Magazine article Marketing

GREAT BRITISH BRANDS: Harrods - Once a Humble Grocer's Shop in East London, Harrods Is Now the Capital's Third Most Popular Tourist Attraction

Magazine article Marketing

GREAT BRITISH BRANDS: Harrods - Once a Humble Grocer's Shop in East London, Harrods Is Now the Capital's Third Most Popular Tourist Attraction

Article excerpt

Harrods, now known as the 'top people's store', once advertised itself as the cheapest store in London and has come a long way from humble beginnings.

Harrods started out as a modest grocery in east London in 1849. In 1864, Charles Digby Harrod bought the store - by now based in Knightsbridge - from his father for pounds 500 and made a name for himself by banning credit and cutting prices.

The firm prospered and in June 1870 Harrod introduced a 65-page catalogue guaranteeing delivery to all parts of the country as long as the goods had been paid for in advance. A massive fire destroyed the building and all the stock on December 6, 1883, but after setting up in nearby temporary premises with new stock, Harrod's store broke all previous records that Christmas.

The disaster provided the opportunity to design a new and impressive store with five floors, attracting a glamorous clientele including Oscar Wilde and Lillie Langtry. Even as late as 1894, however, Harrods was still advertising itself as 'The cheapest stores in London'. It was not until 1902 that Harrods went upmarket, calling itself 'The most fashionable resort for shopping in London'.

By this time the store's myriad departments included men's and ladies' fashion, the fur salon, restaurants, hairdressing, a bank, an estate agency and a piano department. The UK's first escalator was introduced at Harrods in 1898, with attendants stationed at the top to offer smelling salts or a tot of brandy to nervous customers. In 1904 Harrods claimed to be 'The shrine of fashion'.

Ads were aimed at women, for whom Harrods was one of the few public destinations where they could meet without a chaperone.

Ads consistently appeared in magazines and newspapers such as The Illustrated London News and Lady's Pictorial. In 1929, the store won awards for a controversial advertising campaign that appeared in The Observer and in some US newspapers.

For the ad, Harrods had contacted three eminent writers - George Bernard Shaw, HG Wells and Arnold Bennett - asking them to 'lend the influence of their pens in the cause of business'. All three refused to co-operate, but each sent a long letter detailing his reasons for not wanting to be drawn into commerce. These refusals were printed in a full-page ad that was widely read and hotly debated on both sides of the Atlantic.

During the war years, Harrods' marketing activities slowed down in line with the general mood of austerity, but by the 1960s advertising was back in full swing. …

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