The Royal Polytechnic Warehouse

The Royal Polytechnic Warehouse, Mr. John Anderson, proprietor, Argyle Street.—

    On the evening of Thursday, May 5th, 1887, was celebrated the jubilee of one of Glasgow’s greatest and most influential commercial institutions, the Royal Polytechnic Warehouse, controlled by Mr, John Anderson, and situate in Argyle Street, of which fine thoroughfare it is one of the most notable and most eminently interesting features. Mr. John Anderson’s business career has been a distinct feature, an impressive characteristic, of the past half-century of commercial enterprise in Glasgow ; and it was peculiarly fitting that the point in that career at which he arrived on May 5th, 1887, should be celebrated in a manner betokening a due recognition of its importance. Such a celebration was accorded to the jubilee of the Royal Polytechnic in the form of a grand banquet on the evening above mentioned at St. Andrew’s Hall, Glasgow, whereat the guests numbered over six hundred, and comprised friends of Mr. Anderson, representative business men from all parts of the kingdom, and the employees of the firm. The proceedings were throughout of a thoroughly appropriate character, the reunion most enjoyable to all who participated, in it, and during the course of the evening Mr. Anderson delivered a singularly entertaining address, in which he shadowed forth the principal epochs in his commercial operations of the past fifty years.

    Coming to Glasgow from Perth in November, 1835, with little money and no friends in the city, Mr. Anderson commenced the long and arduous battle in which he has been so signally triumphant. After considerable disappointment and difficulty he secured employment in a Glasgow establishment, and at the end of eighteen months had saved enough to enable him to commence business for himself, on a small scale, obviously, but in independence, freedom from debt or obligation, and that hopefulness in the future which has sustained many another man under similar circumstances. Mr. Anderson’s first shop was in Clyde Terrace. In this shop he was principal salesman, book-keeper, porter, &c., &c. ; and a world of meaning lies in the “ &c.” His venture prospered, though, and by practice of the most rigid economy Mr. Anderson was able, in April, 1838, to remove to larger premises at 4, Clyde Terrace.

    In the same month his marriage took place, and this felicitous event, a deep interest in and devotion to religion, and “plodding perseverance”, Mr. Anderson himself regards as the principal factors in his remarkable commercial success. Year by year the business he had founded grew in magnitude and developed in resource ; floor after floor was added to the original premises, and in less than eight years the routine duties of the establishment fully taxed the energies of twenty-five experienced salesmen. In 1845 Mr. Anderson introduced the system (original with him) of universal trading in the drapery trade, and immediately met with much of that severely practical remonstrance which has come to be rather expressively styled, nowadays, “organised opposition”.

    One of his first great “deals”, as our American cousins would term it, in his own departure was the purchase of a great quantity of genuine Hoyle’s prints and the selling of the same at a penny a yard less than wholesale price. This was in 1846, and at that time Mr. Anderson was in the habit of clearing out immense stocks of “remainders” at discounts varying from fifty to seventy-five per cent. This determined enterprise spread the fame of his establishment all over Glasgow, and while it undoubtedly did him good commercial service, it also benefited the public by bringing the best goods easily within the general reach. In 1849, Mr. Anderson purchased seven tons of the Religious Tract Society’s publications, and followed up this coup with a decided sortie in the grocery market to the extent of six hundred barrels of genuine St. Vincent arrowroot, and the entire lot was sold in an almost incredibly short time — the Religious Tract Society’s publications in five weeks, the arrowroot in two weeks! These are striking instances of the manner in which Mr. Anderson felt the pulse, so to speak, of the purchasing public, with a view to fashioning his transactions in accordance with its premonitory indications. In 1848 he had visited Paris four times, making large purchases on each occasion, and at his own terms, by reason of the standstill in trade consequent upon the abdication of King Louis-Philippe. In 1850 he made regular journeys to France, Germany, and Austria, which were continued in 1859, to the building up of a valuable connection in the great manufacturing centres of Europe.

    Advantageous purchases have always been a feature of Mr. Anderson’s transactions, and have tended in every instance to increase his business by promoting his customers’ interests. At the London Exhibition, 1862, he bought the whole contents of the Austrian court, with large selections from other departments. At Paris, in 1878, a £9,000 purchase was made from the pick of the German, Belgian, Italian, and Austrian departments. At the sale of the effects of the Emperor Napoleon III., Mr. Anderson made purchases to the extent of £18,000 ; and the first day’s sale of these goods in Glasgow amounted to £3,750 ! At the last Vienna Exhibition his purchases aggregated £10,000 ; and prior to this, when Paris was opened after the Franco-Prussian war, he was almost the first buyer to enter the city, and, as may be imagined, both he and his customers profited by the enterprise he displayed on that important occasion. All this has had its just reward, and not only is the Royal Polytechnic Warehouse a household phrase in Glasgow, but it is familiar by name and high repute all over the European continent.

