Our Story

A little bit of history

We are a family run company which was started in the early 1950`s by Mr Richard Cole on Grays market originally as a sole trader.  Predominately a carpet retailer in those early years Richard quickly out grew the space allocated in the market place and within a few years opened his first shop in Chadwell St Mary where Richard expanded into furniture and upholstery. In early 1955 Richard was told that the landlord wished to develop the land the shop was built on and unfortunately during that year he had to look for new premises. As luck would have it towards the later part of 1955 a clothing shop on the Broadway in Grays became available and Richard purchased the free hold premises finally moving in during 1956 and we have been there ever since. Richard also took a new partner on during that year, Mr Fred Rix, and they formed a Limited company between them. Fred and Richard had a good working relationship and a very successful business in those early years. They even managed to start a removal business between them.

By the late sixties Richard and Fred were thinking of expanding and were actively seeking new premises but realising that if the business was to expand they would need some new blood and between them they found an extremely good manager in a relatively young Mr Keith Smith to help run the Broadway. Shortly after Richard found a shop on the High Street in Stanford and decided to ask his brother Fred and Fred Rix`s step-son Len Richards to run the Stanford shop. Fred Cole then came into the business in 1970 and actually opened the shop at Stanford initially as a manager and then becoming a director later that year.

At the end of 1970 Richard made the decision to immigrate to southern Ireland leaving Fred Cole, Fred Rix and Keith Smith to manage the business although he still retained part ownership of the business. By 1972 in became evident that the shop in Stanford Le Hope had outgrown it`s size and that the business needed to expand once again. Fortunately a larger shop had become available on the Green at Stanford Le Hope with upstairs storage therefore Fred and Keith decided to lease those premises and transferred the furniture and upholstery into the new premises leaving the High Street as a dedicated carpet shop. Rather fortuitously Fred managed to also negotiate the purchase of the freehold at the High Street around that time as well. Due to the larger premises the company decided that they needed to venture out into a new product and a dedicated bed department was created there filled with Myers beds and quickly the company became one of the largest Myers beds retailers in the area. Initially, Fred Cole managed the Green and Len Richards managed the High Street but the market was changing…..

During those early seventies it was a very innovative period with Schreiber furniture paving the way for affordable fitted kitchen and bedroom furniture for the average household. Schreiber opened a factory in Runcorn which enabled them to mass produce kitchen and bedroom units at a fraction of the cost of the traditional manufacturers.  For the first time a mass market for kitchen furniture was emerging and Fred Cole and Keith seeing this opportunity decided between them to convert the Grays shop completely into a fitted kitchen and bedroom showroom. That was quickly followed by converting part of the Greens upstairs into a kitchen and bedroom showroom as well. Obviously, now with a lack of storage space Fred and Keith needed warehousing space and opened our first warehouse at Curzon’s Drive in Grays which is still our warehouse today. At first the fitted kitchen and bedroom side of the business was very slow but as more and more people realised that a fitted kitchen and bedroom was not just for the more affluent it quickly gained momentum developing into the market that we know today. Unfortunately, Fred Cole`s role had completely changed in the business. Fred found that he needed to spend more time in the office to help run the kitchen and bedroom department and visiting customer’s houses to plan their fitted furniture. Fred had to employ Mr David Cole, Richards son, to manage the shop on the Green in Stanford although Fred still working at the Green a few days each week.

During 1979, the business expanded once again opening a shop in Romford which was a dedicated Schreiber furniture centre this shop was managed by Mrs Jean Tompson a competent showroom manager whom had previous experience with Sharps bedrooms. Mrs Tompson brought with her two designers, Gary Tompson and George Hoxby, from the Sharps set up, who successfully between them propelled the branch into the flagship of the group. 

This was quickly followed by the purchase of our Elm Park shop in Hornchurch from Valfields in 1981. There another family connection was asked to run the shop in Mr Roy Letts, Keith Smith`s brother in law. This was a new venture for the business as Valfields were predominately a mid to up market furniture store catering for brands such as Parker Knoll, Nathan furniture, G Plan Furniture  and Old Charm together with some older names such as Priory furniture, Stanley Wood and Frayling upholstery which are sadly no longer trading. Fred Cole and Roy between them brought the best of the brands from the Green to Elm Park thus creating a store that catered for all customers. Morris furniture and Sherborne Upholstery quickly became popular brands for the store during that period. Sadly shortly after the opening of the Elm Park store Mr Fred Rix passed away. Mr Keith Smith then purchased Mr Rix`s shares to ensure the continuity of the business and became a full partner with Fred and Richard Cole.

During the 1980`s, Schreiber furniture came to an arrangement for short term leases within Homebase and the business was able to take advantage of this by opening in store studios starting with Walthamstow and Waltham Cross and by 1991 had a further 3 studios at Rayleigh, Norwich and Ipswich. Finding that it was difficult to run the Ipswich and Norwich studios from Grays Fred and Keith decided to open a new fitted kitchen and bedroom showroom at Colchester which would take care of those two studios before they opened. In 1989 the current showroom in Colchester was opened at Peatree Road and the business financed this new venture by taking in two new partners in Mr Andrew Cole, Fred`s son and Mr Desmond Moylan, who had previously worked with Keith Smith at Grays and had become a key designer within the business.

