John and Charlie Turner told us the history of the family firm – a story of one of the pillars of Northallerton’s industrial and retail base, one familiar to many present but an absorbing and informative narrative to others. John traced the evolution of the business at the turn of the 19th century in the Eston area of Middlesbrough, where it offered threshing and farming services, and sold farming and agricultural supplies at the markets of the region. It was a business large enough but loose enough to sustain growth but capable to ride the ups and downs of the business cycle. In 1914 the military sequestered the entire stock of metal and hardware to meet the war effort. It was hit again during the period of the industrial collapse in the twenties. Time for a change.

At this stage the business was run by three brothers – Tom, Charles and Sam. In 1931 Sam hived off his interests to go independent by moving to trade further south – to Yorkshire and away from the home area. With £500 in cash and a small lorry, he eventually selected a site in Northallerton along Boroughbridge Road. That was soon became too small and property was found in Quaker Lane offering better expansion prospects in substantial buildings. In turn this was too small, eventually settling on the Darlington Road, 3.5 acres with good access as is known today. From these properties the style of selling changed. Instead of taking the products to the markets, the stores opened up to attract customers in.

Charlie then told us of the moves to diversify the trading range of the company to take advantage of new customers and new customer needs. Today the company seeks to maintain its focus upon service to the farming, the countryside and agricultural industries, offering cutting edge technologies from top market suppliers. The product image was enhanced by a move into “country” clothing from jackets to wellies – again stressing the link to the rural economy. The big move was to follow the market into the gardening business, where Turner’s would meet severe competition from the new garden centres with their greater purchasing power and the farm shops The move to offer teas and cakes, probably a service provision, rather than as a market opportunity was to prove a great success, keeping the customer within the complex in a much extended restaurant. . Sammies is now a brand name with significant public appeal. Charlie said that the company policy of wider choice, quality products and very competitive prices is working (He would, wouldn’t he?!)

It was a very good talk indeed. It told a good story in a very laid back style, almost apologetically. The detail was interesting, but the main core of the morning was the consistent recognition of the need to change with the times – to change locations, bigger store houses, new products and services. In recent years it has established outlets in Stokesley ,Piercebridge and Leyburn and as a matter of course, it trades “on line” with great effect. Growth has been achieved and reputations enhanced, but it remains a family firm, both in management and shareholding. And it holds a place in the affections of the town and townspeople of Northallerton.

John Edwards