In September, companies across the UK are celebrating their history with Heritage Open Days, and this has prompted us to have a look back at our own history. From small beginnings, to a longstanding nationwide company today, have a read of the Plumbs story.
Believe it or not, Plumbs all began as a market stall where Tom and Bernice Plumb would sell a selection of decorative cushions and ‘settee sets’ – antimacassars and arm covers. It was 1953, and they could be found on Blackburn market 3 days a week, and at the Morecambe, Colne, Burnley, St Helens, and Ormskirk markets the rest of the time.
Their products were designed to give a quick makeover to any tired looking furniture, and proved to be hugely successful! Many would buy a set of 5 cushion covers for 19 shillings and 7d.
Tom Plumb on his market stall
With business booming, Tom and Bernice were able to open a small unit in Preston where their son, Geoff – now chairman of the business – could be found cutting fabric for cushions. These fabric pieces would then be sent out to local women, who would sew the pieces together in their home. Many of these ladies would continue to work as sewers at Plumbs for the next 20+ years when Plumbs opened their factories.
In 1967, Geoff made the bold decision to run a small mail order advert. Costing £8, this advert ran in the Scottish Daily Records. When the mountain of post arrived, it was clear that this had been a huge success, and orders flooded in.
This sparked the idea to place a large national advert in the Daily Mirror, and in February 1968, they did just that. Once again, it was an outstanding success. Plumbs mail order business had now begun!
Archive photo of Plumbs sewing department
In 1971, the Postal Strike caused havoc for mail order businesses, prompting Plumbs to open a range of shops nationwide. This was entirely unique at the time, as no chain stores carried a home furnishing department. The product range grew and so did the company, with 92 stores across the country at its peak.
Geoff Plumb in the Salmon Street Shop, Preston
In the 1980s, furniture became more complex, and lots of it failed to fit the standard sizes that Plumbs covers had been made in. Plus tastes were changing! Demand for an in-home measuring service grew, and so Plumbs began to provide a made-to-measure service, with consultants replacing our shops across the country. This is the model we still use today, so it’s certainly been successful for us!
2003 brought the launch of our reupholstery service, where furniture is stripped to the frame and rebuilt. This gave customers the chance to completely redesign their upholstery, as they can choose from our range of over 800 fabrics. It has proven itself to be incredibly popular, delighting customers when their old suite was returned like new and bound to last them many more years.
In 2018, Plumbs is constantly looking to grow and develop. Geoff Plumb is now the chairman, and still takes an active role in the company, as he has done since the age of 11. His daughter, Sarah, took on the role of Managing Director in 2009, and other family members can be found throughout the business.
It’s certainly true to say the idea of family is still hugely important at Plumbs – not only for the Plumb family, but throughout the whole company. Interviewed in 1976, Tom Plumb established the ethos of community at Plumbs, saying,
‘To have contact with the people working with you is better than any money in the bank. None of us is looking for the high lifestyle’.
To find out more about our history, visit our About Us page.
For more details about Heritage Open Days, check out their website.
Sophie is a great granddaughter of the founders of the business - so fabrics and furniture are almost part of her DNA! Her interests include home interiors and upcycling, and her favourite show to watch after work is The Repair Shop. Some of the topics she covers on the Plumbs blog include sofa reupholstery and furniture protection.