Market stalls to market leaders: the retail giants and their humble beginnings

The £6.8bn purchase of Asda by Blackburn brothers Mohsin and Zuber Issa has shone a light on their amazing rise in business.

The brothers started their Euro Garages firm with the purchase of a single petrol filling station in Bury, Greater Manchester, for £150,000 in 2001.

The company now has a portfolio of around 4,500 sites around the UK, mainland Europe, the USA and Australia, while the brothers’ worth is estimated to be around £3.5bn.

But they are not the first retail acorn to grow into a massive High Street giant, as our list shows…

B&M

B&M
(Image: Derby Telegraph)

Multinational retailer B&M started out as a single discount store, opening in the 1970s in Lancashire.

It was founded by Malcolm Billington as Billington & Mayman, launching in Blackpool in 1978. Mr Billington remained a company director until 1996, with the business seeing steady expansion.

By 2004, it had 21 stores, when it was acquired by current owners Simon and Bobby Arora from Phildrew Investments.

The name would eventually be changed to B&M – also standing for ‘Bargain Madness’ – and in 2010, the firm moved into a new head office and massive distribution centre in Speke, near Liverpool.

Massive success and expansion followed, and by 2012, B&M opened its 300th shop. To date, that number stands at around 600 UK stores, as well as owning the Heron Foods Group and the Babou retail chain in France.

Greggs

A Greggs store in the UK
Greggs
(Image: Newcastle Chronicle)

Food-on-the-go giant Greggs now sells around 2.5m sausage rolls a week from its 2,000+ shops around the UK.

But when it was formed by John Gregg in 1939, it was a one-man operation selling fresh eggs and yeast – on his bike – to the people of Newcastle.

The company opened its first store, on Gosforth High Street in Newcastle, just over a decade later and grew steadily over the years with a number of acquisitions of other bakery chains around the country.

Greggs was listed on the London Stock Exchange in 1984 and now has an annual turnover of more than £700m.

Tesco

Tesco
(Image: Nick Potts/PA Wire)

Tesco is one of the biggest retailers in the world – but it started from an East End market stall 101 years ago.

Jack Cohen started selling surplus groceries from a stall in 1919 after leaving the Royal Flying Corps and using his demob money to buy the first day’s stock.

In 1924, Cohen launched his first own brand product. He took the initials of tea supplier TE Stockwell and the first two letters of his surname to create the brand Tesco Tea.

Today Tesco has annual sales of more than £56bn and more than 440,000 staff, but it didn’t forget its roots – in 2018 it launched the Jack’s range of groceries and budget stores, named after its founder.

Home Bargains

Home Bargains
(Image: Huddersfield Examiner)

Home Bargains was founded in Old Swan back in 1976 by 21-year-old Tom Morris, the son of a shopkeeper.

First known as Home and Bargain – a name by which it is still known by many in Merseyside – it was started by Mr Morris gaining a bank overdraft, and took around £85 a week at first.

With a trading name of TJ Morris Ltd, the company’s initial success saw its first warehouse opened in nearby Prescot in 1979, before expanding into various others across Merseyside and further afield as time went on.

From modest beginnings, Home Bargains now has over 500 stores up and down the country, employing tens of thousands of staff. Mr Morris operates the firm with his brother Joe and the family were last year judged by the Sunday Times Rich List to be worth £3.59bn.

Barbour

Barbour
Barbour

Outdoor clothing brand Barbour began in 1894 when founded John Barbour opened a shop selling oilskins in South Shields Market Place.

The company is now run by the fifth generation of the same family and maintains its base in the Tyneside town, but it has retail store presence in more than 40 countries and is a favourite of Royals and pop stars alike.

The company last year celebrated its 125th anniversary and in recent years has worked with the likes of model Alexa Chung, Sam Fender, film director Sir Ridley Scott and ceramics designer Emma Bridgewater on special collections.

The firm and its controlling family are known for their philanthropy in the North East, and converted their factory at the start of the coronavirus pandemic to produce protective equipment for NHS trusts in the region.

Admiral Group

Admiral staff at its Newport office
(Image: Nick Fowler Photography)

Admiral began as a start-up in 1991 with a team of just 57 in Cardiff selling car insurance over the phone.

It is now a global business with a market capitalisation of £8bn and more than 11,000 staff, with overseas businesses in Spain, Italy, France, Canada, USA and India.

Admiral, which has branched out over the years into loans as well as launching what was the UK’s first price comparison venture in Confused.com, is the only headquartered business in Wales listed on the FTSE 100 index.

One of its founders, David Stevens, will stand as chief executive next year, following the departure in 2016 of co-founder and previous CEO Henry Engeldhart.

The business, which employs 8,000 at offices in Cardiff, Swansea and Newport, generated revenues of £3.4bn in 2019.

Iceland

Sir Malcolm Walker
(Image: publicity picture)

Supermarket chain Iceland was launched with just one store in Shropshire in 1970, by founders Malcolm Walker and business partner Peter Hincliffe after investing £60 to pay for the first month’s rent.

