From famous gangsters to the blitz, Margolis Furniture tell stories as well as they sell chairs
Reaching the ripe old age of 101 is no mean feat, especially for a family run business in the centre of London.
But that’s exactly what Margolis Office Furniture has celebrated this year, carrying with it an amazing story that weaves in tales of the Kray twins, bombings in Soho and working under pseudonyms.
The office furniture store gets a mention every time someone writes a book on early London businesses, and still gets misty eyed visitors wondering in to reminisce about the pub that once stood in that same spot.
But what is it like running a company with such a nostalgic legacy? Is it just of benefit because it brings smiles to the faces of historians and proud Londoners alike? Or does it carry wider business benefits?
“We are the only office furniture dealership in our industry to have a central London showroom now,” explains Paul Margolis, managing director of the store and great grandson of the founder Nathan Margolis. “Our competitors have been priced out but of course we own the building.”
Having been in the same spot since 1963 certainly does have its benefits. Paul Margolis has worked under the family name since 1969. Before he began working for his father he worked at Ryman’s (their biggest rival at the time) under a different name.
“I couldn’t work for Ryman’s with the name Margolis, they asked me to change my name to Paul Howard so as not to confuse.”
So why work for the enemy?
Try them in store like a seat-seeking Goldilocks
“To learn the trade and make mistakes elsewhere rather than for my father,” he says matter-of-factly. Well, I guess that makes a lot of sense.
I am keen to go back to just after the turn of the century when the business was first set up. The black and white depictions of the shop front make it impossible not to delve into the past.
“My great grandfather started the business in 1911,” says Paul. “They were immigrants from Poland and opened up a store in east London’s Black Lion Yard, it was a business that specialised in meeting factory and office needs. Most things were delivered by hand barrow and they had two units on the street.”
It wasn’t long before the business moved. Paul’s Grandfather Simon and his brother Morris opening up in Aldersgate and Poland Street.
The Soho based outpost was flattened by a bomb during World War Two and so the store expanded to two new premises, one on New Oxford Street and, more importantly, another on Euston Road which still remains today.
A recent poll by LondonlovesBusiness.com found that 58 per cent of people aren’t happy with their office chair
“We moved to Euston Road literally across the road from a public house known as The Goat and Compass. It was a landmark pub which served the local community including the gangsters from Warren Street. The Kray twins were regulars.”
The pub was closed in 1963 and redeveloped – the Margolis business moved across the road to take the space. I wonder what it’s like working in a once legendary pub?
“We stripped it out of course but people still remember it as a pub, they know where the long bar once stood and we have kept the lifts once used for taking beer downstairs,” he smiles.
I wouldn’t have guessed it looking at the store now. The windows are full of colourful and unique office furniture (who thought there was such a thing!) I walk through trying to pick out a favourite and lament the bog standard nature of my own chair back in the office.
Taking pride of place in the window is a large mesh chair. One of the ones that looks like it’s been moulded from a human spine; part skeleton, part office furniture. The base is gold plated and shiny, you can imagine it in Star Trek. It looks like you could travel ‘to infinity and beyond’ and be perfectly comfortable.
The gold plated number is unfortunately not for sale but the standard Ergohuman chair is, Paul tells me, and it epitomises his business as he sees it.
“It represents extremely good value and gives numerous advantages over its rivals just like us,” he says. “We want to offer the best for our customers and this chair has been designed specifically to give constant support for the back. It’s user friendly and stylish.”
A recent poll by LondonlovesBusiness.com found that 58 per cent of people aren’t happy with their office chair – they could probably benefit from a trip to Euston Road.
“People spend an average of eight hours a day sitting in their office chair; it’s the most important chair in their life. It’s unbelievable that people just order their chairs off the internet without even seeing them or trying them out first.”
Paul makes a good case; if you’re going to spend so much time sitting in something, why not invest some time into seeing what you can get, and like any other important purchases in your life – try it first.
The Margolis Furniture store boats the largest selection of chairs under one roof in Central London. Not only can you go in and try them in store like a seat-seeking Goldilocks, you can walk away with one for a free test drive in the office.
“We are very much a people business; many of our customers become friends. People buy on the internet from companies and have no idea of their financial situation and might not be there in the future to satisfy any warrantee issues.
“Why do people buy from Harrods, John Lewis or indeed from us? They want a reliable service. Our customers know we will buy back or upgrade their furniture. We’ll have something delivered on Sunday if needs be – a service that few can match.”
This kind of attitude towards customer service is almost certainly something that Margolis has held onto since its early days. In a world of faceless internet purchases and bland flat packing, this kind of personality and quality of care is refreshing.
Times have changed since Margolis Office Furniture opened its doors on Black Lion Yard. The business has evolved to suit a modern world but, luckily for us, has managed to maintain some of its most traditional values.
Margolis Office Interiors Ltd
341 Euston Road
London NW1 3AD
Tel: 020 7387 8217
Email: [email protected]