|Story by Fred Roffey, 1966, for The British United Shoe Machinery Ltd.
History Their Guide Not Their Master
In the year 1866 - William Green started by making shoes in the drawing room of a private house in Green's Yard, Rushden. The firm's present factory was built in the town in 1895 and has been greatly extended over the years to meet demand.
William Green died in 1901 and his son, Mr. C. A. K. Green, who took over the business, died in 1947. The latter's son, Mr. C. W. S. Green, is the present chairman. Other directors are: Mr. J. W. H. Green, T.D., F.C.I.S.; Dr. D. C. Green, M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P.; Dr. C. R. H. Green, M.S., and Mr. H. F. Pinnock, a past president, Rushden and District Shoe Manufacturers' Association.
Another factory was built at Irchester in 1913. This makes the company's cemented and moccasin footwear and, like the larger factory at Rushden, produces welted and silhouwelted shoes.
William Green & Sons are now re-introducing the silhouwelt principle to their shoes - 'a combination of welted and cemented which has the advantages of both and none of the disadvantages', said Mr. C. W. S. Green. 'We were one of the first to use this in Britain in the 1930s. Now it is catching on again.'
The company also have other 'firsts'. They were one of the first British shoe manufacturers to start an in-stock business with retailers about 50 years ago, and in 1960 they were among the first to make cemented footwear in the high-grade ranges (at the time there were many manufacturers doing cemented in the low-grade).
The all-leather shoe predominates in the Grenson range of shoes, the great majority of which are made of calf.
But they are also noted for their shoes in unusual leathers such as camel, antelope, water bison and sea lion, which similarly find a ready market both at home and overseas.
Another speciality is in the hand-sewn trimming of uppers. The extent of this side of the business is indicated by the number of workers involved - 40 - who operate from the factory and their own homes.
All these Grenson ranges are sold mainly to retailers and certain leading high-grade outfitters, who are supplied with a wide range of point-of-sale material which stresses 'Grenson Footmaster' - the company's brand name to the public.
The company have six representatives covering England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. These help to keep the firm in touch with trend-setting ideas, but this 'trend hunting' is done mainly by Mr. J. W. H. Green and Mr. Pinnock who, by regular visits, keep in touch with ideas springing up in London and other centres.
Mr. Green commented: 'Before the war styles were initiated from the factory and changed very little. Nowadays we find we have to pay much more attention to the West End type of trade, where different lasts are needed every year. Fashions are international now as a result of a number of influences, especially holidays abroad for most people.
But despite the vast variety of shoe styles and prices now available, there continues to be a strong demand for the high-grade type of shoe such as the Grenson brand, not only in this country but abroad.
Mr. Pinnock said: 'At one time the Americans used to import men's shoes from Britain purely for promotional purposes. By selling them at ridiculously low prices in the stores they attracted customers.
'Now British men's shoes have come into their own and are sold at prices solely relating to their merit.'
The U.S.A. is the company's biggest potential market. They also have expanding outlets in countries including Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, France, Belgium, Austria, West Germany, Spain, Italy, New Zealand, Australia, Nigeria, Aden, Malta, Ghana, Malawi, West Indies, Singapore, Kuwait and Cyprus.
It is quite a lengthy list and just goes to show that when you have a quality product people are prepared to pay for it no matter where they may be.
So it is really no wonder that about 20% of the firm's production now goes oversea ' a figure which looks like increasing still further in the near future.
As the number grows yearly of personalities in politics, arts and the theatre, throughout the world, who wera Grenson shoes, so must grown the number of recommendations by word of mouth. This verbal recommendation is backed by continuous sales drives and by the firm participating, through agents, in all major overseas shows, among the most recent being Montreal and Chicago.
The Company Now
One of the most pleasing aspects of their overseas trade is the growning acceptance of the Grenson brand by Common Market countries.
At the Mount Royal Hotel during London Shoe Week they had a number of visitors from Common Market Countries who commented: 'You could sell even more to us if Britain were in the Common Market, as your high-grade shoes would be so much cheaper.'
Such visitors were especially interested in the company's new range of soft leather shoes from five to seven guineas. The amount of interest shown by the fact that they had export inquiries before the show had hardly opened.
William Grenson & Son may tend to be reticent to outsiders about their centenary, but they are not keeping quiet about it to their staff of 400.
At Wicksteed Park in December they are holding a dinner-dance at which around 700 people are expected, including guests.
Among those attending will be many of their long-service staff, for it is not unusual for people to work for them for 50-60 years.
The 'Good Shoe' directors find they not only have loyal, efficient staff but some outstanding workers, too, as a number of people trained at the factory have obtained directorships within the industry.
So the company have the distinction, not so much for being 100 years old (they prefer to say little about their history), but of being a forcing house for talent as well as being a forward-looking producer of one of the world's best-known quality brands - 'Grenson The Good Shoe'.