There used to be a furniture store in Ilford High Road that was the envy of every town center in Essex. That store was called Harrison and Gibson and it sold the most expensive and well made furniture this side of Harrods. Thinking of going there? Well you cant its closed down and is about to become a block of flats. Yep a block of flats in the middle of a once proud High Street now filled with pound shops and charity shops. This is the story of my time working there. A piece of history that is being swept away from Ilford forever. This blog is inspired by a friend of mine Marc Teiman who wrote about the demise of Ilford recently. So Marc thanks for the inspiration.
I worked at Harrison and Gibson 10 years ago this year. I knew nothing about furniture but I did know how to sell. The store was like Grace Brothers out of Are You Being Served? I was the youngest one in there by about 30 years, but do you know what? They taught me so much about customer service that I still use to this day.
The ground floor was a mixture of Linens, Furniture, Kitchen Ware and Ornaments. Not any old toot though this stuff was first class. Stuff you bought and it would last you a lifetime. The first floor was a mixture of concessions selling Electrics, Persian Rugs ( not the Del-boy ones the proper ones), Indian Furniture, Bathrooms, Chinese Furniture, Lamps and Lighting, as well as Flower arrangements. The Second floor was full of Bedroom furniture, the Third floor was full of Leather suites and an Art Gallery, the Fourth floor was full of more modern contemporary furniture and the fifth floor was full of Traditional furniture. This was no MDF stuff and cheap IKEA furniture this was real hand made furniture that people travelled far and wide for. They not only came for the furniture they also came for the level of service we gave them as well.
The man behind all of this and the driving force of it was a guy called Steve Donoghue. Looked like Mr Bean but had a temper like Mr T. I clashed with him a few times because he wasn't the greatest man manager but what he did have was a passion for the store and for the way it was to be run. That bloke worked 7 days a week in there. Driving us all to be the best we could and to make sure we always gave the customer 100%.
There were others there as well, Graham who taught me all about the Traditional furniture, Ali who taught me all about the Leather Furniture, Terry the miserable moaning maintenance man or Alan the security guard who fell asleep in his office every day after lunch thinking no-one knew. Linda the store PA who had been there since she had left school, Trevor the Art Gallery Owner, the girls in the cash office, Mick and Ham the old boys in the warehouse. There were many, many more as well. The one thing they all had in common though was that they all cared about the place where they worked. They had a real passion for it. They cared that the customer got the right level of service.
Unfortunately Harvey's bought the store and not understanding the phrase 'If it ain't broke don't fix it', decided to start making changes. The quality of furniture started too drop off and so did the sales. People retired and weren't replaced and slowly but surely the rot set in. The demise of a once great store had begun. I moved on as well eventually. With a new family too support I wanted more than a career as a salesman so I moved into Game as an Assistant Manager (that's a blog all of its own Ill tell one day).
I walk past the shell of what was once Harrison and Gibson and it saddens me to think what was once there. The people and the fun I had, the wind-ups we used to do on each other. Fond memories and happy times. The level of service that was drilled into me which I still keep to this day. DFS changed the face of furniture with their big offers and low quality furniture. A real shame that Harvey's couldn't take care of its jewel in its crown.
The saddest part of all is as I was doing this blog I thought I would add a photo of Harrison and Gibson. I cant find one anywhere that shows the store in all its glory. Thats a ral shame as it was open for over 100 years and its such a waste that there are no photo's of it online.
I still see some of the people I used to work with now and then and say Hi to them.We share stories about the people we worked with and what we got up too. Some have passed away and others have moved on to other companies. The thing that gets me the most though? What a waste of knowledge that went when that store closed. What a waste of years of experience just waiting to be passed on to the next generation, eager to learn it from more experienced hands.I hope the people that move into the flats where that once great building stood enjoy it. Me? Its just another death knell to a once great high street.
R.I.P Harrison and Gibson Ill never forget you or the people I met and worked with.