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The Centennial Club: Retail brands in business for over 100 years

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From the toy wonderland of Hamleys, which traces its origins back to 1760, to P N Rao’s bespoke tailoring legacy that began in 1923, and the global giant Bata, established in 1894, these retail legends have stood the test of time

Mumbai: Retailers like Walmart and e-commerce titan Amazon have emerged on the global retailing scene in the last over the last three to five decades. In the meantime, scores of retail brands have either folded or vanished from the market. However, there are several retail brands that are more than a century old – and still thriving.

In the world of shopping, things change a lot, and new trends pop up all the time. But there are a special few retail brands that have been around for over 100 years and are still going strong. These brands have a rich history, and they’ve become a part of our lives, passed down through generations.

From the toy wonderland of Hamleys, which traces its origins back to 1760, to P N Rao’s bespoke tailoring legacy that began in 1923, and the global giant Bata, established in 1894, these retail legends have stood the test of time.

Hamleys (Since 1760)

Hamleys, an iconic toy retailer, was founded by William Hamley in 1760. Recently, it ventured into new markets by opening its first store in Albania and Kosovo. Simultaneously, it strengthens its presence in existing territories like India, the Middle East, and Qatar. What began as a small toy shop in Holborn, London has now evolved into a global powerhouse, with a presence in 18 countries, including the UK, India, the UAE, China, and Russia.

In July 2019, Reliance Brands Ltd. (RBL) marked its first international foray by acquiring Hamleys‘ global operations. RBL has been operating over 100 Hamleys’ India franchisee stores since 2010.

Marks & Spencer (Since 1884)

Marks and Spencer plc (M&S) is a major British multinational retailer with headquarters in Paddington, London that specialises in selling clothing, beauty products, home products and food products. M&S was founded in 1884 by Michael Marks and Thomas Spencer in Leeds.

As per Statista, the brand currently has 1,064 stores in the UK and 406 stores across the globe. The British fashion brand first ventured into the Indian market in 2001 through a joint venture with Planet Retail but exited after six years. It later formed a partnership with Reliance Retail and currently operates 97 outlets in over 30 cities across India. The brand has 97 outlets in more than 30 cities in India.

Bata (Since 1894)

The Bata Corporation, a renowned multinational brand with its origins in Moravia (Czech Republic), has its global headquarters based in Lausanne, Switzerland. This corporation, a prominent name in footwear, apparel, and fashion accessories, has a remarkable history. It was established by Tomas Bata back in 1894, and its influence extended to India, leading to the creation of Bata India Ltd. in 1931.

Today, Bata stands as a global giant with a workforce of over 32,000 employees and an extensive network of 21 production facilities. Its reach spans across 70 countries, boasting a chain of 5,300 stores. Bata is responsible for the sale of 60 million pairs of shoes, annually. In the Indian subcontinent, Bata manages a network of around 1,700 stores, both company-owned and franchise outlets.

Oxford Bookstores (Since 1919)

The Oxford Bookstore, originally known as Oxford Bookstore and Stationery Company, has been a literary institution since 1919. These stores grace the high streets of major Indian cities, including Delhi, Kolkata, and Bhubaneshwar. Today, they are under the management of the Apeejay Surrendra Group, maintaining their legacy of providing a literary haven to avid readers. The brand had over 30 bookstores across the globe, as of 2019.

PN Rao (Since 1923)

In 1923, PN Rao embarked on its retail and tailoring journey, initially operating out of a 100 sq. ft. unit in Bengaluru. Over the decades, this venture evolved from sewing garments for the British Raj to specializing in crafting exquisite made-to-measure men’s suits. A significant milestone occurred in 2023 when the company re-entered the women’s wear segment, broadening its horizons.

Today, PN Rao has 7 flagship stores situated in Bengaluru and Chennai, complemented by a state-of-the-art manufacturing unit in Hosakote. The brand’s growth continues, as it’s set to embark on an aggressive expansion strategy. Naveen Pishe, a partner at PN Rao, shared the company’s aim of achieving a turnover of Rs 150 to Rs 200 crore in the next three to five years, a substantial leap from their current Rs 60 crore. This expansion plan includes the addition of about 15 showrooms in South and West India.

Nalli’s (Since 1928)

Nalli’s journey began in 1928 when Nalli Chinnasamy Chetti, a renowned weaver hailing from the Padmasali community and famous for his exquisite Kanchipuram sarees, founded the brand. He had been weaving silk sarees since 1900 and even presented a Kanchipuram saree, known as the Durbar Pet, as a gift to George V during his visit to India in 1911.

In 1928, Chinnasamy Chetti made a significant move by relocating to what was then known as Madras. Here, he became one of the pioneers to open a shop in the emerging neighbourhood of T. Nagar, which had its beginnings in the early 1920s. Initially, the shop operated out of a house until Nalli realized his vision of establishing a dedicated showroom in 1935.

Nalli Chinnasamy Chetti passed away in 1958, leaving behind a remarkable legacy that was carried forward by his grandson, Nalli Kuppusamy Chetti. With over 40 stores worldwide, Nalli has earned admiration from celebrities, dignitaries, and even British royalty, making it a beloved choice for sarees. Its outlets are present globally in the US, Singapore, Canada and the UK.

Today, the founder’s great-great granddaughter, Harvard-educated Lavanya Nalli spearheads the organisation–the only woman from the family to join the business.

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