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AIS (Associated Independent Stores) memberAIS (Associated Independent Stores) member

AIS is the largest independent, non-food buying group of its kind in the UK with a combined membership turnover of around £1.8 billion. The group has a membership of 270 independent department store and specialist retailers operating 611 outlets across the UK, Ireland and Channel Islands.

AIS enables independent department stores and specialist retailers to profit from the level of buying power and services normally enjoyed by big high street chains – yet with no loss of their independence.

Collective buying power means that major brands across a wide range of furniture, floor coverings, homewares and fashion merchandise are keen to do business with AIS and on some of the best terms available to anyone.

But AIS is not just a buying group. As well as providing members with access to major brands in all categories of the merchandise mix, the group's in-house team of experienced selectors source exclusive products and develop own brands to strengthen the independent retailer’s point of difference in the high street.

AIS offers key services specifically designed to meet its members needs such as central payment facilities (CENPAC), training, marketing, procurement and information technology.

The Association is non-profit making. Formed over 30 years ago by the merger of two separate buying groups, AIS has grown and evolved with its members and with the fast-changing retail environment. Today’s organisation is efficient, innovative and profitable with a strong sense of mutual advantage for members and suppliers alike.

Committed to the concept of successful independent retailing, AIS constantly champions the benefits of individuality and entrepreneurship which the independent sector offers.

In short, AIS is a dynamic organisation that has unique experience of supporting the independent retailer and it welcomes direct approaches from interested, independently minded, quality retailers and from prospective suppliers who wish to find out more about the organisation.

For more information visit the AIS website

AIS Buying Group History

ADS Guide 1963Associated Department Stores Ltd (ADS), which prior to incorporation was known as the British Merchandising Club, formed back in 1928, was formed in 1963 by a group of 20 or so independent department stores, none of whose interests conflict geographically. These stores included well known high street names such as Vokins of Brighton, Barbers of Fulham, Clements of Watford, Denners of Yeovil, Elys of Wimbledon, Freemans of Liverpool, Joplings of Sunderland, Pearsons of Enfiled, Russell & Dorrell of Worcester and Weekes of Tunbridge Wells to name a few.

Associated Department Stores Ltd (ADS) 1963

The aims and objectives of ADS were primarily for sourcing the best quality merchandise at the best possible price. However, statistical and other information was and is freely and frankly exchanged between Principals.

ADS Guide 1973By 1964 the groups combined turnover was in excess of £20 million, so they appointed Mr M Riches as Director and took a prestigious central office at 4 Harley Street, London W1, which it was hoped that members would make full use of and treat as their London Office.

It was soon recognised by the group that nationally advertised brands were being subject to price-cutting. Therefore, in order to remain competitive, the indepenedent businesses will rely increasingly on “own brands”. And so the trade mark Czarina was registered.

Czarina would give Vokins and others a head start against many of our competitors. “CZARINA” was only to be used on first class merchandise of outstanding value, which had specifically been approved by the ADS Merchandise Committee.

It was agreed that buyers meetings should be held twice a year for most merchandise groups, with a Steering Committee appointed to prepare for these meetings.

The group thrived and by 1970 had over 100 retail outlets with an annual turnover in excess of £56 million. Specialist Selectors were now operating in the following departments.

Linens and Soft Furnishings
Men’s and Boy’s Wear
Ladies’ Underwear and Separates
Childrens Wear and Fashion Accessories
Ladies’ Fashions and Millinery
Electrical and Hardware
Floor Coverings and Furniture

In August 1971 a wholly owned subsidiary company, CENPAC (ADS) LTD, was formed to undertake the central payment of specified accounts. Once sufficient experience was gained, more suppliers would be introduced to the scheme, thus avoiding the necessity for members to constantly open new accounts.

As the group grew, new offices were sort and the group relocated to Edware Road, London.

Associated Independent Stores Ltd

AIS Guide 1983With continued growth and a change of name to Associated Independent Stores Ltd, the rapidly expanding group moved offices to Tricorn House, Hagley Road, Birmingham. This was a more central location and reflected a membership that came from across the whole of the UK.

Today, AIS operates out of wonderful purpose built offices and showrooms at Cranmore Avenue, Shirley, Solihull. AIS supports independent retailers ranging from single high street shops to flagship department stores and specialist retailers operating over 600 outlets across the UK, Ireland and Channel Islands, with a combined turnover of £1.8 billion.

The Vokins family, vokins@home and Big Brand Beds are all proud to still be very much part of a thriving AIS family.