The Southampton shoe store that has been around for eight generations

THE OWNER of a shoe shop that has been around for eight generations said she is “very lucky” that her family members share a passion for the craft.

Caroline French, 46, is the managing director of WJ French & Son, one of the nation’s oldest shoe companies.

Francis French started the business in 1803 from his home in Kingsland Place. He then moved to Charlotte Place until his death in 1867.

His son William took over the business aged 23 working from several other addresses and in 1890 the shop moved to Bedford Place where it still stands today.

Five generations have since run the business.

Caroline took over in 2014 after the retirement of her father, William Richard French.

Photo of the third, fourth, fifth and sixth generations of the French family

She shares the story of her family’s historic business ahead of Independents Day on July 2-3 – an initiative to support local traders and encourage people to visit.

She says: “[The business] was always passed down to a child in the family and I just think we were very lucky to have someone who loved the work and loved the craft.

“We have customers who say they have been buying from us for three or four generations.

“If people remember going to our store as kids, they know we’re known for fitting shoes, measuring feet and giving great service.

“We know families very well who say they were served by my grandfather.”

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Caroline’s brother Michael, the company’s chief financial officer, added: “Customers come to me and tell me their grandfather and great-grandfather used to buy shoes. So it’s almost a tradition. , not just for our family but for many families in Southampton and the area.

“It’s something we’re all very proud of, the ability to share this tradition with so many other people.”

Store manager Roy Wallbridge, 72, has worked at the store for nearly 60 years.

He says the secret to his success is good service and word of mouth.

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“Customers come with their kids and buy their school shoes and probably hate them. But their parents keep bringing them every six months. It builds a relationship with the child, even though they may hate the shoes.

“When they get to the age to leave school, but they’ve been very loyal over the years, after a few years they come back. They come back with their children.

“If you stop the care and the good service, their parents stop coming and so do the children.”

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WJ and Son is located at 40 Bedford Place in Southampton, SO15 2DG.

This story is part of Go! Southampton’s bid to support local businesses on the upcoming Independents Day on July 2-3 aims to support local traders and encourage people to visit.

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