In 1990 the lease was due for renewal at the Green and it became clear that the landlord wished to increase the rent to such an extent that Fred looked into the possibility of expanding the High Street shop as it had a large garage and an outbuilding to the rear which was mainly used for storage. Fred had plans drawn up that were passed by the council making the premises 3 times bigger that it currently was including a flat upstairs that would be sold to finance part of the building costs. The building commenced in early 1990 and was finished at the end of 1991 therefore allowing the Green to be transferred into the high street when the lease ran out in early 1992.

A bombshell hit the industry in 1989 due to the death of Mr Schreiber and that fact that his son decided to sell the business to MFI. Initially promises were made that there would be no changes to the current working practices but it clearly became evident that changes were afoot. MFI went on to produce the Hygena product and placed the Schreiber name on it which they sold in their own stores. This created confusion with customers as they found it hard to understand that there was a difference between the two products. The Schreiber centres products were still being made to a higher quality with 18mm carcases and higher quality doors from the old Schreiber factory in Runcorn, whereas the Hygena made Schreiber was made with 15mm carcases and with inferior doors. In addition MFI decided to take over the remaining leases on the Homebase opening some centres in the same towns as the Schreiber retailers were already trading from. Fred and Keith seeing that the situation could not continue at Romford because there was an MFI selling Schreiber and a concession within Homebase as well,  made the decision to change the product in the Romford showroom to Wellman kitchens. Many of the loyal Schreiber retailers found themselves forced into changing the product within their showrooms which eventually in 1992 led to the closure of all the Schreiber studios around the country including those within Homebase.

During the year of closure MFI sold the remaining term of the leases in the Homebases onto Limelight bedrooms a subsidiary of Sharps bedrooms part of the Moben group. Fortunately an arrangement was already in place between the original Schreiber and Homebase that allowed the concessions to remain in the hands of the retailers. Due to the fact that Limelight was a bedroom company there was no kitchens available, the concessions were allowed to put their own kitchens within the store and we at RG Cole chose a company called Elizabeth Anne which were part of the Bernstein group to compliment the bedrooms. At first everything was fine but as time went on it became clear that the Limelight product was of inferior quality because nearly every single job had the doors peeling within a year. In early 1994 the problems were still continuing culminating in the collapse of the Limelight Company by the March of that year and Sharps taken back the leases from them. Unfortunately, it meant all of those retailers including ourselves that had worked hard to build up those concessions within Homebase losing their trading areas.

Disillusioned with what had happened with Limelight Mr Desmond Moylan decided to make a career change into the tourism industry and Mr Nigel Button and his wife Linda took over the running of our Colchester showroom. RG Cole continued to purchase Kitchens from Elizabeth Anne at Colchester and Hornchurch we had to source a new bedroom supplier which we found in another Bernstein Kitchens subsidiary in the Grovewood product and Grays decided to try another company called Symphony Plc. Unfortunately, Elizabeth Anne had been so reliant upon the Homebases and the ex-Schreiber dealers the brand became uneconomical for them to run, and eventually there was  only one product available from Bernstein being Grovewood Kitchens and Bedrooms.

Realising that there would have to be a change so that RG Cole were not so reliant upon one or two suppliers the directors decided to dip their toes in the bespoke market which was becoming more affordable as manufacturing processes changed. Fred and Keith managed to find a local carcase manufacturer that would make any size unit for them and a number of door manufacturers that they could purchase doors and handles from thus making the customers kitchen or bedrooms unique. Initially the doors were from Top Door in Colchester, Multiwood and PWS Distributors.

In 1994, Mr Andrew Cole joined the company on a full time basis to work in the accounts department implementing a new computer system to take care of the book work. Andrew had gained experience in the accountancy world by becoming an auditor after he left school but had continued to work in the business on a part time basis helping out with deliveries and in the accounts department. In 1995, Mr Steven Roffe joined the company initially as a designer before becoming the sales director, Steve brought the company further forward by instigating the installation of a new planning software called Planit which could create realistic 3`d images of our customer’s kitchens and bedrooms. As Steve`s role grew within the company he started to find better product including a range of doors that can be made any size and any shape. Since those turbulent times in the late 1980`s and early1990`s the business has found stability by moving away from the mainstream flat pack suppliers. RG Cole has gone from strength to strength becoming one of the major kitchen and bedroom and furniture retailers within Romford ,Hornchurch Grays and Colchester areas.

In 2004, Mr Andrew Cole and Mr Steven Roffe took over as principle owners to allow Mr Fred Cole and Mr Keith Smith to start planning for their retirements but at the time of writing 10 years later, both Fred and Keith still play an active role within the business albeit on a part time basis. Mr Andrew Cole still runs the accounts department but now is the principle buyer for the furniture side of the business and Mr Steve Roffe has completely taken over the running of the kitchen side of the business.

And so the story continues…………….