Len's legacy lives on as furnishers celebrate 45th birthday
Visit Park Furnishers on any given day of the week and – once you've taken in the majestic surroundings (Corinthian pillars, sweeping staircases, cool mezzanines) – prepare to be confronted with a huge but eminently browsable array of furniture (including complete bedrooms and fitted kitchens) alongside a massive range of flooring options, cookware, bed linen, towels, ornaments, pictures, lighting, mirrors, wallpaper, curtains, picture frames, candles and gifts, resulting in the largest furniture and home accessories store in Bristol.
But behind the elegant facade and the indisputable bargains, there lies a family-based success story spanning 45 years.
"After a distinguished career as a tank commander in the 7th Armoured Division (The Desert Rats) and eight years in the role of chief administrator in the newly formed NHS, our founder Len Coller took a change of direction," Park Furnishers marketing manager Paul Marshall explains.
"In the late 1950s, he set up as a mobile greengrocer serving Bristol and the surrounding countryside. But to simply call him a greengrocer is doing him a disservice – as long as it was a good deal, Len would pretty much sell you anything!"
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During a holiday in Portugal in the early 1960s, Len came across a tiny shop selling a dining set perfect for his family kitchen back home. After some fierce negotiation, he brought the set back to England.
Over the coming weeks, many of Len's friends and neighbours admired the set, so much so that the following year the Coller family returned to Portugal – this time, travelling in a lorry.
In 1967, Len acquired the lease of 48 Sandy Park Road in Brislington, and Park Furnishers was founded.
While looking after the business during his father's temporary absence in 1970, Len's son Deryn – at the time, a policeman – acquired the premises next door to the existing shop, doubling the sales floor. Deryn never returned to the police force.
The Collis family eventually opened another shop in Ashton Drive and introduced late-night shopping to their customers, offering them sherry or wine on Friday evenings; by popular demand, Park Furnishers were soon serving drinks any time the shop was open. "Nowadays its just tea, coffee or soft drinks," says Paul. "But there are still occasions throughout the year when the bubbly flows!"
And there's every reason to celebrate. The fascinating history of Park Furnishers didn't end when those first corks popped. Subsequent developments (taking in tricky sale/buy back negotiations and relocation to bigger premises along the way) led to Park Furnishers being what it is today: an astonishing 105,000 square feet of home-based retail heaven, celebrating it's 45th anniversary this year.
"Park Furnishers has undergone many changes over the years, but the guiding principles remain constant," says Paul.
"We're not only committed to offering a massive choice at an affordable price, but we're dedicated to providing the very best in customer care and service too.
"We aim to make the whole shopping experience as laid back and friendly as possible; customers are free to browse at will without being jumped on by an over-enthusiastic sales person." Those staff are, however, always on hand to offer help and advice on stylings, fitting and delivery options, there's complementary tea and coffee available in the coffee lounge and a firm guarantee promises to beat any local competitor's prices, including internet offers at discretion – indeed, Paul thanks increasingly savvy shoppers for helping Park Furnishers ensure that complacency never creeps onto the agenda.
"We like to treat our customers as part of our extended family," says Paul. "They're our life-blood, never to be taken for granted. Despite the recent economic downturn, we're bucking the trend by showing a small increase in sales – for that, we can't thank our customers enough".
Ever mindful of giving something back to the community that so solidly supports them, Park Furnishers have pledged, during their 45th anniversary year, to raise £45,000 for St Peter's Hospice (find out more at www.parkfurnishers.co.uk/stpeters).
Sadly, Len Coller passed away in May this year. His legacy, however, lives on.
Park Furnishers Willway Street, Bedminster, Bristol BS3 4AZ Tel: 0117 966 9253; www.parkfurnishers.co.uk.