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East Anglia Future 50

Sixty years and counting in retail industry at Coes for boss David Coe

PUBLISHED: 09:00 29 April 2017

Young David Coe with his first car, an Austin A30

Young David Coe with his first car, an Austin A30

Archant

With 60 years in the retail business, shopkeeper David Coe still has no plans for retirement.

David Coe, of Coes Outfitters, who has written a book about his life in retail, Reflections of a ShopkeeperDavid Coe, of Coes Outfitters, who has written a book about his life in retail, Reflections of a Shopkeeper

Maybe it is a generational thing. David Coe - simply Mr Coe to his staff - may be 78 years old but he still goes into work four days a week, at the Coes department store and head office in Norwich Road.

Will he ever retire? “When you enjoy it, why stop?’’he said.

“If I stopped there is the danger of stagnation,” he laughed. “I only do four days a week now.”

He has a very busy life, with his family commitments, also some voluntary work for his church and keeping fit.

Coes in IpswichCoes in Ipswich

And he has always been involved in the wider community; as a director of Ipswich Building Society, a magistrate and governor at Ipswich School over the years, for example.

He said: “I do some church work, and play tennis still. I played a lot of squash but I have two false knees, so that has stopped, And I go to the gym,

“I also like to go to Spain to relax,”

The impressive main staircase in the extended Coes headquarters store is based on a design he saw in Spain, and had replicated by craftsmen in the UK.

Inside the Coes flagship Ipswich storeInside the Coes flagship Ipswich store

It was installed as part of a £1.5million modernisation of the department store in 2012.

Sixty years ago, on the death of his father William Coe, David returned from his National Service to take over the business.

David has written a memoir; Reflections of a Shopkeeper, charting his time in the business, and the changes in the town and retail trade, over that time.

Coes has grown into a major regional business under his leadership.

Ipswich Town players get fitted out with suits at CoesIpswich Town players get fitted out with suits at Coes

David said his father had “smoked like a chimney” all his life, and had heart problems, but even so his death had been unexpected, and a shock for the family.

“I was given compassionate leave from the army and travelled back to Suffolk in the full knowledge that this journey marked the start of a new chapter of my life, and the responsibility for the family business much sooner than I predicted.

“To step into my father’s shoes at the age of 18 was daunting, and I faced a difficult challenge to sustain the business.”

He had gained retail experience before, not just in Coes but at Johnsons in Colchester High Street and Victor Raper in Upper Brook Street, not realising he would soon be thrust into his new responsible role so soon.

“My focus during this period was keeping the business running, but my father had embarked on a five year development plan and I was determined to see this through. I set about acquiring properties in the area adjacent to our shop and in the streets behind it, creating more retailing and storage space.”

He hoped his father would still recognise the business today, despite its many changes, he said.

They were proud of the “old-fashioned” commitment to great customer service, and quality products, he said, along with all the modern improvements.

His father started the business, at 24 Norwich Road, in 1928.

Like so many local businesses in those days, the family lived above the shop.

“I was born here, at number 24,” explained David.

Among his earliest memories, he was probably three years-old, was “sitting upstairs in the living room, folding handkerchiefs.

“When I was three or four, I used to sort the (war-time) clothing coupons. They were different colours.”

David has four children, and two of them, William and Bridget, have followed him into the business.

From that simple menswear shop, Coes has grown, and been extended in every direction. They no longer live above the shop.

David insists owning their own property is important for any new business, so as not to be reliant on the decisions of landlords.

“We employ 200 plus people now,” explained David, “and another 20 students in the summer, learning about the retail business, and earning some money to take back with them to college.” Coes has expanded from menswear and suits into ladies clothing in recent years, and there is a big mail order and internet side of the business, with customers all around the world.

He said: “As I look back on my 60-year involvement at Coes, I feel confident that the principles my father founded the business on will be the foundations of success for another 60 years or more. “The key to success is a wide range of clothing and offering a really good service - not just paying lip service to it but actually doing it.”

Copies of David’s book: Reflections of a Shopkeeper, are available free to customers. It is edited by Polly 
Robinson and produced by WHAT Associates.

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