Company History: the story of the Classic Canes walking stick brand
Classic Canes: The Unconventional Beginning of a Walking Stick Brand
Classic Canes is a very unusual business with a correspondingly unique history:
In the late 1970s, Ben and Diana Porter bought Warren House (pictured above), a romantic but ruined Tudor hunting lodge set deep in a Somerset woodland. They fell in love with the location, gradually rebuilt the house and discovered the surrounding woodland was suitable for growing the raw material for walking sticks. At the time, there was a walking stick factory in Surrey, England, which was delighted to buy the wooden raw material supplied by the Porters. On a visit to the factory, Diana saw the finished products and thought there could be a market for them in the West Country. The company's logo, featuring a man, his thumbstick and his golden retriever was designed by Diana at the outset, herself a breeder of champion golden retrievers.
In 1982, she offered a small range of wooden walking sticks from the back of her car to local shopkeepers and Classic Canes was born. To start with, invoices were hand-written in duplicate at the kitchen table (no printers or computers then) and the walking sticks stored all around the house, including under the children's beds. The walking sticks sold well and the little business grew steadily to include more products while the network of retailers began to spread across the country. Outbuildings were gradually built at the back of the house to accommodate the stock. Ben travelled widely in the early days of the company, finding the best shop to sell walking sticks in each appropriate town and thus establishing the basis of the Classic Canes stockist network. We still have many customers today who have stocked our products since the 1980s and 1990s.
The company started to exhibit at trade fairs in the early 1990s and soon found a willing export market to countries where the British sense of style was understood and appreciated. The once-traditional range also expanded to include the first ladies' fashionable patterned walking sticks in the UK, folding walking sticks and formal and gadget canes. Retailers could now order every type of walking stick, seat stick and umbrella they needed from one convenient source.
In the mid-1990s, Classic Canes launched its first website, which featured the family and dogs in its photography. The website attracted further overseas buyers, including one very special order from America, the proceeds of which were sufficient to build today's warehouse. When Diana asked the American buyer why they had chosen Classic Canes, hoping to hear we had been selected for our exemplary quality and service, she was astonished to be told, "Honey, we just loved the dogs on your website." We have never dared leave our golden retrievers out of our marketing ever since in case other buyers feel the same way.
In the early 2000s, the Porter's son Johnny, who worked in the company for some years, established a workshop so Classic Canes could produce its own rustic walking sticks on site. This continued until the outbreak of Ash Dieback Disease recently put an end to the company's homegrown walking sticks, although fortunately we can still offer many other rustic and country sticks made for the company by specialist suppliers.
In 2003, the Porter's daughter, Charlotte Gillan, joined Classic Canes from a luxury goods marketing background. She developed the company into today's well-known premium brand, with great emphasis on exclusive items produced to demanding standards of style and quality. She has also created the artwork for many of Classic Canes' patterned canes, ensuring the company has unique products that cannot be obtained anywhere else or easily copied.
From Wooden Sticks to Premium Brand: The Evolution of Classic Canes
Today, Classic Canes Limited supplies a range of over 500 traditional and contemporary products to retailers in approximately 30 countries. Charlotte is the managing director and Diana, now semi-retired, remains a director. Ben is retired but maintains an interest as a shareholder (see our The Team page) and is remembered fondly by many of our long-standing customers.
Classic Canes celebrated its fortieth anniversary in 2022. A new trade catalogue was launched in September 2022 with many new patterns and styles, all reflecting the company's core values of high-quality manufacture and inimitable British style. The company is still based in the original Somerset woodland, where the surrounding flora and fauna provide inspiration for many of our designs.
Classic Canes fine quality walking sticks, seat sticks and umbrellas are today stocked by many types of retailers, including gift shops, garden centres, mobility retailers, department stores, gentlemen's outfitters, country clothing stores, hardware stores, mail order catalogues and accessories shops. Many stockists also sell online; please see our Find A Stockist page for details.
The Classic Canes brand is now known wherever good quality walking sticks are sold, whether in great cities as diverse as London, Paris, Tokyo, Cape Town and San Francisco, or in small towns and villages, for example in Cornwall, the South of France and rural Sweden. When Classic Canes was started in 1982 to supply a few local shops, we never imagined the brand would spread around the world to the extent it has. It has been a fascinating journey and an honour for us to help so many walking stick users find their perfect cane.