“Easiephit” shoe shops closed decades ago, but traces of the house style can still be spotted. The inverted commas were an integral part of the name displayed on shops between the wars.
The “Easiephit” brand of footwear was manufactured and sold by James Greenlees & Sons of Paisley. The founder, James Greenlees (1833-1914), was initially apprenticed to an apothecary and set up in business as a druggist. In 1858, a year after his marriage, he became a boot manufacturer. Before long James had premises on Argyle Street and Gallowgate in Glasgow. However, it was only in the 1890s – when some of James’s 11 (yes, 11) sons began to join the firm – that the business really started to make an impact on Scottish high streets.
Greenlees & Sons began to advertise boots under the “Easiephit” trademark in the mid-1890s. In 1895 “Easiephit” horse-skin boots were being offered throughout Scotland for 10s 6d or 15s 6d. The company opened more and more branch ‘stores’. By 1904, when the latest branch opened at 64 Murraygate in Dundee, there were 15 stores in Glasgow, plus outlets in Aberdeen, Paisley, Kilmarnock, Ayr, Sheffield, Dundee ‘and other towns’ (Dundee Evening Telegraph, 26 October 1904, 4).
Over and above the famous horse-skin boots, woollen ‘hosiery’ (i.e. long johns and union suits) was made under the “Easiephit” brand. This was advertised in London papers and sold through illustrated catalogues by mail order. Diversification probably allowed the numerous Greenlees brothers to control separate areas of the business. Alexander and Robert Greenlees, for example, relocated to Leicester – an important centre of boot and shoe manufacture – around 1907. Perhaps they were principal buyers (‘boot factors’) for the shops and wanted to be close to the main wholesalers.
Expansion continued right up to the outbreak of war in 1914: there were 90 branches in 1908; 100 in 1909, and 130 in 1914. As yet, most of the stores were in Scotland.
Through the Great War profits continued to rise and the company planned for the future. Just six months after the Armistice the number of branches had shot up from 131 to 200 (including around 55 in England). In March 1919 a new company was floated – Greenlees & Sons (“Easiephit” Footwear Ltd.), under the chairmanship of Harry Dunsmore Greenlees, one of James’s younger sons.
The new company sought to raise capital to construct a new warehouse in Leicester which would supply the English branches. A second issue of shares in 1920 allowed them to build a factory beside this warehouse on East Park Road – the company admitting that it wished to return to manufacturing its own products, a business model pursued by other successful footwear multiples but clearly abandoned by Greenlees & Sons at some point in the past. The company retained its older warehouse at Possilpark north of Glasgow. This had been ‘erected by the Vendors in 1910-11 on the Hennibique system of reinforced concrete’. Mouchel-Hennebique’s records confirm that this was built as a warehouse and factory of 700,000 cubic feet, designed by Wyllie & Blake.
By 1935, when 12 shops were bought from R. & J. Dick, there were 260 “Easiephit” shops. It had become one of the principal national shoe chains of the day.
In February 1957 a bid from Great Universal Stores (GUS) was accepted. GUS had recently taken an interest in footwear retailing, having taken over the Flateau Group, with its Metropolitan Boot Co. and Henry Playfair shoe shops, in the previous year.
There were 380 “Easiephit” branches in the UK in 1973, probably representing the peak of the enterprise. “Easiephit” makes an occasional appearance in street photographs taken in the early 1980s – then vanishes from sight. The purpose-built warehouse-cum-factory in Leicester is now a gurdwara.