People in Style: Cook's companions

A kitchenware and gadget company with a cult following? Yes, really, says Imogen Fox

Outside, it is pouring down with rain, and cars with steamed up windows are edging their way onto the busy car park at the headquarters of Lakeland Limited in Windermere. It's half term, and families from the area around the Lake District have come to spend an afternoon shopping at this kitchenware and household gadgets Mecca. A useful place? Yes, but much more than that. Lakeland has a cult following.

Inside, the store is a peculiar place. One bank of shelving is full of brightly coloured plastic pegs, lunch boxes, and bottle openers; another displays every kind of clear plastic bag known to humankind. Down the next aisle tins of Charbonnel & Walker drinking chocolate, boxes of brandy brazil nuts and bottles of fancy olive oil which wouldn't look out of place in The Conran Shop (but very much cheaper than if they were) sit opposite ironing board covers and oven gloves. With such an eclectic mix of products, shopping at Lakeland feels like a cross between trolley-filling at a hardware cash and carry and shopping in an exotic airport. Over 1,500 diverse products are stocked at any one time, both on the shelves of 19 stores and on the pages of one of the seven Lakeland Limited mail order catalogues produced each year.

"Kitchens are our core business, that's what we are known for," explains Michelle Kershaw, Lakeland's customer director and employee of 23 years. Indeed, Lakeland devotees religiously look to the company to provide special cheese knives, gravy boats and condiment holders. If something disappears from the range for any reason, house-proud customers soon let Kershaw and the three Rayner brothers (who own the company) know that they want it reinstated. "We are often surprised by the response we get - the customers let us know what they want, they send us kitchen products that they've found abroad on holiday and ask us whether we can stock something similar at Lakeland," Kershaw smiles fondly.

Customer relations are highly prized at Lakeland, to the extent that some of their suggestions (which drop in at the rate of 30 per week) will be taken up and developed. Martin Rayner, eldest of the three brothers and in charge of the product range, describes a design ethic which seems particularly in keeping with the friendly, informal atmosphere of this family-run company. "We have tremendous input from customers, it's like having thousands of extra eyes around, and lots of items we develop with our suppliers as we go along - what I call back-of-a-fag-packet design." What often results from this flexible attitude to design are quirky products (witness the Cosy Grip strap, which holds a duvet in place during bedroom tussles) but which are exactly what might never be found elsewhere.

Products already in existence are sourced from all over the world - Europe, America and the Far East. It's the gourmet foodstuff - the chocolate-coated almond butterscotch from America - that Martin Rayner most enjoys discovering. "I love the food trade fairs. We've just been to one in Paris looking at food for next Christmas. I'm always bringing back samples from my holidays."

The Lakeland Limited story started 35 years ago when Alan Rayner, a travelling salesman supplying chicken feed to local farmers in the Lake District, seized upon an opportunity. "It was the freezer revolution of the Sixties and all the farmers were freezing down their meat so they didn't have to sell it off cheaply in the summer, so my father took advantage of the new polythene that was about and started selling plastic bags to farmers wives to use in the freezers - before then they used paper bags," explains Martin. Along with his two younger brothers, Sam and Julian, Martin used to help his father out in school summer holidays selling at agricultural fairs around the Lakes and helping with the fledgling mail order side of the business, advertised in trade publications like Farmers Weekly.

In 1967, with hardly any business training, the sons took over the business, then named Lakeland Plastics, which was still little more than a mail order list of freezer bags. "We were tremendously busy in the summer, but did nothing during the winter, so by about 1975 we arrived at the deduction that anybody who had a freezer had a cooker, so we decided to develop the kitchenware side of things." At first, a very basic brown paper catalogue (printed by the Rayners themselves) selling a few wooden spoons, replaced the list of plastic bags. Martin cringes as he recalls, "We didn't know what we were doing, but things started to grow. Now we still sell just as many polythene bags as we ever did but the cooking side has overtaken in importance."

Several new catalogues and a name change later - "we thought the 'Plastics' bit was putting people off and didn't really reflect what we were now selling," Martin Rayner explains - Lakeland has retained its friendly, familiar feel in its attitude to its customers. "We never sell our mailing lists," insists Julian Rayner who directs sales. "We have somewhere between half a million and a million customers, and we are very protective of them. But I can tell you there are quite a few surprising names on there!"

Naturally the Lakeland team take care to test every single product they sell. Michelle Kershaw can explain exactly how any Lakeland gadget works. "I love testing things and I daren't recommend a product in the catalogue unless I'm really impressed by it, otherwise the customers won't trust what I say."

The testing room is a playroom that resembles the MOD lab depicted in Bond movies. Kershaw shows off the range - prototype kitchen gadgets which don't make it into the range and ingenious storage and space-saving devices which do. Constant innovation will ensure Lakeland's reputation as the place where you can get any kitchenware gadget. Meanwhile, gourmet food and sheer range help give the company its cult status, and just as long as they keep on stocking freezer bags, place mats and pan scourers, the housewives will stay loyal.

Lakeland Limited enquiries: 015394 88100

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

    £30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

    Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

    £34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

    Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

    Developer - WinForms, C#

    £280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform