Mothercare’s 50 years in the baby business

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Nappies, prams, nurseries and maternity clothes – you name almost anything connected with babies and it will have altered dramatically from what your granny or even mum used.

Mothercare is celebrating its 50th anniversary in the baby business this year and what a difference that time makes.

The stores were much smaller, you’d be lucky to catch a dad in there and the nappies were all made to last.

There was no such thing as home shopping, not a pregnant mum to be seen on the catalogue covers and little chance of going back to work when a baby turned one.

Back in the ’50s and ’60s all the products were kept in drawers behind the counter and members of staff would do the running for you when you asked to see something specific.

It is a far cry from all the colourful displays carefully designed to grab attention in-store now and trolleys to wheel around the superstores.

This was long before Meadowhall was built and the site of today’s Barker’s Pool store was still a cinema.

Dorothy McGee has worked for the firm since 1963. She was just 16 when she turned up for the interview and had her school report tucked under one arm.

She started on the shop floor, has tried her hand in many departments and stores across the country along the way, and hasn’t had a day off sick since she began.

“When I started the service was paramount. Everybody had to be greeted into the store and asked what their requirements were,” Dorothy said.

“We had coach-built prams because people didn’t have cars as they do today. People walked everywhere so the prams didn’t fold down and babies stayed in their prams for longer – up to 18 months.

“Now prams have so many things like car seats and baby carriers and can be made into pushchairs.

“In the 60s we didn’t sell car seats in the same way because there wasn’t the large requirement that there is today.

“In the maternity department, at the age of 16 I wasn’t even allowed to measure a pregnant woman because you had to be a more mature lady.

“Things have changed in leaps and bounds today – people feel very comfortable being measured by somebody from their own age group.”

There used to be a lot more superstition surrounding labour and birth so people would pay to have things put away, them collect them after the baby was born.

Dorothy is the first to admit technology has had a huge impact although safety has always been at the top of the agenda.

The need for car seats and ever developing gadgets has done its bit to tempt more dads into Mothercare and their role has changed massively in the last 50 years.

“Men didn’t really get involved and now it is expected that they do. I don’t think now women would buy a car seat or pram without their husband but when I started they just did it on their own,” Dorothy said.

Mothercare has been in Sheffield for many decades and was the first store to announce it was moving into the shopping complex that replaced the city centre’s old Gaumount Cinema in Barker’s Pool.

Dorothy McGee at Mothercare

Dorothy McGee at Mothercare

It made the change in March 1987, closing down its previous store on The Moor, and when it threw opens its doors more than 700 people applied for just 13 jobs.

In 1980 the chain seized the baby boom to announce it was looking at expanding from 186 shops nationwide to 250. It also revealed it was hunting for bigger premises in Sheffield and the surrounding towns as births in the city rose from 7,100 in 1977 to 7,700 in 1979.

Mothercare was also the first to offer fully supervised creche facilities to customers, caring for up to 20 youngsters at a time.

When Dorothy took on her first role with Mothercare, the chain had 70 stores. It now boasts more than 1,200 stores in 55 countries. Her first boss was Mrs Raynor, now aged 90. Dorothy describes her as way ahead of her time.

Mums-to-be have also become more savvy in many ways thanks to the internet and peer support.

“I think people know a lot more now because of the social networks and all the things that are available,” Dorothy said.

“Now in stores we do coffee mornings and evenings so it is quite a social thing now.

“I wish I could do it all over again because time has gone so quickly.”

mothff, Yvette Kendall  prepares to open her new Mothercare store at Crystal Peaks later this month. Jade Beecroft'MotherJB

mothff, Yvette Kendall prepares to open her new Mothercare store at Crystal Peaks later this month. Jade Beecroft'MotherJB