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Former Russell & Bromley chair Peter Bromley dies at 68

Footwear chain’s former chairman and director was renowned for his commitment to quality.

Peter Bromley, former chairman of premium footwear retailer Russell & Bromley, has died of lung cancer at the age of 68.

Bromley maintained a low profile in the industry, preferring instead to make his mark through the family business co-founded by his great grandfather George Frederick Bromley in 1873.

He became a director of the footwear chain in 1971 and then chairman from 1989 until his retirement in 2003. During that period he oversaw a shake-up of the Russell & Bromley store portfolio - opening a series of large standalones in central London locations and in shopping centres like Brent Cross and Bluewater - and he developed the current management structure, including appointing his sons, Stuart and Andrew Bromley, as directors.

Bromley also cemented Russell & Bromley’s reputation as one of the ‘jewels’ of the footwear industry, defined by a commitment to quality - which he enthused about and maintained, despite market pressures to chase turnover.

He was also passionate about high-quality service, and for many years insisted that all Russell & Bromley shop staff spent a day at footwear manufacturer Barkers’ factory to see how footwear was made and to “understand good shoes”. These would be followed by evenings spent discussing footwear.

“They were very special evenings,” Lance Clark, whose family founded footwear brand and retailer C&J Clarks, told Drapers.

Like many of Bromley’s contemporaries, Clark does not claim to have known Bromley well but used to enjoy running into him at industry parties and remembers him as a shy but impactful figure.

“Peter was a man I always admired, who built a distinctive and dedicated family business on superb shoes. He was the brains behind the business. He wasn’t a public person, but talking to him it was evident he had a love and passion for product.”

His younger brother Roger Bromley succeeded him as chairman in 2003.

Donations on behalf of Peter Bromley can be made to the British Lung Foundation, c/o Welham Jones Funeral Directors, 156 London Road, Sevenoaks, Kent, TN13 1DJ.

Sales on the up

Russell & Bromley grew operating profit 26.3% to £13.9m in the 12 months to 31 December, as sales increased 6.2% to £88.1m.

The footwear retailer put the hike in its margin down to “firm control” of overhead costs, a focus on “presenting quality products and providing excellent customer service” and a “creative and innovative culture”.

However, it experienced an 8.1% increase in its buying costs over the period, and said in a statement with its accounts filed at Companies House this week that the state of the UK economy presented a “cause for concern”.

Russell & Bromley reduced its headcount from 1,094 to 1,040 employees during the year, with most of the job losses coming from the shopfloor, although the total costs of wages and salaries edged up 1.7% to just under £14m.

The retailer has 46 standalone stores, 27 of which are located in the south of England, with a bias towards central London and Greater London. Just over half of the branches have separate kids’ departments with fitting services.

Russell & Bromley is due to start work on a transactional website in the next few weeks.

It will also open its third store on London’s Oxford Street this month in the former Faith flagship.

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