The Sleep Shop
In 1956 Peter Green started his first furniture business in the small, railway town of Eastleigh. His ‘Sleep Shop’ was located at 43 Leigh Road, almost opposite the bandstand and in the beginning it sold only beds. Peter Green started his business with £150 capital, a number of years of experience as a furniture representative and bags of enthusiasm. It soon grew into one of the regions biggest independent furniture stores.
Peter Green grew up in Nuneaton, a textiles manufacturing town in the Midlands. His family were confectioners, undertakers and antique dealers. He therefore had a strong business background and some connections within the furniture trade. Peter Green was a proud ‘Old Edwardian,’ having attended King Edward’s Grammar School in Nuneaton. He was involved in the furniture industry most of his working life, but during WWII he served in the Royal Air Force as a navigator. It was the war that brought him to Southampton, where he met his wife, Norah.
The Peter Green Walk Round Showrooms
Peter Green chose Eastleigh as the town in which to establish his business and live because he felt at ease there. It’s size and industrial backdrop reminded him of Nuneaton. In the early days of his business Peter worked in the shop by day selling his beds, and delivered them in the evening, while his wife, Norah, took on the secretarial duties and office work in the business and looked after their young daughter, Wendy. Peter’s little store was popular, and he soon began to broaden his range by adding furniture and other items to his stock. In the early sixties he opened ‘The Carpet Shop,’ on the corner of High Street and Factory Road. This store sold mainly carpet remnants and off cuts. Both businesses grew steadily from their tiny beginnings until in the mid-sixties Peter Green took over a huge property on the corner of Southampton Road and Factory Road. The building had previously had been a dairy, but with a few modifications Peter Green turned it into Hampshire’s first ‘Walk Round Showrooms.’ Peter Green’s impressive store was opened by Mayor of Eastleigh in 1966.
The Southampton Road premises was originally built in 1873, beside the London to Southampton railway line, to house the Bishopstoke Brewery. At the time Eastleigh was little more than a village. In 1886 the building was converted into the Dear & Co. dog biscuit factory, and after that had multiple uses including a gear factory, brush factory and engineering works, and in 1895 it even served as a temporary school house. The Fair Oak Dairy Produce Company took possession in 1914, and was managed by a Mr. Johnson who also ran Foxhole Farm, in Allington Lane, Fair Oak. The farm supplied much of the dairy’s milk. During the Wars the dairy played an important part in providing produce to military camps and installations over a wide area of the Southern Command. The dairy had been closed for some while before Peter Green took over in 1966.
After opening his showrooms in the corner property, Peter Green continued to expand by buying adjacent buildings as they became vacant, until in 1973 the firm owned a massive 20,000 square feet of shop floor space. The large spaces that these old buildings provided allowed Peter Green to offer his customers a vast selection of goods to choose from, and at this time the store boasted a 5,000 square foot carpet showroom and a 15,000 square foot furniture gallery. The name Peter Green had quickly become synonymous with quality furniture, great value and good service. People came from miles around to shop at this famous store.
Part of the Community
Peter Green was fond of Eastleigh, describing it as a “friendly redbrick town of character.” From the very start he was fully involved in the life of the town, and carried out charitable works amongst the elderly, and disabled. He belonged to many local groups such as the local Lion’s Club, and Rotary Club and was Chairman of Eastleigh’s Carnival Committee several times. He also became heavily involved with Bonhomie House which was then a home that provided holidays for the disabled and their caretakers. During this time he also created the largest privately owned, retail enterprise in the town. It was hardly surprising, in view of these achievements that in 1977 Peter was made one of the first Freeman of the Borough for his contribution to both the business and community life of the town.