While the business has gone through several ownership cycles over the years, including at one stage being owned by Icelandic-owned Baugar Group, it is one of the biggest players in the UK supermarket sector with nearly 1,000 stores, including its Food Warehouse brand, and 25,000 staff.

Headquartered in Flintshire in North Wales, Mr Walker reacquired majority ownership in the business from South African investors earlier this year. His son Richard is now managing director of the £1bn-plus turnover business.

Hays Travel

John Hays, founder and managing director, and Irene Hays, Chair of Hays Travel Group, pictured at their HQ in Sunderland
John Hays, founder and managing director, and Irene Hays chair of Hays Travel Group.

Hays Travel was already the country’s largest independent travel agent before a deal last year to take on former Thomas Cook shops and staff more than doubled it in size overnight.

But the company started in the humble surroundings of founder John Hays mother’s childrenswear shop in Seaham, County Durham, in 1980 – and it almost failed before it got going when inspectors from Abta said the two firms weren’t properly demarcated.

Mr Hays said: “My mum had been very generous in giving me space rent free at the back of the shop, but she didn’t want to give away any space for her racks, so to get to the travel agency you had to work your way through a slalom course of dressing gowns, babygrows, socks and dresses.

“My dad was a joiner down the pits, so to demarcate between the shop and the agency he put up a garden trellis. He didn’t even varnish it or finish the edge off properly so people would click their clothes on it all the time.”

The Range

Founder of The Range Chris Dawson.
(Image: Penny Cross / Plymouth Live)

Retail tycoon Chris Dawson started his career as a market trader, but is now a billionaire.

The mogul’s wealth comes from the shopping empire he founded in home city Plymouth, and which continues to grow.

Along with wife Sarah Dawson the couple are now worth £2.05bn, with their chain having more than 175 stores, including three in Plymouth, one of which is the original The Range outlet.

The Range, which Mr Dawson once described as “a poor man’s John Lewis”, now employs more than 10,000 people and had a turnover of £869m in 2019. Mr Dawson has signed over the discount giant to his 57-year-old spouse, who he met when he sold her an £8.99 watch for a bargain £5 outside a pub.

Appreciate Group (was Park Group)

Peter Johnson, founder of Birkenhead-based Park group and former owner of both Everton and Tranmere Rovers football clubs. Picture by John Rushworth

In the late 1960s, Peter Johnson, a butcher’s son who later became chairman of Everton FC, founded a Christmas savings club by branching out the family business, which would go on to become Park Group.

He went about building a network of agents around the North West that soon went national, which was centred around the idea that people could put money aside to afford their Christmas dinner.

Other retailers soon heard about the initiative and joined the initiative, which led to hamper sales of more than 1m and made Mr Johnson one of the UK’s richest people.

Now known as Appreciate, the group works with around 400,000 families saving for Christmas, also dealing with over 30,000 corporate entities. It’s also home to gifting and rewards products including Love2shop and Park Christmas Savings.

Superdry

Superdry co-founder Julian Dunkerton
Superdry co-founder Julian Dunkerton

Fashion brand Superdry was co-founded by Julian Dunkerton and James Holder in Cheltenham in 2003.

Mr Dunkerton had previously launched Cult Clothing, which specialised in vintage Americana-inspired clothing in cities such as Cheltenham, Oxford, Birmingham and Edinburgh, while Mr Holder was the man behind skatewear brand Bench.

The pair met and Superdry was born following a trip by the pair to Tokyo and its style is still firmly inspired by Japan.

The company operates through more than 760 Superdry branded locations in 65 countries, including 245 in the UK and mainland Europe, alongside hundreds of franchised and licensed stores and concessions.

Dunelm

Dunelm began life in 1979 as a Leicester market stall selling curtains and run by Bill and Jean Adderley.

From that market stall – It was next to the fruit and veg stall run by the parents of Gary Lineker – the Adderleys opened their first Dunelm store in Churchgate, Leicester, in 1984.

Their first superstore opened in Rotherham in 1991. Though no longer active in the management of the group, Bill Adderley remains life president and their son Will is deputy chairman.

Today Dunelm has 173 stores and £1bn in sales.

Nisa

Nisa
(Image: Surrey Advertiser)

Nisa is the name on or behind almost 4,000 convenience stores nationwide but it all began with a hardware store in a densely populated area of Grimsby.

The retail adventure spanning three generations began with Ron Ramsden’s eponymous post-war shop, close to the then thriving fishing docks.

Son Dudley joined the business and formed the Northern Independent Supermarkets Association with Peter Garvin, building on a wholesale start-up.

That late Seventies meeting of minds saw buying power of hundreds of convenience stores united in a co-operative, only for The Co-operative to swoop and buy it in a £137.5m deal in 2018, with the business generating a turnover of £1.45bn.


Business Live – West Midlands