Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Alan Tilbury looks back

Alan Tilbury wearing his chain of office as
Chairman of Budleigh Salterton's Chamber of Commerce
Photo credit Ray Ambrose

Not everyone knows that Fairlynch Museum is a member of Budleigh Salterton's Chamber of Commerce. In spite of being a charity the Museum shares many of the Chamber's interests. It has a shop, it depends for its income on attracting visitors to the town and it even shares a President in the person of Fairlynch co-founder Priscilla Hull.

Alan Tilbury retired recently as Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce. His wife, born in Budleigh, is a volunteer steward at Fairlynch and he has always had a soft spot for one of the town's best-known landmarks. Both are Friends of the Museum.

Here he looks back on a career in retail which gave him over more than half a century an intimate knowledge of the town's commercial life.  

Originally a Londoner he feels sufficiently naturalised in our area to know the town by its proper name of Salterton.

He was born in Putney in 1941, in a house belonging to a friend of his mother's after his parents' house was bombed. The family moved to his grandparents' house in Exmouth before settling in Budleigh Salterton in 1947.
Perriam's stores, one of Budleigh's longest-established shops, now no more

He got his first taste of running a shop in 1956, aged 15.  "My career in retail began very small in Salterton in 1956, in a grocers named Perriam's Stores in Fore Street where the Spar is now situated," he explained. Three years later, being an ambitious young man, he moved up the road to where Budleigh Wines now have their shop, to work for a company then named Fosters where he thought he would have better prospects.

"After two years another move within the town, to World Stores, where What Katy Did is now trading. This company was larger with even more chance of advancement. I was taken on as relief manager in the area from Chudleigh to Seaton and Honiton. This worked very well for me," said Alan. "It was during this time Jenny and I married in 1963 in the Temple Methodist Church where we were both members and in the choir. We rented a flat in Exmouth near the seafront and it was here one year later our son Mark was born."

Still ambitious and confident that his future lay in retail, Alan felt that he should be broadening his horizons. "It was time to grow up and look for greater things," as he put it. "I asked my area manager and he secured me a position in Warminster in Wiltshire as provisions manager."

A happy year was spent in Warminster, where the family moved in November 1964 but then came another move to Yate near Bristol, where Alan worked for three more happy years as provisions manager at a large supermarket in a new shopping centre, gaining an insight into man-management and progressing to grocery manager. The couple's twin daughters Sarah and Karen were born in Bristol's Southmead Hospital in 1966.

Two years later came the offer of managing a store in Chandler's Ford, Hampshire where Alan spent a further "not quite as happy" three years. But it was here that they bought their first house.
A further move came in 1971, to Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, in the Midlands where Alan managed another large supermarket. It was a period which he remembers fondly. "The store was huge for those days with 100 staff where I learned so much about management," he recalls. "We were so happy, with a lovely house. We made lots of friends and the children were settled."   

But the constant moves were beginning to take their toll, and seemed likely to continue. "The thought of another move which was sure to happen was more than our kids could cope with," Alan explained.  They decided that if they were ever going to settle down it would be in the area that they knew best.

"In 1974 we returned to Exmouth to live and rented the shop that is now Hospicecare as a greengrocers which we named Tilburys in the High Street in Salterton. Later we bought the freehold and moved into the huge flat over it and lived very happily there for over 30 years."

It was now that Alan became involved with the Chamber of Commerce. He was elected onto the Executive Committee and began to take responsibility for different sections of the organization.  1999 saw him as Chairman for the first time, for which he feels he was well supported.

Tesco's arrival: no help for Budleigh shopkeepers
Ironically, in view of his previous experience of running supermarkets, it was the arrival of a giant store just a few miles away in Exmouth that Alan remembers as causing problems for many of Budleigh's shops. "I remember the town trading as a mainly fresh food shopping centre," he says. "This all ended when Tesco opened. Suddenly every trader lost one third of their takings. It was a very traumatic time but we steadily moved forward with some casualties in the fresh food area." 

What progress was made was confined mainly to non-food traders, he recalls. At that time Alan remembers lots of antique shops, but the impact on local traders following the arrival of the superstore was long lasting and the town had a number of empty shops.

In spite of the threat to Budleigh as a commercial centre, Alan is convinced that the town has numerous assets to attract business. The biggest is free car parking places, where Budleigh gains on other towns, he believes.

"That is so unusual that we sing it from the tree tops as often as possible. Then we have a number of dress shops where so many original designs can be purchased, along with other excellent shops where customers can browse. That has to be an attraction to the discerning customer. Then of course these same people will buy their fresh foods."

Marketing such trump cards to consumers outside Budleigh is vital, he says. "More advertising is always a good way of promotion and something we should
pursue with vigour."

Alan Tilbury with Chamber of Commerce members in 2007.
On his left is Priscilla Hull, Chairman of both
the Chamber of Commerce and Fairlynch Museum
Photo credit Ray Ambrose

Looking back on his time as Chamber of Commerce Chairman Alan feels that among his positive achievements was the building of a good relationship with the Town Council. "As far as I was concerned our Town Council were never really Chamber oriented. I like to think that, during my second tenure as chairman, this has changed to full support following our own interest in their procedures."

And what of Budleigh's future as a commercial centre and in particular the role of the Chamber of Commerce? It's a difficult issue, he admits. "Times are changing, and more customers are thinking in terms of supermarket shopping. The trend, especially among our younger population, is to bulk and internet buy. It is up to our members to give a really personal service that surpasses everything a large store and IT can offer. With the overhead costs of trading increasing at an alarming rate, people should be made aware that if you don't use it, you will lose it!"
Where it all started:
Alan Tilbury outside the building where he started work in Budleigh

Having said that, Alan agrees that Chamber members have to think positively. "We must strive to be the best in all things. Our Tourist Information Centre is run by a good team, they are very necessary for promoting us to the distant and nearby visitors Mostly, we consist of independent businesses who really must be aware of customer needs."

"The Chamber must have close links and interaction with Council, Museum, Charity organisations, Music and Literary Festival, Churches and all traders."

Many visitors to Budleigh and indeed many residents value the town for its old-fashioned ways, and Alan recognises that such unique qualities have their place. "Some will say we are in a time warp. This could be an asset as nostalgia is a powerful thing. People love to be among their memories of how things used to be.  But, is it enough?" he asks.

Evidently an increasing number of traders are asking that question, and are keen to embrace the advantages of modern technology in their businesses. A report including the results of a recent survey of local traders makes interesting reading.

"Far from being ‘sleepy’, many businesses in Budleigh are modern, enterprising, moving with the times and pushing the boundaries," it concluded. Of 41 local businesses -  with an average of 17 years of being established - it appears that 90% are on email and are happy to receive electronic communications, 76% have their own website, and 39% are already using social media such as Facebook, Twitter or blogs.

And that, we're glad to say, includes Fairlynch Museum.

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  1. Hello - I live in Los Angeles and was just thinking about Perriam's today! I had some crisps which reminded me of the old Smith's with the little blue salt packets we used to get from Perriam's in the early 50s. Yes, I remember the overhead baskets too! And I remember Tibury's greengrocer later. I get back quite often and think fondly of those days - I think there were 3 fishmongers! I've also been to Brewster on Cape Cod. Enjoyed this article and this site. Best, Jan Ashenfelter

  2. I've just picked up a bottle at Ladram Bay.There has been a small landslide there and l spotted the bottom of it and dug it.The bottle is of the old type with a glass marble in the neck.The name on it is PERRIAMS STORE SALTERTON .Does anyone remember these bottles and what they were used for.