Evening Echo Archived Article
Southend: Good Havens!
From the archive, first published Tuesday 8th Jun 1999.
Nicola Taylor talks to Nigel Havens the managing director of one of Southend’s oldest family-run stores as it prepares for its centenary and the new millennium
When Rawdon Havens set up his china and glass store in Westcliff in 1901 he would have had little idea that the firm would still be flourishing at the turn of the millennium.
Yet in 1999 it remains one of Southend’s longest-running family businesses.
The key is not to stand still, says Rawdon’s great grandson Nigel Havens, the firm’s current managing director.
Although the shop’s original product lines of china and glassware remain their biggest sellers, they have added to them in the form of linens, perfumes, furniture — and Beanie Babies.
It is these small soft toys that have been the store’s surprise big seller over the past year.
At just £3.95 each they have introduced a new generation of collectors to the store and brought back a lot of former customers.
Nigel smiles: “They were spotted by my father, Graham, the chairman of the company, during a trip to America. He found out more about them and decided they were a good line.
“They have been phenomenally successful.”
The brightly-coloured toys form a striking juxtaposition to the Spode china, Wedgwood and Royal Doulton. Yet there are similarities according to Nigel.
“They are all quality products, well made, and good value for money.”
Nigel joined the family firm in 1981, after spending five years learning the trade at the John Lewis-owned Peter Jones department store in London.
After school holidays helping in the family shop he knew retail was for him, but wanted to gain an objective viewpoint.
He said: “I recognised the need to continually change and move forward, and make the shop more of a department store.”
Nigel admits the closure of High Street store Keddies sent shock waves through other independents
He said: “To an extent Keddies had a huge range of products they were unable to keep total control over. We are more specialised and more focused and therefore are able to adapt and adjust.”
Out-of-town shopping centres like Lakeside and Bluewater have also dealt their blows.
Nigel said: “They have affected High Streets generally. Luckily our customers are in the middle and upper ends of the market which these centres do not generally serve.”
A couple of years ago, Hamlet Court Road did not appear the most obvious place to buy luxury goods. Numerous For Sale boards gave the once busy street a neglected air, but in the last six months, Nigel believes there has been a turnaround.
He said: “There have been some more openings and I am confident the situation will keep improving.
“We are a destination store which people visit for the specific purpose of buying gifts. There will always be weddings, special birthdays and Christmas, so in a way our location is immaterial.”
The store’s frontage and basic fixtures remain little changed since the 1930s. In fact, the flooring at the entrance level is the original from when Rawdon Havens moved into the shop in 1910 after being based in premises opposite for nine years.
The family lived above the shop until the 1930s when the store expanded to three floors. It had already widened its frontage by buying the property next door.
Graham Havens still plays a large part in the day to day running of the shop. He, Nigel and his younger son Paul, 39, also a director, live near each other in Leigh.
Paul’s wife, Sarah, who is expecting her first child in September, is the store’s display manager.
Currently, Nigel is busy setting up a website where ardent collectors of top name china will be able to view the latest releases and order them via E-mail.
He said: “Obviously collectors’ lists are an important source of trade for us and this will extend, as well as cross global barriers.”
A keen sportsman, Nigel spends his spare time playing hockey, tennis, cricket and golf. He also coaches the Westcliff under-11s cricket team.
A member of the Southend Crime Prevention Panel and Business and Economic Tourism Partnership, Nigel is keen on promoting his home town and its many attractions which he believes residents sometimes underplay.
Nigel’s children Michael, 10, and Veronie, eight, who both attend his former school Alleyn Court, Prepatory, are still a way from deciding their careers.
Like his father before him, he will put no pressure on them following in his footsteps.
However, his voice hints at a secret hope.
He said: “They may follow their mother into the medical world. She is a chartered physiotherapist. But if we keep the shop as fresh and exciting as we can they may choose to take it on.”
From quality breakables to Beanie Babies — Nigel Havens outside Havens store which was opened by his great grandfather in 1901
Picture: ROBIN WOOSEY
Converted for the new archive on 19 November 2001. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.