Pigott & Co.

Interior of Pigotts Toowoomba, c. 1920s Interior of Pigotts Toowoomba, c. 1920s

Who: Pigott & Co Pty Ltd, known affectionately as ‘Pigotts’. The store was established by Michael Daniel ‘M. D.’ Pigott (1849–1929).

What: Department store and regional retail landmark.

Pigotts catalogues, 1930s to 1940s. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

Where: Originating as a drapery business at South Brisbane, Pigotts moved to Toowoomba in the late 19th century. Their main buildings were on Ruthven Street, in the centre of Toowoomba. Pigotts also had a store in Warwick, and for a time they operated small branches in Boonah, Beaudesert, Chinchilla, Pittsworth, and Dalby.

Floods in Melbourne Street, South Brisbane, 1893
Floods in Melbourne Street, South Brisbane, 1893. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 66106.

When: 1886–1983, when Pigotts was taken over by Brisbane department store McDonnell & East. They continued trading under the name of Pigotts in the same premises until 1990. Pigotts Warwick was established in 1905, and closed in 1990.

Pigott and Co in Warwick, 1908
Pigott and Co in Warwick, 1908. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 12214.

Why: Pigotts was one of Queensland’s leading department stores, and Toowoomba’s chief local retail business. Not only did Pigotts service a vast regional market, they also competed with the major city department stores, running for over nine decades.

Pigotts Toowoomba, undated
Pigotts Toowoomba, undated. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

Pigotts was founded by Michael Daniel Pigott, an Irishman who came to Queensland in 1885. He went into partnership with fellow draper T. C. Beirne—another recent arrival to Queensland from Ireland—and together they opened a drapery store on Stanley Street, South Brisbane, in 1886. Five years later, Beirne and Pigott dissolved the partnership and Beirne opened his own store in the burgeoning retail precinct of Fortitude Valley.

Michael Daniel Pigott, undated. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
Michael Daniel Pigott, undated. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 12212.

Pigott remained in South Brisbane until the 1893 floods, and then purchased a store on Brunswick Street in Fortitude Valley, close to where Beirne had set up his namesake business. It was a time when many major retailers were sowing the seeds of future success in the area. But within a few years Pigott decided to leave the city and make his mark on Toowoomba’s shopping sector, identifying a solid regional market with great potential and less competition. After opening his first Toowoomba branch in 1896, Pigott sold his Valley shop to another budding department store entrepreneur, James McWhirter, in 1898.

Exterior view of the shop front of Pigott and Co Toowoomba 1927
Exterior view of the shop front of Pigott and Co., Toowoomba, 1927. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 12225

Pigotts’ first Toowoomba branch was on Russell Street, but he quickly secured a better location. In 1902, he rented the premises on Ruthven Street that would be Pigotts’ signature spot. Between 1902 and 1908, significant additions and alterations were made to Ruthven Street. In 1905, Pigott expanded and opened a store in the centre of Warwick, in Palmerin Street. While this was a strategic part of Pigotts’ enterprise, Toowoomba maintained its position as the central store, well supported by its Warwick counterpart.

Remains of Pigott & Company's building after the fire, Toowoomba 1909
Remains of Pigott & Company’s building after the fire, Toowoomba, 1909. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 12226

In 1909, disaster hit when a fire broke out in the Toowoomba store, destroying much of the building and Pigotts’ stock. M.D. Pigott bounced back quickly, rebuilding with a new façade and doubling the previous amount of floor space. In 1910, Pigotts was declared a limited company, with M.D. at the helm as managing director. By 1914, Pigott was able to purchase the Toowoomba building and immediately began adding to it. Improvements included electric elevators, more floor space for the dress department, tailoring, and dressmaking workrooms, and the mail order department. Pigotts’ pneumatic cashier system was reputedly the first in Australia. Pigott was clearly building a major department store, in the same league as those he had seen established in Brisbane.

Interior of the mailing office at Pigott and Company Toowoomba ca. 1924
Interior of the mailing office at Pigott and Company Toowoomba ca. 1924. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg:12220

From early on, mail order was a cornerstone of Pigotts’ business, allowing the store to service country customers throughout Queensland. Pigotts catalogues were known as ‘The Economic Messenger’, and their promise was to “deliver your goods two days ahead of Brisbane”. They also referred to themselves as ‘The City Emporiums.’

