Anything Left-Handed celebrates 50 years
Amazingly, Anything left-handed has been helping our fellow left-handers around the world for FIFTY years in 2018. We wanted to mark the occasion by having a few little celebrations ourselves but also sharing the history of the business with you.
Anything Left-Handed was registered as a Limited Company on 16th August 1968
It was originally started by Bill Gruby with his wife Claudia. Amazingly, they both RIGHT-handers, but their business partner Peter Broom was a natural left-hander who hade been changed to write right-handed. The business idea came about after Bill and Claudia had invited four friends to dinner and it turned out they were all left-handed. the conversation turned to the daily trials and difficulties of being left-handed and Bill decided that he would go into bat for the left-handed minority and start a left-handed shop.
In those early days, they made contact with Cyril Lowden of Ernest Thomas (Hendon) Ltd – a fellow natural left-hander who too been forced to be right-handed. They were a wholesale business that had launched a number of left-handed lines (such as can openers & scissors) a few years earlier. Ernest Thomas are still a core supplier to Anything Left-Handed to this day.
The first Anything Left-Handed shop opened at 65 Beak Street in London's Soho, just round the corner from the south end of Carnaby Street.
It soon became well-known and was featured in media reports around the world.
This photo of Peter Broom outside the shop was printed with an article in the New York Sunday News on 23 November 1969.
Paul and Clara Bradshaw took over from the Grubys and Peter Broom stayed involved with the business. Paul called himself a “frustrated left-hander” as he too had been made to change to writing right-handed at an early age. Clara was a right-hander.
The Milsoms take charge
Reg Milsom and son Keith Milsom took over the Anything Left-Handed business in 1988 and continued to run it from the Beak St. shop They worked on expanding the mail order business and Reg used to walk round the corner to the Broadwick Street post office with a sack of parcels.
57 Brewer Street Shop
In 1991 we moved into a newly refurbished shop unit in Brewer Street, Soho, London, one road parallel to our old Beak Street shop. The shop was much smaller at only 110 square feet (10 square metres) plus a tiny cupboard and toilet behind.
As it wasn't possible to run the mail order business from there, it was moved to Keith's garage in his house in Carshalton, Surrey and was run there for about 5 years. We held most of the stock in the garage and Reg used to do a weekly drive up to the London shop to replenish stocks as needed.
In 2000, the landlords wanted to increase the rent for this tiny unit for £10,000 to £15,000 which, together with the huge Business Rates from Westminster Council, would have made it totally non-viable for us. We started a long campaign to fight the increase but eventually got ground down by the stress and legal fees and we had to start planning to close our beloved shop down. We left the premises in May 2006 and focussed on developing our online business to continue serving customers around the world.
In 1994, we rented a small warehouse and office unit in Belmont, Surrey which became the main base for the business as it grew. We took additional space there in 2001 and invested in upgraded computer and telephone systems. In 2009 the landlord of that building decided to redevelop it as flats and gave us notice that we would have to leave.
The cost of other property to work from locally was prohibitive and the additional cost of moving everything and setting up the operations of the business in new premises would have been too much for us, so we looked to work with a new partner who could do the fulfilment operation for us so we could focus on marketing and interacting with our customers and growing number of Left-Handers Club members.
Our catalogue started as a single photocopied sheet and featured hand-drawn pictures of the various products. It was a big investment of time and money when we produced out first full colour catalogue (back in the days before digital photography, desktop publishing and digital printing). We used to print 20,000 catalogues at a time and send them out with orders plus give them away at the shop. We also sent them out to our past customers on our mailing list – originally putting them all in envelopes, sticking on labels and stamps and posting them.
Due to the large costs of printing the catalogues and mailing them, plus the fact that they were out of date as soon as they were printed, we eventually stopped printing them and just kept our full range of products and information about them on our website.
We created our first website in 1999, back when most people had never heard of the Internet. We started getting a few orders even back then and it slowly grew to become a significant part of our business. When we had to close the Brewer Street shop in 2006, we became officially an “online business”. This was not something we ever really planned or wanted but became the only financially viable way to run a small specialist business like ours.
As it turned out, we were able to reach a much larger audience online and provide products to people all round the world, not just those who could visit our London shop or see our mail order catalogues in the United Kingdom.
The Left-Handers Club
Our own Left-Handers Club was initially formed in 1990 after many requests from customers and left-handers around the world who had contacted us.
The earliest we can find was “The Left-Handers Association” formed by Michael and Jeanette Barsley in London in 1966. This is an extract from their original introduction letter which we found buried deep in our archives.
In the United States, lefthanders Midge and Dean Campbell from Topeka, Kansas founded “Lefthanders International” in 1975 with a view to publishing a bi-monthly magazine called “Lefty”. In an interview at the time, Dean said “We hope to develop an awareness of accomplishments, achievements and desires of lefthanders without engaging in radicalism, politics or negativism”. The Campbells had four children, all right-handed! There was US$ 15.00 a year subscription and that entitled you to 6 bi-monthly issues of the printed magazine. The magine continued in print till the late 1980's.
Our Left-Handers Club started in 1990 as a way to share information with fellow lefthanders and keep them up to date with what we were doing. It aimed to keep members in touch with developments, make their views known to manufacturers and others, provide a help & advice line, to promote research into left-handedness and development of new left-handed items. Since its formation the Club has gone from strength to strength with members all over the world and is highly regarded as the foremost pressure group and advice centre on all aspects of left-handedness.
On 13th August 1992 the Club launched International Left-Handers Day, an annual event when left-handers everywhere can celebrate their sinistrality and increase public awareness of the advantages and disadvantages of being left-handed. Over the years we have had display stands in central London locations including Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square and Carnaby Street to raise awareness of the issues facing left-handers and encourage right-handers to try to use our left-handed product versions so they can understand the problems.
We will continue to scour the world for manufacturers who will make left-handed versions of popular products and make them available for you. We will also continue to publish information of interest to lefthanders on our website and in our email newsletters and social media channels and push for the interests of lefthanders wherever we can.
We will also continue to promote the needs of left-handers of all ages – whether born left-handed or having to use their left hand through illness or disability. We find it unbelievable that even though left handers make up probably around 15% of the school population, successive governments both here & abroad have failed to provide any dedicated teacher training focussed on how to teach left-handers – it’s not just about having the correct equipment (though this certainly helps), it’s even simple things like ensuring a left-hander is not sat to the right of a right-hander if they are sharing a desk (and then continually clash elbows, for which the lefty gets blamed!).
We look forward to many more years of interaction with our Left Handers Club members and fellow lefthanders around the world. If you are not already a member: