Not those boots! – the other household name we’ve all grown-up with – Boots the chemist.
The Sunday supplements of a leading broadsheet newspaper had an inspiring piece on a woman who made a serious difference in setting Boots on a path of social inclusion breaking previous commercial barriers.
Florence Boots, married to Jesse, son of founder John Boots, had a steely determination and a unique ability to see social justice, doing the right thing and business were not separate entities but essential elements in disrupting the norm to deliver better results for all – an alien idea for 1879!
In 1897, Florence drove beauty at Boots – unheard of at the time. An anecdote from archivist Sophie Clapp told how Jesse and Florence argued over whether beauty or healthcare should have the biggest space. Story goes that Jesse won but Florence installed a huge mirror so anyone at the healthcare counter saw the beauty display!
Thinking outside the box like this is typical business practice today.
Florence’s ideas for improvements to both business and community continued. In 1898, Florence introduced a subscription service – Booklovers’ Library to make books more accessible. She went on to install cafes in the Boots stores – remember there were no Starbucks or Costas then – to give a safe meeting space.
This socially conscious thinking extended to staff as well as customers. Free hot chocolate was provided each morning as Florence recognised many staff couldn’t afford breakfast before coming to work and provided them with a hot meal at lunchtime. A school and gym was built for staff and Boots was one of the first to introduce the five day working week.
Now we have Instagram and Twitter etc to show inspirational quotes. Back then, Florence wrote inspirational poems directly to staff.
All of this social justice for staff and the community grew the brand to such an extent, Florence was made a Board Director in 1917 – a rarity at the time. Growing the brand still further, Florence and Jesse sold-up and retired in 1921 but the brand still carries their name today if not all the initiatives in the same form Florence instigated.
One of her lasting legacies is student halls at Nottingham University which she personally funded at the time for women to get access to higher education during an era when it was much more difficult than today. The Halls still stand and are known as FloBo House.
In the enduring negativity of Covid-19, this piece of journalism inspired hope in me for the future. I believe humans with drive, determination and a sense of social justice will overcome any barrier. We can learn a lot from Florence and other past trailblazers.
Are we going to sit around moaning about ‘our lot’? Or are we going to do something about it?
Florence’s image above curtesy of You Sunday supplement. Who knew her name? Now you do.