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Business success story says goodbye to suit-hire world

PUBLISHED: 06:00 22 October 2011

John Field who is retiring after many years in the formal hire / menswear fashions.
The company carries on, but without him at the helm.
Picture: James Bass

John Field who is retiring after many years in the formal hire / menswear fashions. The company carries on, but without him at the helm. Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2011

HIS eye for what the customer wants has seen him sell garish crimplene slacks to oil-boom Americans and high end Italian garments to well-heeled trippers.

But now John Field - the man behind one of Norfolk’s biggest business success stories is bidding an elegant goodbye to his eponymous Gorleston shop - the only specialist hire shop in the county - that has become a by-word for quality and service.

Even after 47 years, and supplying morning suits for an estimated 25,000 weddings, he is still brimming with enthusiasm and ideas about ranges to add to his formal hire business in Bells Road and new areas to tap into.

But now he concedes it is up to someone else to carry out his big ideas and build on almost half a century of trading as he prepares for one more seamless transition - into retirement.

His business, John Field Formal Hire, serving the local population has become part of the fabric of local life with its emphasis on quality and customer service where nothing is too much trouble.

Many times over the years the father-of-three grown-up children has had to fly to the aid of some hapless groom who has mislaid a waistcoat or suddenly ballooned three sizes but only finds out on the morning of his wedding.

While change has eddied around him – John Field has stood firm, the business going from strength to strength and currently taking more orders for wedding suits than ever before.

He and his wife of 40 years Liz hope a younger couple will step forward and make a go of the business which has given them a good living, and at times a home upstairs - expanding from one shop to three and always changing and moving with the times.

The shop was founded by John’s publican father Percy Field in the former Dodson’s furniture store in Bells Road. It was immediately successful and after one week John was persuaded to leave his bakery job to work in the menswear store that was initially focused on retail.

At that time Bells Road was a mecca for discerning shoppers browsing the 70 odd outlets for quality items, lured to the borough by Yarmouth’s 16-week star-studded holiday heyday.

Now most of them are gone, replaced by hairdressers and offices as shopping trends move people away from traditional high-streets to supermarkets and out of town retail parks.

And although the retail side fell away as the oil boom dwindled, the hire-side grew and eventually took over completely.

Right from the start, Mr Field said, the emphasis was on quality - no discounts or shoddy half-hearted service and everything perfect for the customer, even if it meant several fittings and alterations.

“We always said if we were going to do it we would do it properly,” he said. “It is our business, our reputation and our livlihood, you go that extra mile which the multiples cannot do.

“The enthusiasm is still there. Every wedding is completely and utterly different and we are acutely aware that everyone’s wedding is the most important one that year.”

Customers have included Stephen Fry for suit hire and Larry Grayson for coloured patent shoes – but everyone whatever their station receives the same solid service the couple are proud to call old-fashioned.

Over the years plenty of weddings have been dogged by last minute disasters leading to mercy missions to suddenly supply a certain item or to sort out suits because of last minute confusion about who should be wearing what.

The main change over the years has been the explosion of choice, greys and pinstripes giving way to all sorts of styles and colours in new, light weight fabrics.

Couples getting married often had children and been together for years, but still wanted to dress up and have a big wedding, Mrs Field said.

In a number of cases the shop had supplied suits for the same groom and his party three times over – and occasionally for divorce celebrations.

Although they have pledged to walk away from Bells Road at the end of the year “come what may” Mr and Mrs Field hope the shop will continue.

All orders currently taken will be honoured by the Norwich shop in St Benedicts Street which will continue to trade as normal.

“Its been good fun and never boring when you are dealing with members of the public,” Mr Field said. “The basic skill is being people friendly. If you enjoy being with people you can learn the rest.”

The couple hope to holiday, reconnect with golf and spend more time with family and friends.

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