The retail industry has experienced vast changes over the past 170 years. Back in 1844 the Factory Act was only just being introduced in a bid to prevent children under 13 from working for more than 6.5 hours a day (and it was still three years before the great Cholera epidemic would wipe out 1-2,000 Londoners a week after all). But 1844 was also the year that one of the UK’s best known retail supplies companies first began – and this month Morplan’s 120 staff and 50,000+ active customers are celebrating the company’s 170th birthday.
The Morplan journey
Morplan has come a long way from the company’s humble beginnings in the Camberwell area of South East London where Mr Morrish, the company’s founder, first set up his print workshop in Union Row Cottages. Today the company:
– stocks more than 5,000 products
– supports 50,000+ active retail customers
– employs 120 staff
– has three regional stores (London, Glasgow and Bristol)
– has over 25,000 customer visits to the website www.morplan.com every month
Mr Morrish – A man with a plan
Mr Morrish must have had high ambitions and obvious business acumen since he quickly grew his printworks, embracing new technologies and retail trends. By 1894 he was running Morrish & Chalfont, ‘Wholesale and Retail Stationers, Steam Printers, Paper Bag and Account Book Manufacturers’ based in what was even then the centre of London’s rag trade – Great Titchfield Street, London, W.1 – a site still used as the flagship store today.
It must have quickly become apparent to the Morrish family that, given their locality, they could grow the business exponentially by moulding their offering around the needs of those companies working nearby. So, they started to regularly produce printed items designed for the fashion houses – everything from tickets and showcards to knitting patterns. From there the offering expanded to support the many other needs of those working in the fashion industry – with everything from craftsmen’s tools (pattern cutters, tailors busts, china graph pencils etc), to shop display materials (packaging, display cases, ticketing, mannequins etc).
Keeping up with the trends – the secret of Morplan’s success
Indeed the secret to the company’s good fortune and longevity must lie in the way Morplan has always done it’s best to embrace new trends. In 1960, when there were murmurings of a strange concept called ‘mail order’ coming over from the USA, Morplan was quick to utilise this innovative way of reaching out to more customers. In 1982 the business was sold to Ferguson International PLC. Brochures and loose-leaf catalogues were produced until the first complete colour catalogue was printed in 1987. Of course, a lot more has changed since then, online shopping went live in 1998 and today over 500 web orders are sent out to customers across the UK and Eire every day.
Norman Haynes (Marketing Director), puts the secret of the company’s continued success down to the fact that Morplan is committed to being the ‘one stop shop’ for all their customers. He says, “We guarantee competitive prices, quick delivery and the best range of appropriately chosen quality products which have been sourced by our team of highly experienced buyers. They do their utmost to understand the needs of our customers. We offer everything you need to run a successful retail business – from shopfittings and showcases to carrier bags, hangers and tickets. We also go that extra mile too, offering personalised printing services, or even bespoke display props, courtesy of our Special Orders Team.”
Perhaps because of these factors Morplan’s customer base over the years has also diversified beyond recognition too – ranging from students of clothing design and actual garment manufacturers, to independent retailers and fashion chains. It’s not even only those in the trade who can take advantage of the great range of quality products on offer anymore. Budding crafters, sewing bees and even the Queen’s Dresser are among those who buy their garment manufacturing essentials from us today. In fact, as a result of the latter, Morplan was granted Her Majesty the Queen’s Royal Warrant in 2011. Even Mr Morrish would surely have been thrilled at that accolade – although of course Queen Victoria had not long been on the throne when he set up in business, and she went on to reign for a further 56 years!
Of course both the retail and fashion industries are still very much changing all the time, but with Morplan’s flexible approach and unbeatable commitment to exceed the expectations of it’s customers, you could place a pretty secure bet that the UK’s leading retail wholesale supplier will still be trending in another 170 years time. But what we’ll be wearing then is anyone’s guess!