It has been a feature of Paddock Wood for over a century, named after the family which founded it and who have ensured its success ever since.
Over the four generations which have run the business, Barsleys has thrived, from its humble origins as a small tailoring workshop to a bustling department store selling a huge range of items.
And as the company celebrates its 125th anniversary, the Times speaks to the next generation – Alice Barsley – and her experience working in the family business.
Educated at Kent College, Pembury, and then at University College London, where she studied economics, Alice Barsley had many career options open to her.
However, despite having an older brother and sister, it is Alice who always showed the most enthusiasm for carrying on the family business.
She said: “I started working around the shop from about the age of 12 on my weekends and holidays and I really loved it.
“My father has always been very supportive of his children and said we can do whatever we want, but I think he was relieved when I decided to join.
“For me, there is just something extra special about working in the family business. But ultimately if your heart is not in it then it won’t work.”
Working her way up to the role of Director one and a half years ago, Alice oversees a number of departments within the store and is responsible for some of the buying.
The only person more senior is her father Richard Barsley, the Managing Director, however Alice said working so closely with her father has not yet been a source of friction.
“I don’t think we have ever had a cross words with each other at work,” she said.
Her vision, first and foremost, is to ensure the store retains its reputation as an integral part of the local community and adapts to changing habits in retail.
She said: “We are fortunate to be one of the bigger stores in town but there are advantages and disadvantages to being based in Paddock Wood.
“On the plus side many people are likely to find much of what they want here and it’s easy to park, but we are also quite close to the bigger retail destinations like Tunbridge Wells, which hosts big multinationals.”
To ensure the business stays competitive, Alice said the company is constantly reviewing its range of products and diversifying into new areas, most recently women’s fashion.
Perhaps more importantly, however, is to ensure the store’s reputation as friendly place to both shop at, and work in, is retained.
“We have a very low turnover of staff which customers like as they can come in and see the same people each time and it helps develop a community atmosphere,” said Alice.
She also has an eye on the future of the company, which she hopes to one day pass on to her own children.
“It can be hard to keep a business in the family for so long, and I hope my children will be enthusiastic about it.
“But ultimately they will have to want to do it. Just because your name is above the door doesn’t mean it will automatically do well.”
HISTORY OF BARSLEYS
Founded in 1891 by Charles Barsley, who had just gained his diploma in garment cutting, the store was originally a small tailoring workshop in Brenchley before moving to its current site in 1900.
During its early years, Charles, the great-grandfather of Alice, would travel by horse and cart to measure customers in their homes for bespoke tailoring.
The store was a major supplier of protective clothing for hop-pickers during the interwar years, and in the 1960s had men-only shopping nights during the Christmas season.
In September 2009 a fire at an adjacent property threatened to cause significant damage to the store and it suffered severe smoke damage.
In 2014, a new refurbishment of the store proved so popular that its special sale to mark the occasion brought much of the town to a halt through gridlock.
Along the way, the store has been greatly expanded, and now stocks fashions and footwear, electricals, soft furnishings, furniture, flooring, toys, travel goods and a coffee shop.
It is also the main supplier of uniforms for several schools in the borough, including Bethany and Mascalls.
BESTSELLERS THROUGHOUT THE YEARS
- In the 1930s and 40s hobnail boots were an absolute must during the hop-picking season.
- After the war, when cloth and regular clothing was on ration but surplus army clothing was not, Bob Barsley sourced many of the army ranges to help ensure that the local residents didn’t miss out.
- In the three weeks of the store’s refurbishment sale in 2014, the company sold over 200 slow cookers, and they continue to be a bestseller in the homewares department.
- In ladies’ fashion, bestsellers include Joules, White Stuff and Masai.
- In the toy department, the latest addition of Jelly Cat Toys are proving extremely popular amongst both children and adults.