Metropolitan Life: Next weekend...go factory shopping

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Indy Lifestyle Online
what is it?

Not something done by Tiger industrialists in search of premises, but a rapidly growing retail sector where the products of a particular manufacturer are sold cheaply, usually in industrial premises far from the High Street. The shops may be located near the factory in question, or they may be arranged in factory shop "villages", featuring a larger group of outlets. Either way, it means that factory shopping is a compelling combination of travel and bargain-hunting: a bit of a retail adventure that is the leisure opportunity of the 1990s.

why do it?

"People go for the fun of it," says Gill Cutress, who has co-authored several books on factory shopping with her husband Rolf Striker: their Official Great British Factory Shop Guide (pounds 14.95) is augmented by 10 regional guides (pounds 3.95-pounds 4.50). "People get hooked. Part of the appeal is finding value for money, another part is going on a mystery tour. Stock is always changing and you can never be sure what you will find." Cutress adds that quite a few companies offer people the chance to have a look around their factories as well. "These are very popular, as people seem to love watching others do their jobs," says a spokeswoman for the English Tourist Board. "Buying the product becomes an enhancement to the whole visitor experience, and factory shops are starting to see themselves as leisure destinations." A growing number cater for visitors with cafeterias and restaurants. For instance, at Clarks Village in Street, Somerset - one of the UK's first and largest factory shopping complexes - shoppers can nourish themselves in a range of restaurants before scything their way through the village's 37 outlets.

where are they?

Most factory shops remain one-offs, and are situated in traditional manufacturing areas: pottery in Staffordshire, cashmere in Scotland. They are distributed across the country. There is a Levis factory shop, Big L, in East Kilbride, Strathclyde, selling jeans, shirts and jackets (013552 41413). OP Chocolate, in Merthyr Tydfil, Mid Glamorgan, sells chocolates (01685 723291); Witham Contours in Lady Thatcher's hometown Grantham sells "ladies high fashion underwear" (01476 65268). Fruit of the Loom has a factory shop in Telford, Salop (01952 587123); and a favourite is White and Co of Daventry, Northants (01327 702291), which sells boots, brogues and sturdy English shoes. Meanwhile, New Balance Athletic Shoes, of Maryport, Cumbria (01900 602850) sells all manner of sporting shoes and boots, and Dewhirst, of Peterlee, Co. Durham sells a wide range of clothing (0191 586 4525).

so what's the catch?

Some factory shops sell goods in exactly the same condition as the High Street. Mostly, however, there is a reason why the products do not quite reach the recommended retail price: perhaps a shop cancelled its order; or the stock is composed of samples; or the packaging is damaged. In a few cases factory shops sell seconds, but if this is the case, they have to inform the consumer. As to the discount, factory shops take about a third off the price as a rule, but sometimes it is a lot more.

The Factory Shop Guides are available in book shops and can also be ordered from: 1 Rosebery Mews, Rosebery Road, London SW2 4DQ (tel: 0181-678 0593)