Now Four Generations of the Sutton Family in the Rag Trade
Four generations of the Sutton Family in the rag trade survived depression, floods, fire, ram raids, and break-and-enters. Harry Williamson Sutton was the second eldest of eight sons and four daughters to William Williamson Sutton, a young Englishman, arrived in Australia in early 1900,s. The history of the Sutton family may have well been rewritten. Had his bride-to-be, a young Scottish lady from Glasgow named Miss Ellen Mc Kechnie, not fallen ill, the ship she would have travelled to Australia, the ill-fated ship "The Dunbar", which sank off Sydney harbour near the gap. All crew and passengers were lost. She arrived on the next boat safely. The home in which the family was reared in a small stone cottage on Cobra Street, facing directly into Carrington Ave, where the present Countryman Motel is now standing. Only a few years ago, the house was pulled down to make way for progress. Strangely enough, an invitation to Harry Sutton's wedding was found having slipped down the back of the fire mantelpiece.
Harry's father, William Williamson Sutton, had arrived in Australia to make his fortune with the help of a partner. They brought with them several hayricks looms to manufacture material and patent rights for the first iron beds in Australia. Unfortunately, his partner absconded with the belongings, and he had to be content to continue with the trade he had been trained in. The building trade. He certainly left his mark in Dubbo in that direction. Most buildings stand today.
The earliest being the Shire Chambers which is now the Hog's Breath Café. The Catholic presbytery, and although he was not a Catholic, he was well thought of by the priest, and he did all the repair work on the church over the years. The old location of the museum, which was built as a bank and now, after many businesses now, home to the Old Bank Restaurant. Cardiff homestead next to the old Bennett's brickworks where the Bennet family lived for many years.
One of the latest buildings finished by one of the sons was the now Macquarie Bowling Club, which was built by a bank manager's residents.
Harry was the only son who did not wish to be an apprentice's son in the building trade. In the meantime, Harry had grown to the youth of fifteen and took his first job as a cashier in the store of J.B.Brown in those days, the cashier sat in his booth above the shop, and all dockets, money, and change were by aerial runways either gravity feed or spring-loaded.
In his first week of employment, being human, he made an error. Mr Brown must have been a very close stern master because as he checked the dockets, he found an overcharge of one shilling [ten cents]. Mr Brown accosted young Harry with the following "Sutton, I don't employ you to rob my customer or me, so you will be deducted one shilling from your wages this week. [salary a measly ten shillings, one dollar ], so a shilling was quite a loss. He survived those early days and managed to stay in the firm's employment for thirty years.
During that time, the firm changed hands. First is known as the Western Stores, with branches at Narromine and Orange. Later at other centres and at a much later date after Harry's association, Edgeley, Myer, then Grace Brothers, and now Myers.
Again During Harry's time, the Western Stores required a soft goods shop owned by Mr Gregory. A Mr A.L. Johnson was in charge, and eventually, Harry held the reigns for a while. This shop was situated next to the Dubbo Hotel [corner of Talbragar & Darling St]. The hotel was then known as the Occidental Hotel and was hosted by William Wilkins, a son of the well-known Wilkins, Kennedy, and Sons.
There was a young lady named Una Wilton who was visiting her aunt Mrs Wilkins for a Holiday and met her husband-to-be next door, Harry Sutton. They married in 1910 and, by 1917, had three children, John, Jean & Bruce. It was in the year 1923 that Harry decided to break away from being employed and entered into business with a partner Mr Tom Cantrell in the premises now known as Naylor's Hardware. This short-lived partnership lasted only until 1925. In Late 1927, Harry was able to make up enough resources to start his own business in a small shop that now stands at the corner of Talbragar & Carrington Ave and is now occupied by a takeaway shop.
It was in this store in the ten years that Harry & his family saw many changes in the country's economic crisis. He was elated in the first few years and said to his wife, a few more years like this, and I'll be able to retire. An example of the extreme buoyancy and perhaps wishfulness of the era. Working men who were rabbiting for a living were earning sixty pounds [120 dollars] a week. They would come to the store to buy a fine crepe china silk shirt for fifty-five shillings [five dollars fifty cents], and the next wash, it would become a work shirt. Then came the big collapse. During the depression, there was no need to dwell on this era too much, good tradesmen had no jobs, and even the most respectable people had to apply for the dole.
Harry managed to stay away from this need. However, he ran pretty close to the wind for most of that time. The average week's takings in the good old days would be eighteen to twenty pounds. Goods sold costing around twelve pounds left him with a balance of six pounds, of which he had to pay rent and other expenses and feed his family. There was not much left; string and paper had to be saved from rapping up customers' goods. Then to make matters a little worse, in the early 1930s, the landlord who owned the next-door premises let in opposition business.
By the year 1933, son Bruce had left school and joined his father in the business. He would clearly have loved to get another job for an experience away from his dad. However, jobs were scarce and living away from home was impracticable financially. By 1936 Bruce had convinced Harry, his father it was time to shift premises, Jack Whyte, who had a furniture shop further down Talbragar St next to Marcus Clarks, had a vacancy to let next door. Jack Whyte, Harry W Sutton and Jimmy Brady were all good neighbours. Harry & his son Bruce rented these premises for two pounds and ten shillings first up. Things took a turn for the better. Christmas trading week was seventy pounds; Harry had turned the corner with the business. The shop was long and narrow and was hard to fill with stock with limitedPages finance. In this Photo, the stores when out of their way for the royal visit in 1955. Note the miniature royal guards on top of each store.
