AN AIREY RETROSPECTIVE
My first ‘proper’ job was as a warehouse lad with Lakeland Sheepskin Centre in the 1970s, I worked there while at school and university. LSC (now Lakeland Leather) was owned and run by the Standring family and, in the time I was there, it grew from three shops to a national chain of close to 30.
In the late 1980s, Michael and Anita Standring decided they wanted a different challenge from the increasingly corporate family business and, as keen outdoor enthusiasts living in Ambleside, they were drawn to the outdoor market. Through a mutual friend they approached George Fisher and, in August 1989, after a series of discussions, agreed to buy his business.
In January 1990 I received a call from Michael. He invited me to take a look at their plans for George Fisher Ltd; they had a huge amount to do and were looking for a Sales Manager. At that time, I was living and working in Manchester; my first child (Sophie) had just been born, I had a season ticket at Maine Road and I had no plans to return to Cumbria. I came to see Michael half-expecting to turn down any offer because life was good as it stood.
I arrived when the mega-refit was in full swing, the building was more or less a shell and George Fisher was trading from the unit next door (now our offices!). Michael gave me a guided tour of the construction site then we sat down and he unveiled his plans; the thoughtful designs I saw were inspirational. Michael and Anita had a vision to graft professional retail skills onto the still immature outdoor sector - they saw a youthful, exuberant trade that would benefit from the addition of their knowledge and retail nous. At the heart of their vision were three central pillars on which everything else would stand; quality product, quality environment, quality staff.
The idea was to source the best quality functional clothing and equipment, merchandise it in a clear way and underpin everything with the highest quality customer service using knowledgeable, enthusiastic shop floor staff. These central tenets still hold true today - product, place and people continue to lie at the heart of the George Fisher ethos.
Needless to say by the time Michael had finished describing what he had planned I was completely sold on the project, consequently my family moved back to Cumbria and I started work at George Fisher in March 1990. Beginning as Sales Manager I was responsible for the recruitment, training and development of the new team - a tremendous challenge but extremely satisfying. Quite quickly we developed a distinctive George Fisher style, and created a great family feel within the business.
As things evolved, I found myself becoming more interested in the products we sold and much more involved in the selection and buying process. Within a couple of years it was obvious I couldn’t do both roles so we recruited a new Sales Manager, Helena Whone (still in charge today!) and I became a full-time buyer, then Buying Director.
On the retirement of Michael and Anita in 2007 the business was bought by the Tiso Group and I took over the hot seat in the GF tower. Chris Tiso and his team appreciated that we knew what we are doing - “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” - so he encouraged us to keep doing everything the George Fisher way.
Being responsible for this icon of outdoor retail has been a real pleasure, a fantastic career that I never expected to have. However, after 26 years with George Fisher, I knew that the time was right to move on. Not only was it right for me, but also for my colleagues who remain in the business; the changing nature of retail demands fresh ideas and enthusiasm, and I know the team at George Fisher are the ones to take the business forward.
Some reflections on those central pillars of George Fisher Ltd - products, places and people – and all my own views of course!
- Ventile smock by Holt Merlin - been everywhere, including caving in Long Churn AND through the Cheese Press squeeze!
- Karrimor Hot Earth rucksack - uncomplicated, great size, bombproof… for some treason I gave mine away in the mid 1990’s.
- Karrimor - what a brand! When I arrived in the trade they were vying with Berghaus for top dog in the UK. Mike Parsons and team revolutionised the walking boot market with the development of the KSB (Karrimor Sport Boot). Unfortunately, the brand (no longer with Mike) is now merely a label stuck onto generic tat coming out of the Far East.
- GORE-TEX 2-in-1 gloves - interesting concept - gloves with two chambers, one for dexterity, the other for warmth. Unfortunately for Gore all they did for me was to produce a temper tantrum on a winters day on Bowscale Fell.
- Suunto Altimeter for giving a new sense by which to navigate - magic!
- Group Shelter - in winter conditions, what better place to get warm and share a cup of tea?
- Arc’teryx Beta AR Jacket and Pants - simply the best waterproof shells I’ve ever owned.
- Long-handled spoon - anyone eating rehydrated food will appreciate just what the LH spoon does to keep stickiness off their hands.
- Kahtoola Microspikes - perfect winter walking companion.
- Hoka footwear –a revelation in stability and comfort.
