A Scottish Entrepreneur

Thomas Lipton (1848-1931) established a very successful chain of grocery shops and the Lipton tea brand.  He was also rather keen on sailing yachts.

He left school at the age of 13 and as a young man spent several years working in the USA.  In 1870 he returnd to Scotland in 1870 and, at first, he helped his parents run their small shop in the Gorbals but he soon opened a shop of his own – Lipton’s Market at 101 Stobcross Street, Glasgow.  Reflecting back on this first shop Thomas Lipton wrote,

“I worked tremendously hard to have the shop spick and span … but it was to the stock I paid most attention. Most of it came direct from Ireland, and it was purchased at such keen rates that on my opening day I was announcing prices which quickly caused a sensation among my competitors all over the district. … My first day’s drawings were two pounds, six shillings — considerably more than we had ever drawn in a single day at the wee shop in Crown Street.”  [1]

Within 20 years of opening his first shop Thomas Lipton had a chain of 300 stores across Britain.  Central to his success was his determination to cut out the middleman.  By going directly to suppliers he managed to buy products more cheaply than his competitors.  Sometimes this included setting up his own factories, for example in 1883 he set up a meat packing plant in Chicago.  When he entered the tea trade he used similar methods, bypassing the traditional wholesalers and going directly to tea growers in Sri Lanka.

His entrepreneurial zeal made Thomas Lipton a rich man and earned him a place in high society.  Despite a keen interest in the ladies he never married and on his death a large proportion of his wealth went to good causes in Glasgow.  He also left his yachting yachting trophies, to the city’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

[1] Leaves from the Lipton Logs by Thomas Lipton, London, Hutchinson & Co. 1931

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