Being On Talbragar street meant that you had a lot of contact with fellow traders on the same street. One other trader in Talbragar street was Foy & Gibson, formerly Gilpin's. It was here that young Bruce Sutton met his wife, Joan McKay. They married in 1950 and had three children Peter, David & daughter Jenny. With his family growing and many events such as the 1955 floods, the burning down of Marcus Clarkes right next door certainly put our resources to the test.
Grand Opening in the early 1900s
Flood in Talbragar St Dubbo 1955
Next, shoplifting became a real headache. But like most retailers, we took these in our stride and kept trading before we met our next challenge being ram-raider, not once but three times in a matter of months, just in time for Christmas.
The eldest son of Bruce & Joan (Peter) had left school and was not keen to take on the family business but had taken up an apprenticeship with Davey Air Service as Aircraft Maintenance Engineer. After finishing his apprenticeship and a downturn in the industry, he thought that he would like to give retailing a go once more. Now older and with fashion now becoming a major part of the younger generation, the opportunities seemed a lot brighter. Having moved further down Talbragar St to bigger and new premises, Peter quickly identified that Denim jeans were here for the long term and talked his father into adding a second story to the existing store. Even though we did not own the premises, our landlord was very amicable in coming to a suitable arrangement. From this beginning, the face of retailing had changed forever, with special stores now becoming commonplace, specialising in fashion clothing for the youth. Jeanery's were now popping up all around the country, and the Sutton Family became part of this growing trend.
Photo Taken with our unique signage. (known as the Amco Boy)
In 1980 the Suttons Family purchased a property in Macquarie St formerly owned by the Coles Company. The history of this site had its beginning as a Masonic Lodge Hall, where many functions and social gatherings for the townspeople were held. The redevelopment allowed the shop to be expanded on a single level allowing our younger customers who loved coming upstairs but could not make it upstairs with prams and young children. From 1980 to 2000, Suttons Clothing company was leading the way with new and exciting fashion trends. With denim jeans playing a major role in fashion, it was becoming clear that there was another trend emerging, that being the lifestyle of surf-wear clothing. Hardcore brands such as RipCurl, Quicksilver & Billabong mainly cater to the surfers in our coastal regions. Peter quickly realised that the regional customers were keen to wear lifestyle clothing for its great look and its practicality in making a fashion statement. This trend became a huge success for both the retail industry as well as those manufacturers catering to the surfing industry. It could be said that the regional areas in Australia are what gave the surfing brands the momentum to become the success they came to.
Entering the 1990's things had changed in the clothing industry with the Government dropping the tariffs and the manufacturers now manufacturing offshore. The emergence of China's influence on the export/import markets put pressure on those manufacturers to meet larger and larger minimums on the quantity of clothing to maintain prices. This, in turn, put pressure on retailers to buy more and consequently flooded the markets.
In Sept 1999, Suttons Clothing Co closed its doors for what seemed to be the last time.
This turned out not to be the case, and after 17 years out of the retail industry, Peter decided that it was time to get back into retail. But this time, our clear direction was to provide quality clothing at the right price and concentrate on awesome service. Our age demographic was aimed at a more mature market and to provide a unique difference in style.
The first thing we had to decide on was what we should call our store that was simple and generic and easy to remember but still retain our long history in the industry. My Grandfather Harry Sutton started it all back in 1927, calling his store Harry Suttons, so it was quite easy to just call our new store Harry's for Menswear. Plus, the name Harry had a high profile person in Prince Harry, who was quite popular along with new parents naming their baby boys Harry. Now with our name confirmed, it was time to look for a location, and as Talbragar St was where it all started, we looked to see what was available. Walking down the street, we noticed a for sale sign on one shop that would be ideal, which turned out to be a previous menswear store called George Coopers, which had a great business in men's suits. After successfully securing the shop and on the 4th of July 2016, we were back in business. Little did I know at the time that after two years back into retail, our speciality is Men's Suits. Not sure if George would be happy or a bit annoyed if he were alive today.
After 17 years out of retail, the advancement in technology has certainly changed the way we now market ourselves and communicate with both our suppliers and customers. Since my early interest in computers since their inception, it was a natural progression to take our new store online. Our business model only allowed a 3% online sale component as we are a great believer that when it comes to men's fashion, it's about Touch, Feel & Try. This has proven to be the case, but I have to say our online sales are starting to have an impact, but only for those products that consumers are confident about the size and the expectations that come with the product.
Like many businesses online, it's about gaining confidence in our ability to supply and deliver, plus the communications that go with every purchase. At this point, hopefully, we will be able to continue providing awesome service well beyond our 100th birthday in the rag trade. With my eldest daughter Leanne (4th generation) now joining the business, we should be around for a long time to come, and with her experience in retail & the hospitality industries, she brings new enthusiasm and ideas to continue into our next new century.
Pictured: Peter & Daughter Leanne