Sign of the times: how Lowestoft firm Godfreys built booming online business as traditional department store declined
- Credit: Nick Butcher
The dramatic effects of the dotcom boom over the past decade are said to have changed the face of our town centre forever.
And nowhere is the effect of customers shift from the high street to online shopping perhaps been more evident than at the popular Lowestoft firm Godfreys.
Businessman Jim Godfrey's famous family-run Suffolk Road department store thrived in the 1980s and 90s as customers poured in the scour for the latest deals.
But it struggled in the 2000s, as the dotcom boom and changes to Lowestoft's road system transformed the face of the town centre.
In 2015, the store was forced to close after footfall fell by about a third from its mid-1980s peak – causing sadness among the loyal customers it had served for decades.
You may also want to watch:
That was despite a number of positive changes made by retail guru Mary Portas, who visited as part of her Secret Shopper programme in an attempt to revive the store's glory.
But while changing conditions caused challenges for the Godfreys store, Mr Godfrey's online enterprise was booming.
- 1 Norwich hairdresser, former boxer and bodybuilder, dies from Covid
- 2 Yellow weather warning for snow in place across region
- 3 Drink driver arrested after crashing into two trees in Norwich
- 4 Jack-knifed lorry shuts A148 as police issue ice warning
- 5 The secrets and scandals of a former Norwich hotel
- 6 Atlantis Tower up for sale after owner signs ‘outrageous’ loan deal
- 7 Crash boy's mum says he's 'badly shaken but OK'
- 8 Norwich Debenhams looks doomed as Boohoo to buy brand
- 9 Up and coming Norwich musician reaches number 13 in UK charts
- 10 9 of Norfolk's most famous blue plaques
More people from the town began buying the same products they knew and loved in Godfreys from buyaparcel.com - with people from across the country and even the world following suit.
'Nationally, people's shopping habits have changed,' Mr Godfrey said.
'They've not just changed a little - there's been a seismic shift to buying online.'
That has driven a massive expansion to the business beyond anything the department store was doing before – £13.5million this year, compared to £3million at Suffolk Road at its peak.
What's more, the firm is projecting a turnover of between £16million and £17million next year - and with 39 people employed by the company, it means £346,000 of turnover per person.
To cope with the growing
demand, buyaparcel.com moved from its original Commercial Road site in 2015, taking over what is now a 30,000sq ft facility in Pinbush Road, Pakefield.
Last year it also brought in more hi-tech automated packing systems - which increased the amount of parcels it can deliver by 20 per cent - and brought in a new senior leadership team with experience from big firms such as Tesco and IBM.
It means Godfreys name is, according to buyaparcel.com managing director Mike Parker 'still very much alive' and has 'never been bigger in the town'.
Yet despite the dramatic shift in people's shopping habits, Mr Godfrey doesn't want to give up on the old-fashioned methods just yet – as demonstrated by the fact he is opening a new kitchen and bathroom showroom at Pinbush Road this month.
'We've got a hybrid of these two elements, where customers can see what they're buying. It is a good business model for us,' he said.
'It works extremely well for us.'
'I don't see that we'll have a situation where we're completely online - it would be a sad day for Lowestoft and deprive customers of another place they can visit and get face-to-face advice.
'We've been in business in the town since 1978 and the thing we've not lost is face-to-face engagement with our customers.'