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Horsham’s Cooks store celebrates 90 years in business

HISTORY: Cooks Manchester and Lingerie owner John Latimer with an early picture of his family’s business in Firebrace Street. His grandfather Walter Cook, Walter’s wife Ellen and their six children started the grocery and drapery business 90 years ago, on June 30, 1928. Pictures: PAUL CARRACHER

HISTORY: Cooks Manchester and Lingerie owner John Latimer with an early picture of his family’s business in Firebrace Street. His grandfather Walter Cook, Walter’s wife Ellen and their six children started the grocery and drapery business 90 years ago, on June 30, 1928. Pictures: PAUL CARRACHER

By SARAH SCULLY
When Cooks Manchester and Lingerie owner John Latimer locked up his store on June 30, a shiver ran down his spine as he walked from the front door back to the sales counter.
To most, it was another Saturday morning. But to Mr Latimer, it marked 90 years to the day his family launched what would eventually become his legacy.
“I closed the shop at 12.30pm and as I walked back along the floorboards I thought, goodness gracious, my grandparents did this 90 years ago,” Mr Latimer said.
“And my family has done it ever since. There’s been somebody in the family for 90 years walking on the same floorboards.
“It was quite emotional really, it hit me quite strongly.”
Mr Latimer’s grandparents Walter and Ellen Cook moved to Horsham from Ballarat in 1928, purchasing their business from another company, Edwards and Teague.
“My grandfather was a saddler in Ballarat and he could foresee the growing popularity of motor vehicles,” Mr Latimer said.
“He had six children and he thought the best thing would be to take over a business somewhere and employ all his kids.
“So when they came here, my grandparents both worked in the business and of course, the six children all participated. It was only three years later my grandfather, who was 64 at the time, passed away. But the family continued.”
A grocery department made up half of the original W. Cook and Sons store, with the remaining side focusing on drapery, which in those days included apparel, dress material, furnishing fabrics and so on.
The Cook family business faced many challenges, including the Great Depression and the Second World War.
Among the Cook children were four sisters, including Mr Latimer’s mother, Grace, and two brothers, one of whom was killed in action in 1941.
Mr Latimer’s father, George Latimer, met Grace Cook in the late 1930s.
At the time, George was working at Horsham’s former well-known Langlands Department Store and upon his marriage to Grace, took up a position in the family business.
“Even when my dad was working here in the 1940s and early 1950s, half of the business side was still groceries and the other was still drapery, clothing, manchester and all those things,” Mr Latimer said.
“Prior to 1956, we used to employ a guy called Jack Foley. His job was to bicycle to homes around Horsham and he would sit at the kitchen table and take people’s orders.
“The orders would be packed in the afternoon and up until 1956 they were delivered by horse and cart. It’s a huge contrast to what happens now.”
In 1956, Mr Latimer’s uncle Wal, who managed the grocery department, had a fairly severe stroke.
The remaining four sisters and George made the decision to sell off the groceries and expand the drapery side of the business to take over the entire shop.
New venture
Mr Latimer entered the business in 1973 after working as an electrician for Horsham’s Hopper family for six years after graduating from high school.
“Even though I was encouraged to go into the family business when I was 18, my parents saw fit that if I was coming into the business I should have worked under someone else and also have a trade behind me,” he said.
“I worked here for two years and then my aunties, who were starting to age, put the proposition to my parents that my father, my mother and myself take over the whole business from the three remaining sisters and brother.
“By then the business was all drapery, manchester, knitting yarns, women’s wear, menswear and so on.
“Gradually, dad and I decided to drop off the departments that were failing a little bit and increase the stock in the ones that were growing.
“Over a period of 13 years we developed the business to what it is today, half lingerie and sleepwear and the other half manchester.”

CUSTOMER FOCUS: Cooks Manchester and Lingerie owner John Latimer with staff members Tiana Eldridge, centre, and Kelly Smithyman.

CUSTOMER FOCUS: Cooks Manchester and Lingerie owner John Latimer with staff members Tiana Eldridge, centre, and Kelly Smithyman.

While 90 percent of today’s turnover is taken via credit or debit cards, initially the bulk of trade was done in cash or cheques.
“We ran over 200 accounts we would send out monthly,” Mr Latimer said.
“Through the Depression I can remember mum and dad saying strongly that we carried a lot of farmers in the area. They might have carried the debt for two or three years.”
Along with major changes with the advent of credit and debit cards, Cooks has also had to adapt to the popularity of online buying and selling.
Loyal customers
Mr Latimer said online sales were of major concern to regional retailers.
“A lot of retailers would hope a lot of regional people are still loyal to them,” he said.
“I believe that still happens in smaller centres, like ours, and I think that’s appreciated by retailers in Horsham or wherever they might be.
“The fact is you might save a bit of money online but you’re not supporting your own community. If people are online shopping and they see a good price, I’m sure they can approach suitable retailers about the stock they’re looking at and I’m confident retailers will help bridge that gap in price. People just need to do it.”
Another major evolution is the expansion of product ranges, particularly in terms of colours, patterns and styles.
Mr Latimer said when he joined the business in 1973, sheets were either white or calico.
“Now, I have 23 different colours,” he said.
“Ranges have increased dramatically and so have people’s expectations.”
Wimmera shoppers will have an opportunity to pick up some bargains this week during Cooks’ 90th birthday celebration sale, from today until Friday.
“Our suppliers have been really helpful to us in offering some cracker specials,” Mr Latimer said.
He said he enjoyed helping customers make their selections.
“It’s nice that we can advise them and with our awareness of product knowledge, help people find what’s best for their needs,” he said.
“Over the past five to 10 years, with all the administration that has to be done now, I’ve had to move into a purely administrative role, which is a little bit regretful.
“I like to be on the shop floor and seeing customers my parents knew.
“I know an awful lot of the people who come into the shop by name.
“I think the customer contact is the most enjoyable part of the business.”

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Posted on Jul 11 2018

Posted by on Jul 11 2018. Filed under Business & Finance, Community, FEATURED, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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