Shaftesbury clothes shop, Squires, has a new boss. And while a 31-year old former teacher may initially appear to be an unusual choice for manager of this long-established gentleman’s outfitter, ThisIsAlfred discoveredtrainee tailor, Ben Denham, is switching careers to take on his ‘dream job’, running this iconic shop.
Ian Gale has been manager of Squires for thirteen years. From Monday, he’ll be going part-time as a customer assistant, when new manager,Ben Denham, takes over. Ian wants to continue his connection with a business that he believes makes Shaftesbury special.
“I actually think that Squires and one or two other shops in the High Street actually make the High Street. If one of those shops were to go, the High Street could definitely suffer because of it.” But Ian stressed there is no sign of that happening to Squires. “Absolutely none whatsoever,” he assured me.
Squires will be in good hands as Ian relinquishes day-to-day management duties. New manager Ben understands his duty as custodian of a business that really is part of the fabric of North Dorset life. Ben grew up in Marnhull, where his mum taught in the school.
He has been a regular Squires customer since childhood. “Ian used to serve me and Jo actually served me my blazer for school, back in Year Seven, so it’s really nice to be coming on board and helping them out,” Ben said. He added, “I have always shopped at Squires as well, believe it or not, since I was young lad, because it’s got the quality service.”
Ben pursued a career in education and, until recently, taught philosophy and ethics at Gillingham School. Ben believes that as people move away from fads, fashions and disposable goods, the appeal of Squires’ well-made, longer-lasting clothing will grow.
“I was talking about teaching ethics. I like the idea of being able to carry clothes for quite a long period of time, rather than having to recycle them every few years as you would if you were buying something really cheap from Primark or somewhere,” said Ben.
“Our clothes are not going to be something you’re going to throw away to the charity shop in a couple of years time,” Ben continued. “You’ll be able to wear them into your next decade at least, if not for the whole of your life. And that’s what I love.”
Many of Squires’ regular customers are double Ben’s age. But he believes the appeal of the type of clothes that Squires sells is widening. “People are becoming more classic. They want something that’s going to last longer. They want the nice tweeds, the nice suits. A classic suit is a classic for a reason. It’s been around since way before I was born and will be around way after I die.”
When Ben says running Squires is his perfect role. I believe him. He developed his distinctive clothing style a long time before he took on this new position. You won’t see Ben around town sporting jeans or wearing a tracksuit. He’s always well turned out.
When we met at Squires, he was dressed in a tweed waistcoat and jacket. He wore a corsage of feathers in his buttonhole. “I like to live by the motto, ‘You might be going somewhere else nicer afterwards’. It’s always a bit of a competition with my friends. I enjoy that,” said Ben.
Ben’s clearly takes great care in his appearance. “I like to look the part. I encourage others to do so as well. I like to wear my tweeds. I like to wear fine clothing that fits well and makes me feel good. I think it’s very fashionable now.”
Former manager Ian has worked in men’s clothing throughout his career. He was trained by Hepworths Tailors and says that he’s happy to advise Ben. “They had the best training through the whole of the high street. That’s why they won more awards than anybody else. And that’s where I learned my trade,” said Ian.
Ben is determined to fully understand the men’s clothing business. He’s currently studying the art of tailoring with the intention of launching his own range of clothing in the future. “I have made a couple of things myself and I’m really enjoying it,” said Ben. “We’ll see if I get good enough, because the level of clothing we have it at Squires is so high. I will have to wait and see if I get good enough to make it. But I definitely am good enough to sell it, because I know my stuff. It definitely helps.”
Ben understands that he needs to steer the Squires ship through the choppy waters of high street retailing. He says he won’t alter the choice and level of service customers expect but he hopes to modernise and innovate, where he can.
“I’m looking to launching an Instagram and Facebook site to bring in people that don’t know we’re here,” Ben said. But Squires’ online presence will not extend to website selling. “We don’t sell online deliberately. We want people to come in and feel the clothes,” said Ben.
Ian agrees the Squires experience relies on face-to-face contact with customers. “You go beyond the call of duty to look after your customer. I always believe that if you sell a good quality product at the right price you will definitely sell the product.”
And it’s that reputation which allows such a specialist shop in a small rural Dorset town to survive. “It really is a unique destination. It’s something that draws people from miles around. They come because there’s nothing else like this around,” Ben said.
Ian echoes that view. He says that Squires is a ‘one off’, unique shop which draws people into our town. “I get regular customers from places like Reading, Portsmouth and Southampton. We get weekend people up from London and I also find that, because Shaftesbury is a hilltop town, it gets a lot of interest and people use this as a meeting place,” Ian said.
Currently the two full-time and five part-time employees staff the shop over six days each week. Ben has no plans to offer Sunday opening, yet. “We’re going to stay at six days a week at the moment but who knows what the future holds,” he said.
As Ben gets ready for his first day in charge he’s excited about the opportunity but mindful that this is his first management role. “It is my first step into management and I’m not going to lie, the owner is taking a risk on me, but I think it’s a risk that will pay off. I’m very confident I’m going to do a good job and I’m really looking for the challenge,” Ben said.
Ian, a man with a lifetime of experience in clothing retail, is backing Ben. He can see that Ben has what it takes. “I’ve seen many people come and go in this place and I really know that Ben, if my boss decides to keep him on, will be absolutely ideal. I think the shop will go from strength to strength with him,” said Ian.