Over 100 years of experience
1915 1925 1935 1940 1948 1955 1960 1961 1963 1964 1966 1968 1970 1975 1978 1982 1989 1995 2005 2007 2010 2017 2018
This was the year a young Mr Walter James Dockerill decided to open the first ‘Dockerills’ shop in his hometown of Brighton, The 31a Edward Street shop was to be the foundation of a long tradition of family shop keepers over the years. The first shop sold mostly bicycles & spares in the early days with a few ironmongery items while offering the traditional service and support to the local community.
With the help of his wife ‘Elizabeth’ the shop grew in popularity and new lines were added as the shop started to outgrow itself, Elizabeth was quite a character and a strong woman in the Edward Street environment which was renown as a criminal area in the early days. Known as the ‘godmother’ she was a peacemaker and local families visited the shop for advice and support, by all accounts a lovely woman.
The business extended to 3 shops in Edward Street with a growing theme towards ironmongery and hardware as the customer requests grew. The street has certainly evolved over the years and the site now occupied by American Express was home to The Salvation Army. Walter and Elizabeth’s first son Walter Harry Dockerill was now helping in the shops and gaining valuable experience, showing the passion & ambition to grow the business he would prove to be a driving force throughout the following years.
Young Walter Harry was ambitious and after gentle persuasion he encouraged his father to rent further shops in the Church St/Gardner St area, shops were cheap to rent and available with Walter Harry keen to raise the necessary funds and consider his long term business plans after the war. As the country fell into war the 40's were a difficult time but the family ensured the shops weathered the storm and remained a valuable asset to the local community. Mr Walter Dockerill and his colleague stand proud outside the 99 church street corner shop.
The Edward St shops would close during this period as Walter James would pass on the business to his son and the Church Street shops would become the main focus. With a family rift developing it was Elizabeth and an accountant friend who ensured the business was sold to Walter Harry as his father was considering other options! This would prove to be an important period in the company’s future and ensured family relations remained attached to the business.
The shops were now selling hardware and tools with services including lawn mower repairs and paraffin suppliers. A shop was also acquired at 7 Church Street at this time for a temporary period. “We were selling hundreds of gallons a week of paraffin while stocking ‘by’ products of petrol like linseed oil… if there had been a fire it would have been a major concern as the fire brigade would have had little chance putting it out!”
Shops were now occupied at 101-103 church street, 1 Gardner Street, 5/6 Gardner Street, 50 Gardner Street and 98 Church Street in Brighton. Also a shop in Blatchington Road, Hove was acquired on at temporary basis. Now a flourishing independent hardware store we had shops in various positions in the North Laine area. Walters’s wife Ethel was now an established shop keeper in the Dockerills shops and a well-liked character with a passion for customer service and knowledge of products.
For well over 100 years, from the 1820s to the 1940s, North Laine was Brighton's industrial quarter and when the Conservation Area was created in 1977, it was because enough of the area's industrial heritage remained to justify the conservation area status. What did remain of the Victorian North Laine was its mixed use nature - the mix of industry, commerce, warehousing, domestic and retail all existing cheek by jowl. Shops catered for local residents and businesses. Most of these businesses have gone but some remain as a reminder of what the North Laine used to be like before the era of out of town shops and inner town malls.
The Gardner Street shop was now offering garden requisites as Walter showed a knack of knowing what the customers wanted and took no time filling the shelves accordingly. Local business was thriving in the area with the Evening Argus building close by and one of our regular customers a successful antique dealer who had stables next to the Wagon & Horses pub where he kept Shire horses. Walter and Ethel’s sons Ray & Malcolm were now working in the business with Ray running the tool shop. Malcolm joined the family business after an apprenticeship in a builder’s merchant and he was proving to be a more flamboyant business man than his predecessors, he would prove to be an influential figure in the future history of Dockerills.
A retail outlet with flats above was acquired in Church Road, Burgess Hill and became known as ‘Dockerills Mid Sussex’, this was a popular shop in the local community and had the authentic feel of an old ironmongers while offering services including locksmiths, gas & paraffin. The young Dockerill family spent some time living in one of the flats before moving to Brighton. It traded successfully throughout the years with various staff involved in the running of the shop while being overseen by the Dockerill family. Eventually it closed sadly in 1995 due to the recession, decreased sales & ongoing expenses.
Various shops were occupied in Church St, Gardner St and the corner of Bond St during the 60s as Walter took advantage of cheap rent opportunities and shops opened and closed periodically. Each shop would have the Dockerills feel with well stocked shelves and attentive staff on hand to deal with all enquiries. Homeware, decorating and DIY was becoming more popular while gardening tools and requisites were still a popular range.
Deliveries were becoming a popular service and our Dockerills fleet were an eye catching orange back in the 60s.
Gardner Street was now becoming a busy street with a wide range of shops and increasing customer flow, we occupied a few properties in the street and ironmongery along with second hand tools were our main interest. However Church St was becoming a well occupied street by Dockerills with shops on both sides and a busy second hand tool department establishing itself in our current site further down the street.
The current site of 3abc Church Street was purchased in the 70s and proved to be one of the most influential business moves in the company’s ability to get through some difficult times as future recessions and spending confidence was affected over the years following. Thankfully an understanding bank manager at Barclays ‘Gordon Steptoe’ considered a loan and lent Malcolm three quarters of the money and the rest was raised on his house, after a complicated negotiation an offer was accepted and the rest is history. Malcolm’s father ‘Walter’ was not interested in buying the property as he was considering retirement so looking back had Malcolm not shown the determination and foresight the business would most likely have failed to survive the difficult times and rising rent. Consolidation of the other shops followed and the main focus at 3abc Church St was on key cutting, security products, ironmongery and general maintenance products. Lawnmowers, gardening, paint and tools would take less priority.
Ginger the shop cat…
Following the pet shop being closed down in Gardner Street we were asked if we could sell pet food by local customers so knowing the Burgess Hill shop had done well with pet products we introduced them into the Church St shop. The down side was an increasing number of mice finding our new stock rather tempting, one day a woman came into the shop and went to take something off the counter when a mouse ran over her hand, this resulted in her fainting and an ambulance called to help bring her round! The inevitable suggestion of ‘why don’t you get a cat’ followed! Ginger reached a great age for a cat, overall a wonderful if not unusual life and after her passing we had local media interest and many condolences, the legacy continues to this day with customers remembering her, more Ginger stories to follow....
The late 70s saw the acquisition of adjoining properties that make the shop what it is today, Regent House has an historical background as a hotel and gentleman’s club, the cellars stretch the length of the building and were part of the wine cellars attached to Peter Dominic an international distillers & vintners. The property would go on to become a valuable assett with flats, offices and retail outlets evolving through the years.
Malcolm Dockerill's eldest daughter Karen starts in the business along with Neville Williams the current Shop General Manager, the staff enjoyed flourishing times with a real family business environment as Brenda Dockerill (Malcolm’s wife) also joined the workforce. The late 80s would see staff members Ryan Gayler (Karen’s husband) and Gary Healey (the Locksmith) join the company and begin their careers working for Dockerills, they would all prove to be loyal employees and still remain in the business to this day. After a spell on the shop floor Ryan was encouraged to develop the sign making business as a new computerised method would take over from engraving, this part of the business proved popular and is still an important part of our services. Gary has gone on to become a ‘Master Locksmith’ and offers an experienced service to the local businesses and community.
During the 80's Church Street was still a relatively quiet area of the town centre but there were indications that changes were imminent. The old car park site opposite was being developed and the North Laine shopping experience was becoming more popular with people venturing away from the popular Churchill Square area. Trade custom was a busy part of the business at this time and our concern on development of the area was the potential of traffic restrictions and parking. Our stock was now increasing as the product range grew especially in the ironmongery and security product ranges, seasonal gardening and fire place products would also be popular ranges.
The 90s were a busy period with the staff force increasing and continued development of the shop both internally and externally. A wall was removed to extend the upper shop floor and a Timber Department was established on the lower floor area. With the cellars now fully utilised with stock and a cutting workshop it was a hive of industry throughout.
As the shop floor was enlarged a project was discussed to install new counters to compliment the set up and after plans were drawn up by Ryan and a carpenter was sourced we gave the go ahead on the handmade ‘Oak top’ counters you now see in two areas of the shop. It was this year we entered the Brighton Business Awards under the category ‘Best Customer Service’ and we were delighted to take home the coveted winning trophy, this was reward to the staff for their service and professional advice which is something we keep at the forefront of our company.
The late noughties saw the timber supplies part of the business become increasing less profitable with stock issues and the general fabrication timescales hard to manage. This once again turned our thoughts to other lines of the business that could be encouraged, plumbing and Electrical products increased and have a proved a popular introduction.
With a challenging period in retail evolving the shop would see changes in high street buying patterns with the internet and large outlet stores competing with prices and offering fast delivery. With local shops feeling the pressure it was the closing down of Aird’s tool shop in Bond St. that resulted in our decision to open a more specialist tool department and also a larger decorating section. Our experienced staff would be able to offer the ‘customer support’ often overlooked with an online purchase and we learnt this was a service many customers missed, both areas have grown in our lower shop section and a Dulux paint mixing service is also available. The upper floor shop would continue its busy, reputable key cutting and home security services products along with general hardware store products.
There were signs our Trade business was becoming a challenge for regulars with traffic and parking a major factor in the City centre, however our many local trade & account customers were loyal to our services and we maintained a positive relationship with a delivery service and posting products direct. We planned for our first website and although customers could not purchase direct at this stage it proved a success in providing a catalogue and insight into our family business ethos. Between 2013-15 we welcomed three family members who would become fifth generation 'Dockerills' involved in the business, Ryan and Karen Gayler's (nee Dockerill, the eldest daughter of Malcolm) eldest son Curtis joined from college and Reece their younger son did an apprenticeship through the business in 'customer service' and 'sign making'. Jo Irvine's (nee Dockerill, the youngest daughter of Malcolm) eldest daughter Elsie also joined the counter staff. Both Curtis and Elsie have passed their first year GAI (Guild of Architectural Ironmongers) award & Reece has gone on to run the sign making department and produces various bespoke signage.
Malcolm & Brenda Dockerill as directors would continue to oversee the business and offer valuable experience as the younger generation adapted to the challenges of a retail environment that requires dedication and passion to ensure the stock of products and customer service is maintained.
We begin the process of establishing a fully e-commerce website and EPOS system as the company reflects on the influence of social media, digital marketing, stock control and online sales to name a few of the contributing factors businesses have to consider moving forward. These challenges are met with the confidence we can give our customers the traditional shopping experience they have enjoyed over the years while remaining competitive and relevant in the current high street environment. With much emphasis on ‘shopping local’ and creating a familiar staff relationship we can offer the local community and afar the opportunity to visit our shop and ask for anything from one screw to a full master key system for a commercial property.
The current staff of today can be seen on our ‘Meet the Team’ page, from pre-packing to accounts we strive to build on the company’s traditional history of customer service. The new website would be launched in March 2018 and this will lead to the next phase of building an EPOS system within the shop to ensure stock control and an efficient customer sales experience. Instagram @dockerillsbrightonltd, Facebook @dockerillsbrightonlimited and Twitter @dockerills all offer a new platform to encourage customer interaction along with a website 'News' section. The family involvement includes eight members at this time with three generations offering various skills and experience, the long spoken about ‘Sunday Opening’ is under consideration by the family members for the first time in our history so watch this space…
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