- Orthotics - Superfeet and Sole off-the-shelf insoles make a significant improvement in the support of any footwear increasing comfort and significantly DECREASING aches and pains.
- Trekking poles reduce the number of steps taken on any walk by 5-10%, and shift weight from feet, ankles and knees to arms and shoulders. They reduce fatigue and just make long days out much more enjoyable. Pet hate - people who buy poles, then attach them to their rucksacks. What’s the point in buying ballast? If you’ve got poles, use them!
- Salomon running vest - new to me this year, but I’m enjoying using it. All the right things in all the right places.
- The Lake District, of course. Working and living here is a great privilege
- The Bob Graham Round - more of a route than a place, but that line on the map seemed to dominate my mind for quite a long time.
- Scotland - the Highlands and Islands. Buy Hamish Haswell-Smith’s book, the Scottish Islands, for inspiration.
- The LAMM (Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon). Attritional days on the hill, mid-summer sleet and snow above Glen Carron, the midges, the open latrines, the pain and suffering… the great fun and camaraderie!
- Caving in the Mendips.
- Cairngorm skiing - I only learned to ski after starting at George Fisher, thanks to Duncan Firth and the guys from Salomon to help me see the light!
- Breckenridge for the renewal of Robbie and Fiona’s wedding vows.
- Callaghan Lodge with Arc’teryx.
- The Alps - too many places to mention….
- The Dolomites.
- Visiting Meindl’s factory in Kirchanshoring.
- The Mittenwalder Höhenweg with Dave Brown shortly after the birth of Gregor, my son. Made the schoolboy error of using DB’s new-fangled mobile phone to call my wife from a sunny mountainside in Europe to see how she and son were doing…
- Finland with WL Gore - the fabric launch was a real disappointment, but I discovered reindeer meat!
- The George Fisher staff and customers; it has been a real pleasure to work with a group of like-minded folk who strive to do their best for their customers. The GF customers are always a source of inspiration; talking to people about their experiences and helping them towards their next adventure is a pure joy.
- Suppliers - over the years, many of the people we deal with in the outdoor trade have become good friends. The opportunities for hill days are always there.
- Meeting the likes of Chris Bonington, Doug Scott, Alan Hinkes, Joss Naylor, Ron Hill, Chris Brasher, Royal Robbins…
- When Chair of the Outdoor Industries Association, I had the pleasure of sitting next to George Band. He was the youngest mountaineer on the 1953 Everest expedition and, in 1955, he and Joe Brown made the first ascent of Kanchenjunga. He was an understated British gentleman with a truly inspirational tale to tell.
- Ken Ledward of KLETS - taught me an awful lot about product, functionality and performance.
- Alan Day, the Buying Consultant at George Fisher when I joined (he had recently retired as Blacks Buying Director) was my mentor when I first came into the trade. I’m pleased to report that he’s still going strong and will be walking in the Alps again this summer with his family… he’s 90…
- Over the last few years I’ve enjoyed watching Terry Abraham’s career develop. We premiered Cairngorms in Winter, his first film, in Abrahams Cafe in 2013… look at him now!
- Andrew Stanley; podiatrist, miracle-worker and Everton supporter.
- Lisa Bergerud, my work wife. Lisa and I have worked closely together for all the time I’ve been at GF; she was my Assistant Manager when I was Sales Manager and she moved into buying with me. Over the years we have spent as much time with each other as our respective spouses.
- As for my real wife, if it hadn’t been for the outdoor trade I wouldn't have met Fiona; she was working for Europa Sport in Kendal as the Cébé rep when we first came across each other. Fiona still reminds me that at the meeting I gave the impression that she wasn’t important enough to talk to me and I passed her onto to Lisa…
- Fiona has supported me with everything I’ve done at George Fisher and she continues to be my rock and foundation now that I’ve taken the decision to move on. I love her very much.
I have had the pleasure to meet thousands of people over my time at George Fisher, many of them truly inspirational - I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve had!
For 26 years my life has been inextricably linked to George Fisher and the pillars of product, place and people. Without doubt, far and away the most important of these is people - not just in a professional capacity, but for life in general.
Keep enjoying your outdoor adventures, use the knowledge and understanding of the great team at George Fisher to keep you pointed in the right direction and I look forward to seeing you on a hill somewhere in the future.