    As a citizen, Glasgow has reason to be proud of the man who has, by charging the small admission fee, during the New Year holidays, of twopence to a warehouse a survey of which is tantamount to a visit to an exhibition, has been enabled to divide £5,700 among the charitable institutions of the city. As a business man, Mr. Anderson has kept honourable faith with his patrons for half a century, to the establishment of the fullest and firmest confidence between his house and its thousands of appreciative customers. The Royal Polytechnic is to-day the finest drapery, haberdashery, small wares, and fancy goods warehouse in the kingdom in the matter of its interior arrangement and general character ; and this statement embodies no disparagement of any other establishment, for it is not to be expected that counterparts of Mr. Anderson’s marvellous emporium in Argyle Street shall exist numerously even in the greatest of commercial centres. Besides the ground floor of the warehouse, with its environment of counters, there are four upper galleries, also with long ranges of counters, and a dress department of splendid appointment and elegant equipment. Each of these sections of the establishment is, as a rule, crowded from morning till night with customers, and the massive staircases are similarly thronged with purchasers making their way from one department to another. The cash-ball railway system is a notable feature on each of the floors.

    The Royal Polytechnic Warehouse, Argyle Street, has been undergoing considerable alterations and extensions since the month of March 1887, and is now, without doubt, the finest and most compact warehouse of its kind in Scotland. It extends from Argyle Street back to St. Enoch railway station, to which it has a frontage, and is now lighted from all sides as well as from the large central cupola, so that there is not a dark corner in the building, giving this advantage, that all the varied and extensive stock can be seen in the clearest light. These extensions, alterations, and decorations were all designed by the eminent architects, Messrs. Baldie & Tennant, Bath Street, and were successfully carried out by the old and well known firm, Messrs. J. & G. Findlay, wrights and contractors, Grant Street, who were the sole contractors. They had under them as sub-contractors, Messrs. A. & R. Anderson, mason work; G. & D. Carrick, plumber work; and Wm. Connel, plaster work, &c., all of whom have given the utmost satisfaction in their several departments, and unite in testifying to the pleasure they experienced in their intercourse with Mr. Anderson, and to the kind, genial, and liberal spirit he at all times exhibited. There is another very important addition to this large establishment, namely, the introduction of a magnificent hydraulic hoist, for conveying customers (as well as goods) to the various floors of the warehouse. This is being constructed on the newest and safest principles by the famous hydraulic engineers, Messrs. A. & P. Steven. This portion of the work has just been completed. The whole of the basement of the new portion of building is utilised for sanitary purposes of the most improved principle, and the ventilation of the whole is most complete, and the decorations have been carried out by Messrs. C. T. Boivie & Co.

    The stock is enormous, and quite impossible of description here. The development of a most noteworthy speciality in cheap and serviceable silks is, however, deserving of mention. Mr. Anderson does not manufacture any line of goods, but engages exclusively in the selling of the products of the best manufacturers; and his supplies are drawn from every market in which an advantageous purchase can be made. The outcome of such a system as this is, obviously, the mutual benefit of the house and its numerous clientele.

    The Royal Polytechnic Warehouse, as a building, is one of the architectural “lions” of Argyle Street. Its superb frontage on that thoroughfare is singularly striking in its aspect, and the whole of the fine facade is so resplendent with plate glass, from top to bottom, as to be practically one huge window. This affords a magnificent light throughout the interior. The scene inside the warehouse, either by day or by night, is a constant and ever-varying panorama of animation ; and a survey of the place from one of the upper galleries or the staircase reveals a spectacle not to be readily forgotten, and far more suggestive of some gigantic fancy goods bazaar than of a busy retail warehouse which has for fifty years, in steadily growing and developing form, been associated with the commerce of the Scottish mercantile metropolis. Mr. Anderson’s executive staff varies from two hundred to two hundred and seventy-five salesmen and saleswomen, according to the seasons ; and it is eminently gratifying to note the mutual good feeling that subsists between the eminent head of the house and these numerous employees, in whose individual and collective welfare he has always evinced a warm and sincere interest.

    Mr. Anderson, still actively controlling the operations of his immense business, is most ably assisted therein by his two capable sons ; and there are few Glaswegians to-day who will not heartily wish long-continued prosperity to an establishment that has proved for many years so unmistakably beneficial to the great body of citizens to whom it has so successfully catered. Mr. Anderson celebrated his golden wedding last April, when his employees received each a Jubilee sovereign. He possesses a fine coast residence, and a splendid yacht, on which during the summer season he dispenses a generous hospitality.

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