyes and ears for our customers, making sure we keep up the service that sets us apart from the rest.
A brighter future
In the early days, we were only a small team, but as we crept into the new decade we had over 1500 colleagues, and some of them had been here for 10 or 20 years – a few for a remarkable 30!
We now have nearly 70 stores up and down the country, and we're constantly looking to open more; it's also the decade we opened our first store in Northern Ireland!
It's hard to imagine the days when we only had a black and white leaflet of just a single sheet; these days we create 18 catalogues a year, and along with kitchenware, there's everything for the home and garden, and even Christmas too!
Catalogues got the technological treatment too – the new Lakeland iPad app meant customers can browse through the pages digitally, wherever they are.
Although the mail order part of the business is still going strong, we've seen a shift towards internet shopping with more people than ever choosing to order online.
Our comprehensive website is over 10 years old and we're constantly improving it so it's friendlier and easier to use than ever.
We launched our Facebook page so we can keep in touch with the online Lakeland community – and so they can keep in touch with us – and we now have over 100,000 fans!