Town centre pledge as Doncaster firm marks 100th anniversary

Tom Fiddler has a black and white photo in his office.

Tuesday, 3rd December 2019, 11:09 am
Archive pictures of Ward Brothers

The smartly dressed businessmen on the picture wear smart suits in front of the shop. The delivery van outside is from another era. Phone numbers painted on the side of the van and the front of the shop wall are only four digits long.

It is one of a number he has dug out as his family firm, Ward Brothers, marks its 100th anniversary. Others date from the 60s and 70s, all capturing a moment in a long history since the firm was set up by his great grandfather Fred Ward and his great great uncle Tom Ward.

He is the fourth generation of his family to take over the running of the well established furniture store, since taking the reins from his dad six years ago.

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Howard and Tom Fiddler, pictured. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-12-09-19-WardBrothers-1

Tom worked for the business in his holidays at both school and while he was a student, before going into a full time job there after leaving university 11 years ago.

This year he is marking the firm’s 100th anniversary

The brothers, cabinet makers, first started work at Doncaster’s Cemetery Road shortly after serving in the 1914-18 War, switching from manufacturing to retailing in 1930.

Today, the firm employs 21 staff in total both at its main shop on Waterdale, a smaller furniture store on the same row, and its its warehouses on Kelham Street.

Archive pictures of Ward Brothers

Current boss Tom admits that things have changed a lot – and many of those changes in the last few years.

But he said the firm is still committed to trading in Doncaster town centre despite movement towards the internet and out of town warehouses.

He said: “The online world has changed buying patterns, so we have adapted with that. Fashion is a lot faster now, with tastes changing more quickly, which means we have to work harder as buyers to keep with the times and up to date with products and best value for money.

“People are using the internet to look at pages and pages of items, and that means new demands in terms of catering for more tastes, from retired couples to young families. Suppliers have changed, and it is not all British manufacturers any more, and that brings new styles and looks. But there are still British manufacturers and we are keen to get behind them.”

Archive pictures of Ward Brothers

To deal with some of the changes, the store has now signed up to a collective buying group for the first time. It is now part of the Association of Independent Stores.

“That’s a big help,” said Tom. “It is an organisation which holds its own shows, with suppliers from all over the world. Because we are a buying group, we get the best deals and pass them on to our customers, and more products.

“But I think another big change has been how we communicate with our customers. In the digital age that has changed a lot. We have a full website now, and have been keen to push that element.”

It means they both sell online and use the internet as a shop window, for people to browse before coming into the store.

But he remains keen on the town centre location for the store, and sees it as a unique selling point for the firm. He feels that the fact that they are in a row of knocked-through terraces rather than am a huge out of towm shed means people can see furniture as though it was in a house.

He also believes that visiting a shop means that people can sit on the furniture and see whether it is comfortable in a way they cannot do online.

“I’m confident there will also be a place on the high street for furniture,” he said. “People can have an enjoyable shopping experience, and we want people to be able to have a nice morning looking round the shop. You can’t feel how comfortable something is online.

“But being an older business we do have to move with the times.

“I believe the high street is still a good place to do business, otherwise we would not have stayed here. We’ve not moved to an out of town shed because we think the shop gives a unique experience people can’t get elsewhere. There’s no reason why we can’t continue to trade here and support the high street.

“It’s been an exciting time with the 100th anniversary, and we have just invested in a full ground floor refurbishment, which we have just finished. We think its important to invest in the business.”