A Man of Innovation
Peter Green was a business man with a very creative mind. Shortly after he opened The Sleep Shop he had the idea to organized a bed race as a fund raiser during the town’s 1959 Carnival Week. The race began outside his Leigh Road premises in Eastleigh. Each competitor was to push their own specially adapted bed on wheels, complete with bed linens and young lady, through streets and country lanes to the finish line in Andover. It was a gloriously sunny few days and people gathered along the route to view the spectacle. The event was also filmed by Movietone News and shown as a newsreel clip across the whole nation. In the sixties he started the Christmas Parcels Scheme for the elderly, encouraging the whole community including manufactures such as Mr. Kipling Cakes to donate food. The food was initially gathered at his store and sorted into food parcels that were then delivered to the elderly. Eventually the scheme became so big that the collections were taken to a hall to be parcelled up with the help of school children, but Peter Green still organized the event and also helped with the deliveries, even on Christmas Day! His showrooms in Southampton Road was also another very new concept, and at that time there was nothing quite comparable in Southern England. It is believed that the ideas for such a huge cash and carry business may have been sparked by travels to France where he visited the huge out of town Magasin de Meubles which were popular there in the sixties.
Plans for a New Showrooms
In the mid 1970s Peter Green decided to improve his premises in a series of carefully planned stages. He commissioned designs for the first phase, which was to be built on the corner of the property, facing the town. Planning permission for this was granted in 1976, but before the work commenced the town put forward plans to build a new covered shopping center, involving the redevelopment of the Peter Green site. It suggested that Peter Green was too larger a business to operate from such a facility, and there fore would have to be moved. It took eight years of uncertainty, until a suitable building was found for the Peter Green Showrooms. In 1985, the store was eventually relocated to it’s present 33,000 square foot retail outlet in School Lane, Chandler’s Ford. Sadly, for Peter he never saw the occupation of this new building, because he died suddenly of a heart attack in 1980, five years before the big move finally took place.
The Big Move
Peter Green’s giant new store was much celebrated, so much so that it seemed only fitting that it should be opened by Christopher Greener, Britain’s tallest man at that time. The showrooms flourished in their new location, with Norah Green now as Chairman. The new ‘out of town’ premises had proved to be ideal as they offered a vastly superior shop floor space and enough parking for a hundred cars. An attractive feature of the new premises was a coffee bar which soon become the meeting place for regular customers. Turnover had risen forty times after the move to Chandler’s Ford. From its humble beginnings the business had by now become one of the largest independent household furnishers in the South of England. In addition to its showrooms a thriving Commercial Contracts Department was created, which would eventually serve customers as far away as the Falkland Islands and Gambia. In 2009 Peter Green won the retailer of the Year Award Despite the increase in trade Peter Green was still able to maintain its commitment to great value, quality and friendly service. Peter Green’s family spirit also remained and the company kept its footing in the local community, each year much fun was had entering a float in Eastleigh’s famous carnival and the Peter Green horse and dray were a familiar site not only at carnival time, but also at local fairs and fetes. Occasionally it was even used to deliver furniture to surprised customers. At this time a tradition that still exists today was established, which was a special visit from Father Christmas in his sleigh at Christmas time giving rides to children at the School Lane premises.
Peter Green Today
Peter Green has been trading from the Chandlers Ford outlet ever since the ‘big move,’ providing furniture and flooring to customers through out the South Coast. Over the years, Peter Green has offered secure employment to hundreds of people in the community, who in turn have helped to create the extensive Peter Green ‘family.’ Many of these families have worked in the store for three or more generations. In 2009 Norah Green passed away and in 2011 her daughter, Wendy (Green) Martin took over. Despite the fact that she lived with her family on Long Island, New York, Wendy decided to take on the challenge of managing the company while still residing in the US. By putting trusted managers in place, many who had worked for the company since a young age, and with monthly visits from her home in America, the transition of generations has been a success. Almost sixty years have elapsed since Peter Green opened his tiny bed shop in Leigh Road, and during that time the business has changed in both size and structure and location, but the core values of this family business have never wavered. Today Peter Green customers can expect the same loyalty to quality, value and service, as those of yesteryear .
The Company’s showrooms at 114 Southampton Road, Eastleigh.
In May 1972 Eastleigh was invited to set up a stand at the Annual Commercial Fair in Villeneuve, this picture shows the Mayor of Eastleigh thanking Peter Green for his co-operation in the venture.
Founder Peter Green
The Peter Green Float on Gala Day in the 1950s.
The Peter Green Float on Gala Day in the 1950s.