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Gorham’s celebrates 80 years in business

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Just getting started: Rod Farrington, senior manager and shareholder at Gorham's, celebrating the firm's 80 years in business (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Homeware giant Gorham’s is celebrating its 80th anniversary.

The firm, founded by A.J. Gorham in 1936, has grown from a small lumber business on Hamilton’s Front Street to a supermarket-style operation in Pembroke.

And Rod Farrington, senior manager and shareholder, said the secret of the firm’s long life was the ability to adapt.

He added: “Gorham’s has always been progressive over the years and kept changing.

“A.J. Gorham started in business selling cement and a local lumber yard started selling cement — he decided if they could sell cement, he could sell lumber. We’re the oldest lumber yard in Bermuda now.

“The company has always been forward-thinking, trying to stay ahead of the game and never resting on its laurels.”

From small beginnings on Front Street, where the Supermart building now is, the company expanded into bigger premises on Reid Street, now occupied by Island Trading.

Mr Farrington said, when sunlight hit the Island Trading store at the right angle, the original Gorham’s lettering could still be seen, while markings for different sizes of lumber could still be seen clearly in the building’s storage area.

The company moved to its current location in 1962, built on a former area of swamp land reclaimed using rubble from the Bermudiana Hotel, which was destroyed by fire in 1958, and began to expand towards the multi-line store it is today.

Mr Farrington said: “In our first two locations, we probably had other things like nuts and bolts, nails and hammers.”

Basic hardware items were added in 1962 and over the years more and more items were added, but the modern store took shape when it was decided to replace the company’s third home with a new, larger warehouse some decades later.

Mr Farrington said: “By the time we were ready to build the new facility, the old lumber yard probably had two to three thousand square feet of tools — once we moved into the new building, we expanded even more.”

Two separate buildings, housing lumber and other stock, were joined together in 2002 to create the store shoppers know today.

The company was bought out from various members of the Gorham family by Kitson & Company the same year and began a series of improvements.

Only last month, the firm set up to accept the new chip-and-pin credit and debit cards, the latest piece of technology adopted by Gorham’s.

Mr Farrington said: “We were the first company to do electronic data interchange with ordering, even prior to the internet.

“We automated very quickly and started using bar code scanners.”

The firm later developed supply change management based on iPhones and iPads and two years ago won a Bermuda Tech award for best mobile apps on the island.

Mr Farrington said: “Our philosophy is always to look forward. We’re 80 years strong and we’re just getting started.

“We’ve been strong throughout the years, but we’ve never sat on our laurels.”

Mr Farrington said that, even after the recession hit towards the end of the last decade, the company did not lay off staff.

He added: “In fact, we’ve invested in our business. Naturally, when times get tough and recession hits retailers, one of the first things they do is cut back inventory.

“We never did that so when people came here we still had what they needed.”

Mr Farrington added: “We have an incredible customer base and we really appreciate our customers — we keep up our inventory and we’re constantly trying to be more efficient.”

The firm will celebrate its birthday tomorrow from 6.30pm to 8.30pm with special promotional offers.

There is a $10 per person entrance fee, with proceeds going to the Bermuda Legion, which aids ex-services personnel and their families.

The event includes special offers, birthday cake, free food and drinks and a DJ, as well as other entertainment.

Building for the future: The original modest home for Gorham's on Front Street in 1936.
Home improvement: Gorham's first home in Pembroke in the 1960s, on the site the company still occupies today.