Dianne Drew visits the long-established Robinson’s of Stamford to discover the special way it takes care of business – and why the decision to rebrand couldn’t have come at a better time
The rich, evocative aroma of tanned leather ignites the senses the moment you enter the pristine Georgian façade of Robinson’s of Stamford. ‘You won’t experience that on the internet,’ smiles proprietor Anne Brown. ‘You’ve got to touch it, feel it, smell it; then you can see you are getting quality, the real thing. We’ve got a commodity, fine leather goods. That’s in our favour.’
Robinson’s has become one of Stamford’s best-known and finest retailers, specialising in premium leather goods, gifts and country wear
And as a former buyer for Harrods and Simpson’s of Piccadilly, Anne definitely knows her stuff. From the origins of T & C Robinson as a bespoke Lincolnshire saddlery business back in 1905, founded by her grandfather Tom Robinson, and now celebrating 35 years at its present location at 4 St Mary’s Street, Robinson’s has become one of Stamford’s best-known and finest retailers, specialising in premium leather goods, gifts and country wear.
Although the store has always sold leather goods, around ten years ago the saddlery business began a rapid change and equestrian outfitters began to operate from more rural locations. Thus a decision was made to cut out the equine side of the business from the Stamford location, in order to focus on quality country clothing and leather goods. But there still seemed to be a few obstacles preventing it from moving forward and building an even stronger customer base. Its reputation as ‘the horsey shop’ seemed to stick despite the stock expansion into handbags, luggage, country, gifts and outer wear from such renowned names as Samsonite, Briggs & Riley, Dubarry and Barbour, to name but a few. Thus Anne and daughter Becca decided it was time to rebrand.
‘I think at times people were slightly intimidated when passing our façade, and therefore reluctant to come in, perhaps getting the impression we were too exclusive and catered to a certain clientele’
‘Because people still thought of us as the saddlery and horsey shop, we felt we needed to let them know we’re not,’ explains Becca. Stamford being named as ‘The Best Place to Live in Britain’ by The Sunday Times last year seemed ideal timing for Anne and Becca to put their plans into action. Most recently the shop’s façade has been revamped, with fresh signage to reflect the new name and image. T & C Robinson is now Robinson’s of Stamford. ‘I think at times people were slightly intimidated when passing our façade, and therefore reluctant to come in, perhaps getting the impression we were too exclusive and catered to a certain clientele,’ explains Anne. ‘When in fact it’s not that way at all. We try to cater to everyone and it’s amazing how many people say to us “I didn’t know you had such a range, or would have anything to suit me.” We’re always looking for something that’s a little bit different, something that you don’t find in every other shop, and we tend to stock what others don’t.
‘We have always looked to stock product ranges of high quality and good design, but which aren’t off-putting by price. For example, we sell a variety of handbags and luggage of various price ranges, as well as other goods. However we don’t sell standard sweatshirts because those are ordinary things you can find easily enough in other shops. Instead we vary our stock throughout the year. For example we carry a lot more ladies’ and gents’ seasonal outwear, winter jackets, tweed, boots, etc, during autumn and winter. Regarding trends, if we think there is a gap somewhere, we’ll always look to fill it.’
Handbags by Radley are among the exclusive items carried
Luggage by Briggs & Riley, Samsonite, and Troop, clothing by Alan Paine, Musto, and Tilley Endurables, footwear by Le Chameau and Dubarry, and handbags by Radley are all among the exclusive items carried, with Robinson’s being the only Stamford stockist. And in the case of Briggs & Riley and Tilley Endurables, they are guaranteed by the manufacturer for life. ‘We’ve never had one Tilly hat come back,’ says Anne.
Anne and Becca believe they serve a broad demographic and maintain a very loyal customer base due to their wide variety of products. Plus, they take their personalised and friendly service seriously. In addition to Anne and Becca, also employed in the shop are Maria and Sue. The latter has been with the company for 12 years. Seeing familiar faces when customers come in year after year is all part of what makes the Robinson’s experience so special.
‘St Mary’s street has changed very little in the last 70 years. You can’t say that for many central shopping districts…’
‘We do go the extra-mile in service,’ asserts Anne. ‘We won’t sell a customer a pair of boots that isn’t good for them. If a product isn’t right, we try our best to find something that is. If it’s not on the sales floor, that doesn’t mean we can’t get it. We’re constantly sourcing for people.’ The choice location also adds a little more magic, believes Anne. ‘St Mary’s street has changed very little in the last 70 years. You can’t say that for many central shopping districts, with such a great selection of independent shops. By comparison to other towns, where businesses come and go so often, very few places can offer this.’
Although the saddlery and equine side continues as T & C Robinson in Billinghay near Lincoln, the Stamford outlet is now forging a fresh and different reputation for itself as one of the town’s finest retailers, offering service that goes above and beyond the usual. And judging by the comment overheard by this writer from a potential customer to her companion about to enter Robinson’s – ‘This is the shop with the lovely leather handbags’ – we’d say an exceptional job is being done.
Robinson’s of Stamford, 4, St Mary’s Street Stamford PE9 2DE
Open 9 am – 5 pm