Obituary: Jennifer Lawson

Jennifer Lawson of south-west housewares chain Lawsons passed away on February 29 after a short illness, surrounded by her family.

Lawsons is a family-owned independent retail business based in Devon which operates four stores at Plymouth, Ivybridge, Tavistock and Totnes that offer ‘essentials for home living’.  It began trading in Plymouth in 1904.

Jennifer’s daughter Liz Lawson, managing director of Lawsons, told

“The story of Jennifer and Lawsons began in the mid-1970s, starting with her volunteering to make a cake to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee for her daughters’ school. She had designed a cake comprising of five 12in cakes cut into 1in squares, so every girl in the school could have a piece. It required 320 union flags – one for each square – but she didn’t know where to find everything she needed. Jennifer realised that cake decorators like her needed a shop where they could buy everything for a cake in one shop. She saw a gap in the market and made it her mission to fill it.

“Jennifer introduced cake decoration to Lawsons, sourcing tins of all shapes and sizes and started hiring them too, along with cake boxes, boards, stands, ribbons and silk flowers. She started our long-term relationships with suppliers such as Anniversary House, Culpitt, Wiltons and Alan Silverwood; all of whom we still work with today.

In an interview with ‘Housewares Magazine’ published in 1985, Jennifer said: ‘Two or three times a day a customer will come to me with her intended cake. I will stop everything and help her out with it, give her my opinion, tell her if I don’t like it and perhaps suggest a more practical design. More often than not I will encourage a return visit by asking them to bring me a photo of the finished cake’. She went on to explain why our cake decoration is successful: ‘We listen to our customers, who tell us what they want, and all the staff have knowledge of the craft.’

“It has been this business mindset and focus on customer service which has seen Lawsons thrive through the challenges in retail.

“Jennifer started organising cake decorating demonstrations inviting famous cake decorator Mary Ford in 1985 – attracting 100 people! This then led to Lawsons holding demonstrations of other specialists, such as woodturning.

“She was also the powerhouse behind Lawsons trading at local agricultural shows like the Devon County Show, the Yealmpton Show and the Totnes Show for many years. She worked alongside suppliers such as Frank Picken and Bodum; helping Lawsons to reach out to customers outside the Plymouth shop.

“In 1979, she was instrumental in Lawsons opening their first shop outside of Plymouth when the company opened in Totnes. She even made the Elizabethan outfits for the staff to wear on Totnes’ ‘Elizabethan Tuesday’.

“Jennifer started our trading relationships with suppliers such as Le Creuset, Brabantia, Horwood, T&G Woodware and Bodum, building our kitchenware business, which is now more than 50% of our turnover.

“Over the years she became well known by suppliers and many would seek out her counsel for new product ideas and consumer trends, as her knowledge of kitchenware and cake decorating products was vast.

“The staff all knew her as Mrs. L. She loved working on the shop floor and many staff would comment that she could work longer and harder than any of them. Customers would seek her out for her product knowledge. She always passionately led by example.

“We are deeply indebted to her for helping to build our family business, which has been a huge part of our community in Devon. We will always remember Jennifer Lawson and be grateful for the part she played in the success of Lawsons and will continue her legacy.”

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