The story of walking stick specialist Classic Canes began in 1977 when our founder partners, Ben and Diana Porter, bought a romantic but ruined hunting lodge set in neglected woodland in the farming county of Somerset, England. The house was rebuilt during the early 1980s, during which time it gradually became apparent that the naturally-regenerating ash trees that surrounded the house were ideal raw material for walking sticks. Large areas of the woodland were then converted to the centuries-old system of 'coppice with standards'. Underneath the large beech and ash trees, the sustainable forestry technique of coppicing produces a never-ending supply of walking sticks.
Enquiries among local shopkeepers revealed a demand for good quality walking sticks, and so Classic Canes was founded in 1982 as a walking stick supplier to this market. Traditionally, walking sticks were sold through leather goods and country clothing shops, saddlers, tobacconists, department stores and quality gift shops. Early sales were conducted by Diana using an estate car full of samples to sell to local shops. Soon, Ben began to visit customers further afield and travelled many thousands of miles each year to develop the network of Classic Canes stockists across the UK.
In the late 1980s, Classic Canes started to exhibit its walking sticks at local trade fairs and also specialist ones such as the AITS tobacconists fair. The first appearance at the International Spring Fair was in 1990: a last-minute stand with a backdrop curtain run up by Diana on her sewing machine. Export customers then joined the growing band of Classic Canes stockists, a development further accelerated by the development of our first website in the early 1990s.
As the company grew, it became necessary to employ more packing staff and find additional help with the office administration. The original storeroom was extended first in one direction and then another, and an extremely smart two storey warehouse and office block was constructed in 2006. As customers who have visited will know, the offices are unique, rather like working in a tree house set high among the woodland canopy.
Ben and Diana's children, Charlotte and Johnny, became involved with the business in more formal ways. During the 2000s, Johnny developed the Classic Canes workshops to increase production of homegrown walking sticks. Charlotte returned to the family business in 2003, bringing with her marketing and sales skills developed while working in the luxury goods industry and as a freelance journalist.
As the family firm moved into the 21st century, it was noticeable that the traditional retailers of walking sticks had been joined by healthcare shops, mail order catalogues, handbag and accessories stores, internet retailers and garden centres. Indeed, given the right selection, almost any type of shop can sell walking sticks.
During trips to Japan to visit customers in the early 1990s, Diana noticed that women's walking sticks there were far prettier and more decorative than the sticks traditionally used by European women. As the result of her convictions, we believe Classic Canes was the first British supplier to offer patterned and coloured walking sticks for the ladies' market, admittedly to some raised eyebrows from customers and competitors alike. However, Diana's enthusiasm was not misplaced: the market for women's canes has become infinitely more glamorous and elegant in recent years. Female stick users have much for which to thank Diana!
Classic Canes now stocks over 700 models of walking sticks, folding canes, seat sticks and umbrellas, as well as the all-important accessories such as cord wrist loops and replacement rubber ferrules. New models are launched every spring-summer and autumn-winter, much in the manner of a fashion house. We believe ours to be one of the largest and finest selections of walking sticks in the world. Available through stockists in over forty countries, Classic Canes represents the best of British style, elegance and practicality.
Classic Canes is now a second-generation family business. Whilst Ben and Diana still play important roles in the business, Charlotte became the managing partner in 2010. Her sure sense of style and natural flair for sales and marketing have helped shape the image and activities of the family firm over the last decade. Johnny's marriage in 2010 saw him move away from Somerset and Classic Canes, although he remains available to us for friendly advice on workshop and forestry matters when required. Even our golden retrievers play their part, modelling in our catalogues and guarding the premises, making this a true family business.
2012 was our thirtieth year in business. Celebrations included Open Days for our stockists which were held in May 2012. We were delighted that so many of our customers were able to visit us, see walking sticks growing and being manufactured, and enjoy a cream tea and a glass of Somerset cider with us.
There have been many changes over the decades and yet our core activity remains the same: sourcing and selling the finest quality walking sticks.