Catalogue 1942
Pigotts ‘Economic Messenger’ Spring Summer 1942 catalogue. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

Pigotts advertised in city and country newspapers throughout Queensland, aiming to compete with large Brisbane department stores and other rural outfitters. Pigotts’ ads were aimed equally at men and women customers, with new arrivals in men’s cardigans, hats, or trousers frequently taking up as much newspaper real estate as women’s swimsuits and frocks.

Pigotts ad, Jantzen’s Cardigans for Men, March 1954. Western Star (Roma).
Pigotts ad, Jantzen’s Cardigans for Men, March 1954. Western Star (Roma). National Library of Australia.

Pigotts’ hefty and well illustrated catalogues were dominated by men’s and women’s fashion goods. Women’s clothing, shoes, and accessories, including millinery, always occupied the prominent first section of the catalogue, with plenty of space given to enticing imagery. Colourful illustrations of fashionable women’s clothing graced the majority of Pigotts’ catalogue covers. Their stock was a combination of clothing made by Pigotts, and other affordable and reputable brands.

Catalogue 1948
Pigotts Autumn Winter Catalogue, 1948. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.
Pigotts Spring Summer Catalogue, 1952
Pigotts Spring Summer Catalogue, 1952. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

In addition to their excellent stock and mail order clout, Pigotts was also an example of progressive management. M. D. Pigott was a respected and well-liked director. Alongside plenty of staff functions and social outings, M. D. was responsible for implementing a subsidised insurance scheme for his staff, which eventually developed into a complete superannuation system. He demonstrated an active social conscience, donating Pigotts goods to charity on regular occasions, including toys for needy families at Christmas. When M. D. passed away in 1929, he handed the reins to his son, F. J. Pigott, who continued in his father’s footsteps by expanding Pigotts in the 1930s and 1950s to make it Toowoomba’s largest store. Fashion parades were regularly held to introduce local customers to new stock. These continued into the 1980s, remaining a central feature of the Pigotts brand.

Catalogue 1938 inside
Millinery in Pigotts Catalogue, 1938. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.
Pigotts paper shopping bag, undated
Pigotts paper shopping bag, undated. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

A major competitor arrived in Toowoomba in 1962, when Myer opened their doors. In response, Pigotts Toowoomba extended their premises to Margaret Street to have three street frontages. They also installed cash registers and escalators to modernise the space and make shopping more convenient, and opened a food hall to enable customers to buy everything they needed under the Pigotts roof. After F. J. Pigott died in 1957, other members of the family continued to work in the business, including his son, Jim Pigott, who eventually became a managing director.

Portrait of F.J. Pigott, undated
Portrait of F. J. Pigott, undated. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 12215.

New rivals continued to arrive in Toowoomba, including cheaper retailers such as Target. In 1983, Toowoomba got its first major shopping centre, Clifford Gardens, which challenged the high street district and moved trade out of the centre of town. But Pigotts still managed to remain a successful business with a loyal clientele in both Warwick and Toowoomba. Advertising from the 1980s shows that Pigotts was directly competing with Myer for market share, selling high quality Australian fashion brands such as Carla Zampatti, JAG, and Country Road.

Pigotts ad in The Chronicle, Toowoomba, May 1983
Pigotts ad in The Chronicle, Toowoomba, May 1983. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

But times were changing, and due to an economic recession, retail was a difficult area of business in the early 1980s. Pigotts’ Toowoomba site was a prime piece of real estate, which was sought as part of a new development by property developers Jennings. As this negotiating began, however, Pigotts was approached by Brisbane department store firm McDonnell & East, who made a bid to purchase Pigotts in 1983. McDonnell & East’s offer would allow Pigotts to continue as a department store in both Toowoomba and Warwick, and was thus more attractive to the long-running local business.

Front page news: Pigotts Sold, The Chronicle, July 28th, 1983. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
Front page news: Pigotts Sold, The Chronicle, July 28th, 1983. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

In 1982, Pigotts’ profits were listed as $591,000 at the Toowoomba store, and $63,000 at the much smaller Warwick branch. The sale to McDonnell & East was confirmed as front page news in the Toowoomba Chronicle on July 28, 1983, with the purchase price listed as the significant sum of $5 million.

Pigott's building facade, Toowoomba, 1990s. Queensland Heritage Register.
Pigotts building facade, Toowoomba, 1990s. Queensland Heritage Register.

Pigotts continued operating until 1990, when McDonnell & East closed their Toowoomba and Warwick stores. In 1992, the Pigotts Toowoomba building was entered into the Queensland Heritage Register, preserving it as a Queensland retail landmark.

References:

This article was written as part of the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame Fellowship. A partnership between QUT Business School and State Library of Queensland.