Outerwear retailer Barrington’s in downtown Oakville may be celebrating this year its 70th anniversary as a company but its roots go back to 1815.
“We were originally furriers and we have been furriers for six generations without interruptions since 1815,” said Paul Barrington. “When my father started the business 70 years ago we only sold fur coats.”
“We’re celebrating our 70th anniversary in retail in Canada. The rest of the history pre-dates to Europe. That’s multi-generational. We’ve been in Oakville in retail for 70 years,” said Brenda Barrington, adding it’s the longest running retail store in Oakville.
The current store, in about 3,500 square feet, is its fourth location in Oakville and the retailer has been there for more than 40 years.
Paul’s father, Robert, ran the store from its inception until 1991.
“While Paul’s dad was running the store we were entirely a traditional fur store,” said Brenda. “He manufactured all of his own merchandise. Paul’s dad was a well-trained furrier. And in 1991 when we took over the Oakville location we kind of morphed into more of an outerwear presence. We diversified incredibly and broadened our customer base. Broadened our inventory but we’ve also always kept it very focused and specialized. We are just outerwear and accessories that work back into outerwear.
“We don’t sell clothing. We don’t even have fitting rooms. We are a coat store but we’ve certainly broadened our offerings from fur. We carry down coats. We carry cloth coats. We carry leather coats, you name it. If it’s a type of coat, we carry it. We do a lot of slicker rain wear in the spring. We do a big private label line too that’s manufactured for us here in Toronto. It’s a very high end fabric and we have it all made in Toronto exclusively for our store which is a big part of our business too.”
Other items sold in the store include scarves, knitwear and handbags.
Within the last two years both of Barrington’s daughters – Brooke and Carly – joined the company full time. The long-term plan and hope is that they will take over the company in the future.
“That’s been a real asset especially given the last year because they have really strong social media, e-commerce skills that we have benefited from immensely in the last year and a half,” said Brenda.
Like all retailers and small businesses, the past year and a half due to the COVID-19 pandemic has presented many challenges.
“But because we’re small and independent, we were able to pivot fairly quickly. We adjusted our inventory. We kind of micromanaged our expenses, our inventory, our supply chain, like never before. We joked that we went back to Retail 101. It just became basic, basic retail,” said Brenda. “You just had to watch everything so closely.
“Why we survived is because of our customer base. We were so fortunate. There were two key factors. We have multi-generational customers. That’s what you get after 70 years. You get that depth.
“Before COVID we were in a pretty good position with our e-commerce. It certainly didn’t take off like it did the last year and a half but we went into COVID with a good online website, with a good e-commerce business. We ship across Canada and we have customers in every province. So that really helped. That depth. And they were already using our website.”
But when COVID hit, that use accelerated and the Barrington’s had their daughters’ skills available to facilitate that demand.
“Our online business while we were in lockdown number one took off. It was really actually very exciting and it was the only positive thing happening in those dark days when we were closed and closures just kept getting extended. We were doing online business. Our customers supported us and our customers pivoted to online,” added Brenda.
“We had customers that had never purchased online with us before, they were always in-store customers, and they started buying online. That has maintained, encouragingly so, because it’s maintained even when we’ve reopened. Our online business is strong and it’s remaining strong even as we’re back into in-store shopping.”