Sunderland Vibe caught up with Anthony Reynolds, managing director of Sunderland’s Reynolds Outdoor Centre, to hear the inspirational story behind the 150 year old family business…
Spend an hour in the company of Anthony Reynolds and it’s clear to see how the fifth-generation family business has developed such a revered reputation for its services.
The store, which is nestled on Park Lane’s Derwent St, has been operating in the city for over 150 years and is now a destination of choice for outdoor enthusiasts from across the region.
Whether you want specialist gear to tackle Scafell Pike or sun block to protect yourself from the rays, the staff at Reynolds know each and every product inside and out and are always on hand to offer their expert advice.
“I was brought up working in the store,” managing director Anthony recalls. “My father (Peter) often brought me to work with him during the school holidays and weekends and I would help out with everything from stacking shelves to serving customers.”
Anthony worked part-time at the family store throughout his early life before upping sticks to study at Kingston University, East London, in his early 20s.
Studying civil engineering, he graduated a few years later and went on to work for leading infrastructure giant Balfour Beatty across the South of England.
“I did that for knocking on 20 years and worked on anything that was technically difficult or high value, so any project that cost over £20m,” he said.
“However, when I heard that my dad was ‘supposed’ to be retiring, I decided to come home and take on the business, that was about 12 years ago now.”
Anthony chuckled as he used the term ‘supposed’ to describe Peter’s retirement, as any customer of Reynolds will know, he has never been able to shake off his passion for the family business and is still there most days to lend a hand and help Anthony out.
He continued: “As it happens, my move home coincided with the banks going bust, so all of the big construction stuff stopped anyway. I suppose you could say it was my calling!
“It was a natural transition for me being part of a fifth-generation business. Sometimes it’s hard, like I said in the recent video interview. It is a challenge, especially with the retail landscape as it stands, but we’ve done well to keep moving forward despite the challenges.”
As Anthony touched on, it’s no secret that it has been a turbulent decade or so for the UK’s retail sector – every other month we seem to lose another household name from our high streets.
Independent businesses through to major chains have felt the pinch of the recession and the rise of the internet has also led to dwindling footfall for stores.
Those that have weathered the storm have had to adapt. Whether by diversifying their product offering, developing a digital presence or working closer with the community, and Reynolds is a perfect example of this.
The Reynolds family has been a pillar of the community since their first store opened its doors on Crowtree Road more than a century and a half ago, providing support to community groups and ensuring they always offer a welcoming and personal service.
In fact, Peter was the manager and ski instructor at Seaburn Ski Slope, which existed as part of the zoo and leisure park at Seaburn prior to the development of Morrisons and the Seafields housing estate.
“My dad (Peter) ran the Seaburn ski slope whilst he managed the store,” Anthony adds, “it’s where I learned to ski. That was before Silksworth ski slope was built, which is now the largest artificial ski slope in the North East.
“The guy who owned Seaburn zoo had the ski slope but didn’t know what to do with it, so he employed my dad as a ski instructor. It was only 40m long and it never had a ski lift or anything like that, you had to walk up and down it, but it was great for youngsters!”
Another little-known fact about Sunderland and the Reynolds family, is that both parties played a huge role in the formation of the Scouts. The organisation was founded by Major-General Baden-Powell and his friend and confidante Colonal Vaux.
So the story goes, the first scout group was launched in Sunderland in 1907. It has now grown to become the world’s largest scouting organisation and still to this day the Reynolds family are helping carry on this tradition by supporting scout groups across the region.
“Not many people know this, but the scouts were founded in Sunderland and its founder, Major-General Baden-Powell, actually bought the first lot of equipment from us,” Anthony said.
“And we still provide support to the scouts today. We’ve just recently started working with Gateshead Scouts to provide training sessions on how to not only use different kinds of equipment but also how to look after and maintain it.
“We also still do a lot of work with the local community and schools. For example, we worked alongside Sunderland City Council to provide clothing and equipment to the young people who volunteered to work on the Tall Ships event, which was fantastic for the city.
“Working with the community has always been a fundamental part of the business and is something which will always be at the heart of Reynolds.”
The store has also become somewhat of a tourist attraction over the years following the discovery of a two-headed lamb in Consett some 50 years ago. The lamb lived on a farm, which was owned by Anthony’s aunt, and the family had it stuffed when it passed away.
It was then passed on to the Reynolds in Sunderland and has now been mounted in the shop for half a century. “You wouldn’t believe how many people we’ve had come into the store over the years to take pictures of it,” Anthony said.
“It’s become a huge hit among families, with parents who were shown it when they were young now bringing their children in to see it. We never realised just how big of a draw it would be to customers but it really is, it’s amazing!”
The diversifying of their offering to stock products from leading outdoor brands such as Fjallraven and Paramo is another reason why the business has continued to weather the economic storm and go from strength-to-strength.
Anthony concludes: “In the winter, there are now two parts of the business which really flourish. There’s the hardware side which is the technical side of the business, which includes specialist ski boots, skis etc and there’s the rental side of the business.
“For kids going on their first ski holidays, we rent ski suits and equipment packages. We also go into schools for parent’s evenings and present to them what they need and what we do as a service.
“Through this, we have worked with schools from Carlisle all of the way across to Teesside. We now get people from across the region come to us for their specialist equipment which is testament to all of the hard work we’ve put in over the years.
“We’re in a great location here and as the high street evolves, we’re going to have to continue to change our offering to evolve with it. But we’ll always stay true to our roots.”
Vibe spends five minutes with… Anthony Reynolds
Where’s your favourite place to eat in Sunderland?
No 2 Church Lane, best burger in town!
And your favourite bar/cafe?
How do you wind down when you’re not working?
Running. At the minute, I’ve been going down the seafront, it’s great down there now.
What would be your dream motor?
Aston Martin DB9.
I once completed three Marathons in one year (London, Chicago and New York) under my own target of 12 hours.
I also won the Business Award for Outstanding Contribution to Gear Up. Gear Up was a schools/business incentive managed by TWEBLO (now defunct) Tyne and Wear Education Business Link Organisation.
Any good Scandinavian crime book.
If you could see one musician or band live, who would it be?
Who is your hero?
You’ve got to admire all of the rising British Snowsports stars who, from very humble beginnings, and through dedication, hard work and ultimate focus have become World, Olympic and X-Game champions.