The Big Idea: Bakers and Larners of Holt

Inside Bakers and Larners of Holt department store

Inside Bakers and Larners of Holt department store - Credit: Archant

Michael Baker, managing director of Bakers and Larners of Holt, reflects on the history, heart and hopes of this iconic north Norfolk company

Bakers and Larners of Holt

Bakers and Larners of Holt - Credit: Archant

Q Please tell us a little about the history of Bakers and Larners.

A In 1732, prior to the Industrial Revolution, Adam Custance started his business in Holt. It was an iron and colour merchant. In 1770 John Baker married Priscilla Custance and bought her uncle’s business. This is where the current C T Baker Group started in the Baker family. It progressed through the generations father to son, until 1905. It then passed to three sisters. As a solicitor C M Baker saw the benefits of a limited liability company and created C T Baker Ltd in 1900, registration number 67886. The company continues in the family, with Michael Baker leading the business today.

Michael Baker, managing director of Bakers and Larners of Holt

Michael Baker, managing director of Bakers and Larners of Holt - Credit: Archant

Q What did you do before becoming managing director of Bakers and Larners?

A I was brought up on a farm in West Beckham. After university, having gained a degree in chemical engineering, I joined constructors John Brown in Portsmouth where I gained chartered engineer status. The call of Norfolk was too great however and I returned in 1973 to work at Bakers. In March 1974 I took over as managing director.

Q Could you tell us about some of the changes you have seen at Bakers and Larners during those years – and in the retail business in general?

A In the past 42 years the business has moved from 17 staff and annual sales of £175,000 to 295 staff and £24m turnover. In 1977 Larners of Holt was acquired; in 1989 R Edmonds & Son of Stalham and North Walsham; in 2003 Betty (Holt) Ltd; in 2007 Budgens of Holt, and in 2013 Budgens of Aylsham. In 1973 we were an old fashioned ironmonger with the Aga dealership for north Norfolk. We had just withdrawn from being an agricultural merchant. At Larners we were a small department store and food hall. There were no computers - there was no internet.

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Q The store is at the heart of life in Holt. How important is the town to you personally?

A I can remember the town since the mid-1950s. In those days most, if not all, of the businesses were family-run, few outside managers. The main road came through the centre of town, there was a weekly market. Holt is part of my life. I have been actively involved in the town, representing it as a town, district and county councillor. I have chaired the Chamber of Trade and Commerce, Round Table and Rotary.

Q Recent years have seen the refurbishment of the store. How have you managed to combine the sense of history at Bakers and Larners with the need to compete in a modern retail world?

A We believe it is important that we continue to invest in the business. Recently we have started to upgrade areas of the department store – perhaps slightly overdue. Customers like the uniqueness of the store and the product we sell. This is supported by the store architecture of nooks and crannies, giving us an opportunity to ensure there is always a surprise waiting around every corner. We pride ourselves in listening to our customers and looking to offer what they want – good quality, choice and service.

Q How important to the business are the people on the floor?

A All the team at Bakers and Larners are important to the business and play a vital role in our success. I believe we have some of the best retail sales staff in East Anglia.

Q What is the Bakers and Larners’ “Big Idea” for taking forward shopping in Holt and beyond?

A We are very proud of the special place we hold in the town. The independent stores and businesses make Holt a unique shopping experience, unrivalled anywhere in East Anglia. We know the internet gives us the opportunity of a broader reach and allows us to service those customers not fortunate to live close to Holt. However, I do think the shopping experience that can be offered on the high street, if done well, cannot be replicated online. Get them both working together and then you really start to see results. So no revolutionary big idea - we will continue with our basic principles of service, choice and quality. w

Bakers and Larners department store, Market Place, Holt; 01263 712244;

home furnishing centre, High Street, Holt; 01263 710498;

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