The Mr Selfridge story is not dissimilar to the Mr Vokins story. My Great Grandfather, William Henry Vokins opened his store in Brighton in 1882, having worked at the Peter Robinson department store in Oxford Street London.
Born in Oxfordshire in 1860, four years before Harry Gordon Selfridge, William Henry Vokins’ physician recommended the sea air for his repertory problems, so he moved to Brighton. They weren’t that severe as he lived until 1955!
Like Selfridges, Vokins started out as a fashion store and general drapers and had been trading successfully in Brighton for 27 years when Selfridges opened in 1909.
William Henry Vokins was joined in the business by my Grandfather, Gerald Vokins at the end of the 1920’s.
Vokins was to thrive during the War years as they invested heavily in stock items that would become in short supply and demand was high. The Vokins philosophy was ‘the customer is always right’, a quote often attributed to Harry Selfridge.
My father Anthony joined the business in the late 1950’s, shortly after the death of the founder.
Like Selfridges, Vokins diversified into selling other products and soon had the finest bedding and soft furnishing department in Brighton. These household departments were to be joined by carpets, beds, mattresses, furniture and much more.
Stephen Vokins joined the business in 1977 and then went to work for John Lewis in Oxford Street, London between 1978-1983; one hundred years after William Henry Vokins left Oxford Street.
Unlike Selfridges, the Vokins Store in North Street, Brighton was to thrive under 4 generations of the family, before finally being sold in 1996, when Anthony retired.
Stephen Vokins continued trading and still does, from Ash Lane, Rustington and now on the internet. The company was rebranded as vokins@home, with the e commerce division trading as Big Brand Beds.
We will follow the Selfridges series with interest and see how many similarities there are between the two families. There will be many, I’m sure, some of which I might not be able to admit to. Watch this space for updates.