Nov 24, 2014

Rick Knowles runs Knowles of Worcester, the oldest family-run sports shop in the UK

The oldest sports shop in the UK! When did it open?
My great grandfather set up shop at 50 Broad Street, Worcester in 1884 as a saddlery, but photos from around that time show a tennis racquet in the shop window, so sport was included fairly early on. By the sixties it had become a sports and leather goods retailer. My dad expanded the sports side by building onto the shop.

Both my dad and grandfather were master saddlers, but by the early seventies that side of the business was gone. The sports market was, however, booming, so my father bought 19 Broad Street across the road to focus purely on sports, allowing the original shop to revert to only leather goods.

Did you always know you’d work in the business?
I’ve always loved sport. I played tennis from a very early age up to top club level and I’ve always skied. Now I’m into ski mountaineering and recently made a descent of Mont Blanc.

There was never any obligation for me to go into the business, but I always wanted to. I started properly when I was about 20. I’d done a few ski seasons as an instructor and my dad said I had to make my mind up what I wanted to do. I went onto run Knowles of Worcester, while dad ran Knowles Travelgoods. Tragically, dad died in a climbing accident in Switzerland in 1992. My mum and me decided to keep both shops on and my daughter’s been working with us for four years now too.

Who are your competitors?
For years we were the only sports shop in Worcester. In the late seventies and eighties there was an explosion of independent sports shops in the town, but more recently that’s changed to multiple sports retailers. Apart from a running shop, we’re the only independent again.

We used to do well in sports fashion, but the multiples have taken that business away, so we’ve returned to being a traditional sports retailer stocking quality sports gear and goods. The internet, though, is our main competitor. 

How is trade?

Trade over the last few years has been difficult, but we’ve got a loyal customer base and new customers come in all the time. They want the expertise we can offer and to be able to try things on. There’s always the danger they’ll go and buy goods cheaper online and I think a few people do, but not many. It helps that we offer a loyalty card scheme to keep customers on board. 

What future plans have you got?
We’re developing our online arm, which is where my daughter comes in. She’s got the Travelgoods website up and running, but it’s not so easily done with sports retail. As yet, we don’t have EPoS, which is fine for the leather shop because it’s a lot easier to keep an eye on the stock manually. But there are so many sports products, we need EPoS before we can move on. Intersport are being very helpful in bringing this about.

What are your best-sellers?
We’ve just had a great cricket season where we pretty much sold out of everything. We deal with around half a dozen brands. Running and swimming are good all year round, but rugby is best for us overall. Each brand is good at something, but not everything, so I cherry pick. Products like WackySox do well at Christmas and Waboba balls, which bounce on water, are great add-on sale items displayed by the till.

Are you a member of any buying groups?
We belong to Intersport, which is great. We get good deals and all the leading brands are at their trade shows. We joined about five years ago. We were with Allied Partners before.

What do you like most and least about your business?

I love the variety - no two days are ever the same. Satisfied customers are another bonus and we get some lovely comments. On the other hand, unsatisfied customers are one of the worst things. That and the amount of legislation we have to adhere to. It’s so time consuming.


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