GREAT BRITISH BRANDS: Harrods - Once a humble grocer's shop in east London, Harrods is now the capital's third most popular tourist attraction

Harrods, now known as the 'top people's store', once advertised itself as the cheapest store in London and has come a long way from humble beginnings.

Harrods started out as a modest grocery in east London in 1849. In 1864, Charles Digby Harrod bought the store - by now based in Knightsbridge - from his father for £500 and made a name for himself by banning credit and cutting prices.

The firm prospered and in June 1870 Harrod introduced a 65-page catalogue guaranteeing delivery to all parts of the country as long as the goods had been paid for in advance. A massive fire destroyed the building and all the stock on December 6, 1883, but after setting up in nearby temporary premises with new stock, Harrod's store broke all previous records that Christmas.

The disaster provided the opportunity to design a new and impressive store with five floors, attracting a glamorous clientele including Oscar Wilde and Lillie Langtry. Even as late as 1894, however, Harrods was still advertising itself as 'The cheapest stores in London'. It was not until 1902 that Harrods went upmarket, calling itself 'The most fashionable resort for shopping in London'.

By this time the store's myriad departments included men's and ladies' fashion, the fur salon, restaurants, hairdressing, a bank, an estate agency and a piano department. The UK's first escalator was introduced at Harrods in 1898, with attendants stationed at the top to offer smelling salts or a tot of brandy to nervous customers. In 1904 Harrods claimed to be 'The shrine of fashion'.

Ads were aimed at women, for whom Harrods was one of the few public destinations where they could meet without a chaperone.

Ads consistently appeared in magazines and newspapers such as The Illustrated London News and Lady's Pictorial. In 1929, the store won awards for a controversial advertising campaign that appeared in The Observer and in some US newspapers.

For the ad, Harrods had contacted three eminent writers - George Bernard Shaw, HG Wells and Arnold Bennett - asking them to "lend the influence of their pens in the cause of business". All three refused to co-operate, but each sent a long letter detailing his reasons for not wanting to be drawn into commerce. These refusals were printed in a full-page ad that was widely read and hotly debated on both sides of the Atlantic.

During the war years, Harrods' marketing activities slowed down in line with the general mood of austerity, but by the 1960s advertising was back in full swing. The Way In department was opened in 1967 to try to draw the same crowds of young shoppers who were flocking to Carnaby Street.

Press ads tempting them to the new offering were appropriately stylish and risque.

A 1960s recruitment ad featured naked men and women alongside the strapline 'How would you like to work in clothes?' And in one ad for nightwear, Harrods challenged 'If you've got the nerve, we've got the clothes'. Harrods also captured the spirit of the 1980s, kicking off a global expansion with a Harrods shop in the Mitsukoshi department store in Japan. Since then, outlets have opened in Frankfurt, Hamburg and Heathrow airports, in Takashimaya department store in Singapore and on the QEII.

Despite the changes, Harrods' advertising has maintained a distinctive, restrained tone, set by its agency, Leagas Delaney, in the 1980s. The famous line 'There is only one Harrods. There is only one sale' first appeared in the late 1980s. Harrods owes a lot of its success to its allure as a top tourist destination - it is the most popular London attraction for overseas visitors after St Paul's Cathedral and Big Ben. But the store is now facing tough competition from its two main rivals, Selfridges and Harvey Nichols, which have successfully created a more contemporary image and attracted a higher proportion of young, cash-rich shoppers.

Harrods' profits fell from £38.9m to £20.2m in the year to January 2001.

Since then, the events of September 11 and subsequent downturn in tourism (which accounts for between 20 and 25% of sales) can only have had a negative effect on business. In response, Harrods is completing a £300m re-fit and planning a £3m campaign to lure a younger audience through its doors this summer.

FACT FILE
1834
Charles Henry Harrod starts trading as a wholesale grocer in Cable
Street, east London. Goes to Knightsbridge in 1849.
1894
'Omnia Omnibus Ubique', Harrods' motto, first appears.
1911
Harrods finally occupies the whole four-and-a-half acre block on
Brompton Road.
1959
House of Fraser acquires Harrods, which becomes group flagship.
1982
IRA bomb explodes outside Door 4 on December 17, killing six and
injuring 93 others.
1985
The Fayed family pays £615m for the 93-strong House of Fraser
chain.
1994
Fayed floats off House of Fraser but retains Harrods.
1989
Harrods introduces a dress code prohibiting rucksacks and torn jeans.
2002
Average daily takings are in the region of £1.5m.

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