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Saturday, 15 August 2015


John Cozens, an ancestor by marriage of my Pilkington cousins, was a grocer in Norwich at the end of the eighteenth century. His shop stood in the town’s huge marketplace, on the side known as Gentleman’s Walk because it was where the local gentry promenaded and spent their wealth.

The location certainly worked for John Cozens – in 1801 he was turning over £400 a month, a huge amount. It’s interesting in the light of subsequent developments that £300 of that sum was in wholesale – selling not to the public but other traders.

Norwich Marketplace (Robert Dighton, 1799) 

By 1809 Cozens was in partnership with one John Copeman, who was on the payroll in some capacity in 1802 but was now putting money into the company of Cozens & Copeman. The two men became connected in a personal way when Copeman, whose first wife had died, married Elizabeth Hawkins, the sister of Cozens’ wife Mary.
John and Elizabeth’s son joined the business, and when Cozens retired in 1837, the firm became Copeman & Son.

That in a sense is the end of the Cozens element of this story. But the firm remained in Copeman hands and under the Copeman name (latterly as Copeman-Ridley) until 1987 – almost two hundred years after John Cozens first moved to Norwich from his father’s farm in 1789. 

Successive generations of Copemans built up the wholesale side of the business and in 1873 sold off their retail premises in Gentleman’s Walk. From then on (to my unbusinesslike mind) it’s a fairly dull tale of expansion, of mergers, of weathering economic storms. But in 1954, following a study tour of northern America, the then chairman W.O. Copeman launched a name which will be familiar to high street shoppers throughout Britain and Ireland – Mace convenience stores.

My local Mace, South Bridge, Edinburgh

Mace was one of the first franchise operations in Britain, in which independent store owners subscribed to the group and received benefits of economies of scale in national branding and wholesale supply which they could never have as individual traders.

It was a huge success and the model for subsequent “symbol groups” such as Premier and Nisa-Today. When the brand was sold out of Copeman control in 1987 it suffered from a series of new owners who sometimes struggled to understand the needs of its franchisees. Many retailers left Mace for other so-called “symbol groups,” but even now there are 1200 Mace stores in Britain and Ireland. At its height Mace supplied nearly 5000 affiliated corner shops and convenience stores, and all because of the grocery store which John Cozens began 226 years ago in the marketplace in Norwich.

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