Set for an early retirement Henry Ruddock, 67, never intended to take on the family business, but due to unforeseen events he made the choice to continue the legacy of one of Lincoln’s oldest family-run businesses.
“My father always wanted his two sons to do something different, rather than just walk into the business. His reasoning for that was that he had always been expected to join the business but he wanted to pursue a career as a land agent. But then the war came and things changed,” said Henry.
The legacy of Ruddocks of Lincoln was established when Henry’s great grandfather entered into the business in 1872. The business itself had already been running since 1820. Eight years later, in 1880 he started his own business in printing which has been carried on to this day as Ruddocks Design and Print.
After WWII, Henry’s father realised that it would be a great opportunity to start an advertising company with the war being over and businesses trying to rebuild and secure their place in the future. Still not a part of the family business himself, he would use his father’s printing business for his advertising business, helping both companies to rebuild.
“Clever move. He was quite a smart guy my dad, and I am only beginning to realise this. But then eventually his father died in 1956 and his uncle died in 1965, so he gained control of the family business.”
Henry took a different career path. After working in the NHS for 16 years and making his way up to middle management, he received a phone call three months before his 50th birthday.
“He said, ‘A little bird tells me you might be interested in taking early retirement. If we made you an appropriate offer would that be the case?’ To which I replied, ‘Well it might be, I don’t know’.”
A couple of days later Henry was offered some figures of which he accepted, leading him into an early retirement at the age of 50. Excited about the news, he came to Lincoln the following Monday to tell his dad the news. His dad was still working at the age of 80 and was surprised by the news.
Not sure what he was going to do with his new found free time, Henry didn’t have much time to think about it, as the following Saturday his father died suddenly, which led Henry to take on the family business in 1997.
“How much of a choice was it? I don’t know. I suppose that I could have closed it but I never really thought of doing that because it has been going a long time.”
Making a mark
The grounding of the business had been set by his predecessors, but Henry quickly realised that the way his father set the store up was not the way that he wanted it to be seen in the future, and so started looking at options to give it a fresh new look.
“I thought the shop was a little tired when I took it over. It did need some stuff doing to it. The print was ok. That was doing alright.
“The first thing that I tried to do was get the shop front sorted out because it looked very 1960s. I think that if you have a nice building you have to make it look like a nice building.
“I felt that people wanted something traditional, they want rooting and they want establishment. People were actually quite respondent to that.”
However, having an idea is the easy part. Henry searched for grants and ways to be able to afford the refit and in 2009 he celebrated success. The store was granted its funding from the Herritage Lottery Fund of £160,000 and Henry was finally able to refurbish the whole building. “We modernised it by oldening it. It is not retro but it is traditional.
“Then I turned my attention to the inside. This is quite a big building, people know about the ground floor and the first floor but what they don’t know is that we have another couple of floors. Not for retail, but rooms. We have now changed one of the rooms into a classroom/workshop. So we do courses.”
Henry’s father had blocked off the stairs, which Henry believed had so much character and added to the store’s atmosphere, so he wanted to restore it to the way it was in 1904 when the building first became Ruddocks of Lincoln.
“When all of the refurbishment started, I thought ‘Look, we’ve got a big building, We can’t survive on one floor. You have to make use of your assets.'”
From that thought, Henry developed the upstairs of the store, opening it out and making the best of all of the space that he could.
The most recent addition to the the store is Henry’s Tea Room which opened April 2013 on the first floor and which has been kept as traditional as the store.
Henry has invested around £500,000 into the revitalisation, making it truly an iconic store in the city centre.
Knowing what works
With more than 125 years experience, Ruddocks Design and Print – the design, marketing and print business – is running on its own steam with very little assistance required, whilst keeping up to date with the latest technology. “What we have now is an absolutely fit for purpose unit. It is completely awesome.
“We did all of the election material and that is a massive piece of work that has to be done in a very tight timescale.
“We have the systems, we’ve got the kit and we have got the switched on people who know how to do it!”
Henry often included his staff, who think of the team as family, in the decision making for the store. He takes their opinion into account before any changes are made to the business and he couldn’t be prouder of how his staff have helped the company grow.
“I have very, very, very good staff fortunately, who are competent, passionate, dedicated and committed. They really want to see it succeed. Without them you can’t really run a business like the store or print.”
Henry has always opted for the high quality products that are sold in his store and with the exception of the gift section, there is a common theme amongst everything that is sold in the store. It is a creative challenge.
“I think that retail is tough. In this country, we live in an age of oversupply. You can get anything that you want within five minutes at the touch of a phone and it is delivered in a couple of days. Recognising that we live in that era, we have to offer something that makes people want to be here.”
“We have craft materials, haberdashery, jigsaws. The toys are creative education. I absolutely hate the expensive packaged plastic that, not only doesn’t do a great deal but breaks when you look at it.” It even offers workshops for customers to gain that extra knowledge for their chosen hobby.
The wow factor
With all of the changes around the city centre, Ruddocks of Lincoln has stayed constant and is not planning on going anywhere anytime soon. For both businesses, Henry has made a point about doing the best he can for his customers.
“It is very important to concentrate on what you are actually doing. I want customers to have an interest and say ‘Wow, I’m glad I came here.’ You might think that we are in the stationary business, or the arts business, but I think that we are in the entertainment business.
“I want people to come here and go ‘Wow!’ and be entertained, be stimulated and be interested by what they see.
“We have spent a huge amount of time and effort getting the kit right. It has taken a long time both at the store and for the print and it is now very fit for purpose. We are continuing to develop that and we are currently investing, again, in the print which we need because of the new business that we are getting.”
This feature interview was first published in issue 29 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine.