During the Victorian era, railways made it easier for producers to sell goods across the whole country. To ensure that the customer knew whose product they were buying, firms began to label their goods.

The Wolsey building in Leicester

The Wolsey building in Leicester

If the customer liked the producer's goods, they could then go and buy more of them, asking for them by name.  Gradually brand names were promoted by using advertisements to increase awareness of the brand.  The earliest in the hosiery industry was I. & R. Morley, who inserted an M in the selvedge of their stockings from the mid-nineteenth century.

Robert Walker & Sons looked to the local area to find a name for their brand.  Close to the company's factory was Leicester Abbey where Cardinal Wolsey had been buried, this inspired the company to choose Wolsey as the brand name.  The merger with W. Tyler, Sons & Co. saw the brand name emerge as the new name for the combined company, Wolsey Ltd.  Press advertising highlighted the quality of the Wolsey product.  'Unshrinkable' combinations and socks were two of the promoted ranges.  Meanwhile John Smedley & Co of Matlock developed a strong brand name (Smedleys Knitwear) on the basis of quality Egyptian cottons knitted on fully-fashioned machines.

Unlocking sales

The development of brands based on new fabrics was also used as a way of selling goods.  The 'interlock' fabric, produced on a machine developed by Scott & Williams of the USA, was carefully controlled in its use.  After Scott & Williams had patented the interlock design in 1909, G Blackburns was awarded the only licence outside the USA to manufacture the interlock machine.  Subsequently, agreements were made with George Spencer of George Spencer & Co. Ltd and P.J. and B. Lewis of J.B. Lewis & Sons to share the rights to produce and use the interlock fabric.  Spencers used its 'Vedonis' brand to promote its interlock women's and children's wear, and Lewis and Sons created 'Meridian' for its menswear.  The agreement with Scott & Williams protected both the Meridian and Vedonis brands from competition until the interlock patent ran out in 1929.  The interlock fabric used two threads knitted alternately on two sets of needles.  The stability of the fabric made it popular for cut and sew work.

Leaving out the middleman

In addition to firms advertising their products to the customer in journals and newspapers, they also had to make arrangements for goods to reach the shops.  From the eighteenth century, firms had sent their goods to warehouses based around the Wood Street area of London.  The warehouse acted as a middleman between the manufacturer and the retailer, taking on stock-holding and marketing risks in return for a margin of fifteen percent or so.  Warehouses faced losing their business if the manufacturers and retailers cut them out of the supply chain and traded directly with each other.  Growing connections between manufacturers and retailers, together with a range of other problems, encouraged warehouses to form the Wholesale Textile Association (WTA) in 1912.  The membership of the Association increased over the next two decades from an initial figure of 80 to 500 by 1935.

The WTA stated in 1913 that warehouses should give preference to manufacturers that did not sell directly to retailers.  The threat of being boycotted by the WTA faced those firms dealing directly.  If they were blackballed, to survive they would have to rely on their own sales team to find buyers.  Corahs was struck off in the 1930s after it had emerged that it had secretly been selling goods directly to Marks & Spencer.  Manufacturers became increasingly angered by the WTA and its powers, forcing them to take action.  In 1926, the Leicester manufacturers made a series of complaints to the WTA about their business practices.  They maintained that buyers from warehouses would often not look at samples of new products or that they would only order small, less cost effective quantities and, therefore, companies were forced to sell directly to retailers.  Retailers also took action against the WTA.  Selfridges banned purchases from 176 WTA member warehouses in 1936.

Despite the growth of the manufacturer-to-retailer trade, it was estimated that 60 to 70% of the trade was still going through warehouses in 1950.  The rise of chain stores in the following decade had a dramatic impact on this figure and the power of the warehouses collapsed.  What remained of them was bought up by Courtaulds during the period of takeovers in the late 1960s.