We are delighted to be celebrating the 40th anniversary of Classic Canes this year. Our family firm is known for its eclectic range of walking sticks but the story behind the company is just as unusual.
My parents, Ben and Diana Porter, had been working aborad during the 1970s, saving hard to return to Britain to start their own business. They bought a Somerset woodland at aunction in 1978 with the intention of rebuilding the ruined Tudor hunting lodge at the centre of the woods and turning it into a family home.
At that time, there was a walking stick factory in Surrey (now sadly closed) so they cut some of their wood, packed it on a trailer behind a pickup and took it to sell to the factory. Whilst there, my mother had the idea of buying some of the finished products back from the factory and so, in 1982, Classic Canes was launched. Initially, she toured the local market towns selling sticks to gift shops, tobacconnists and gentlemen's outfitters from the back of her car, taking care to be home in time for the school run.
The business soon grew and my father also found himself on the road locating suitable stockists and selling to them from the back of increasingly capacious estate cars and then vans. In the meantime, the business started exhibiting at trade fairs such as the Spring Fair, acquiring its first export customers as a result.
"The early days in the 1980s recession were very hard work with long hours and as yet no employees to help. We had to do everything ourselves and learned many new skills and disciplines," reminisces Diana.
"To start with, the walking sticks were stored in the kitchen, then they spread throughout the house and even under the beds. We built a garage which filled up with sticks and gradually added more buildings as financed permitted. I used to pack the sticks in cartons balanced on two bar stools in the kitchen, helped by our cleaner, who gradually became Classic Canes' first member of staff."
"We forget now how much business life has changed since the 1980s. Before digital printing, it was very expensive to have small runs of price lists, brochures and business cards printed. With no internet, it was difficult to find suppliers and prospective customers or to research competitors. You had to go to the library and look up trade directories. Today, an export order can be complteed with a few emails and an immediate bank transfer but then, air mail letters had to go back and forth and packment was via complicated banking arrangements such as letters of credit, which took ages to organise and process."
The early product range was quite linited compared to the 700 walking sticks, seat sticks and umbrellas offered by Classic Canes today. Most walking sticks were wooden and most were designed for men: women had to make do with men's sticks cut down to length. These were neither comfortable nor elegant for most women, so my mother worked hard to instroduce models designed especially for ladies. She introduced patterned walking sticks for women, to the consternation of many retailers, who were nervous to stock such then-outlandish things. However, they sold extremely well and her feeling that walking sticks for women could be fashion accessories was vindicated.
Today, buyers from around 40 countries worldwide turn to Classic Canes for their walking stick requirements. We set out to supply the best walking sticks on the market, and the company is appreciated for its commitment to the highet standards of manufacture, design and style. The product range has a very British flavour, which appeals to walking stick buyers from San Francisco to Tokyo.
Classic Canes is now run by me, Charlotte Gillan, and I also design many of the patterns used on the company's adjustable and folding canes. I create original patterns and then these are worked up into repeating patterns suitable for use on walking sticks.
The flora and fauna of the British isles are always very popular subjects for walking stick and folding cane patterns. They result in very distinctive designs tht are exclusive to Classic Canes. The latest collection is about to be launched in a new trade catalogue that will be available from early September 2022 and features charming new patterns such as dragonflies, woodpeckers and hedgehogs.
Few businesses survive long enough to cleebrate their 40th anniversary. For Classic Canes, which remains a family business based in the original Somerset woodland found by Ben and Diana, being unusual and specialist ensures that it continues to thrive.
Walking sticks are a very niche but very necessary group of products. Therer are thought to be at least four million walking stick users in the country, not including those who use trekking poles and long sticks for country walks and those who collect unusual canes. These walking stick collectors are known as ambulists. A great many walking sticks are bought as presents, to which they are well-suited, being both practical and attractive. Our stockists include retailers of many different kinds, but the breadth of our range means there is a suitable selection for all of them, whatever the tastes and spending power of their customers.
We are delighted to have reached our 40th birthday. My parents and I would like to thank our wonderful team of employees, who are incredibly knowledgeable and hard-working, and all our stockists and suppliers around the world for their enthusiasm and loyalty to Classic Canes.
Classic Canes Limited