Ronnie Barnard - owner of Gifts for Gentlemen
How I Got Started - Ronnie Barnard
On leaving school Ronnie undertook a three year course in Retail Display which focused on design, display and colour. This promptly opened the doors to a job with one of the big West End stores where he was one of a team creating wonderful window displays and, of course, the Xmas windows were a visitor attraction in their own right!
After gaining a few years of practical ‘hands on’ experience he moved to take on a position with Innoxa, a cosmetic company specialising in theatrical make-up and Ronnie was responsible for creating the displays for their merchandise in all of the stores at home and abroad. Whenever a new product was launched he was part of the team which created the ‘look’ of the product.
‘Of course everything we were taught then has changed somewhat now,’ explained Ronnie. ‘Back then, windows were treated like a set with a back and sides and meant only to be viewed from the front. Now the fashion is to open them up with views into the shop’.
During his time with Innoxa he was introduced by one of his workmates to an evening job at the Old Vic Theatre. As a young man in London he needed to supplement his income! After a couple of years his talent and hard work was recognised by the theatre and he was offered a fulltime job. He became part of the admin team running the front of house providing the retail, bars and staffing requirements ensuring the enjoyment of the theatre goers. He was part of the team that moved the National Theatre Company into its new home and his experience widened to organising book signings, exhibitions, etc.
Talking to Ronnie over a coffee he fondly remembers his 22 years there and names like Harold Pinter, Peter Hall, Franco Zeffirelli, Tom Stoppard and even Dame Edna Everage aka Barry Humphries come out in our conversation. ‘They were people you could call by their first name and certainly at the Old Vic there was such a close and intimate feel to it’.
When he was passed over for a job he particularly wanted at the new National Theatre he realised that after such a length of time it probably was time to ‘move on’. For the next six years or so Ronnie moved into interior design and window dressing on a freelance basis.
Then it happened!! The draw of Devon struck on a holiday back visiting his mother’s family who live in the Plymouth area and his time in London came to an end. He moved back and lodged with a cousin and his wife until he found a property in Modbury which he converted and ran as a guesthouse for three years. Then one day on a visit to Dartmouth Ronnie decided this was the town in which he wanted to put roots down.
The business in Modbury was sold and a home and the shop premises bought in Dartmouth in 1989. To this day, Ronnie’s not quite sure where the idea for ‘Gifts for Gentlemen’ came from he just knew that if he was opening a gift shop in a town that already had some very nice shops he needed something different. Talking ideas over with friends they eventually came up with the idea of a shop with presents for men which would be bought predominantly by women.
An Aladin’s cave of gems from the smallest stocking filler to quality major gifts, you’ll find what you’re looking for even if you didn’t know what that was when you first walked in! He stocks gifts from over 100 suppliers and Ronnie and his staff, Linda and Bobbie, take a pride in finding just what will be appropriate.
He’s the first to admit he was taking a large leap of faith when he opened this admittedly small outlet. His trading position on the corner of Lower Street and Oxford Street back in 1989 was not a primary trading position and although he had a wealth of experience it was the first time he was putting his own money on the line in a purchasing situation. ‘You have to hope and trust that you are making the right choices when buying in stock,’ he explained, ‘but with diversity of stock and prices I aim to cater for all tastes, requirements and pockets.’
Over the years the trading emphasis in Dartmouth has changed and expanded and the footfall in Lower Street has increased with more shops opening. Especially when Alf Resco’s opened Ronnie found it certainly brought a larger passing trade and every time the lower ferry disgorges its passengers they have to pass ‘Gifts for Gentlemen’. So although his original trading position was a decision made due to available financing he certainly would not now choose to move. Also there is now less of a seasonal influence but Xmas is one of Ronnie’s busiest time of the year.
So if you have a man in your life that needs a present look no further – Ronnie will have the solution!
First published December 2008 By the Dart