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August Blog

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August Blog

I write these blogs when we feel irked about something or feel that something is worth saying. I think now is the time and so you have the joy (or misery) of reading a series of linked (and sometimes unlinked) comments about all sorts of things. Like Yorkshire mixture (which for those outside Yorkshire are a type of mixed sweets).

Retail

Retail is having a tough time for a number of reasons. I don’t profess to know all or even most of them but I have been a retailer for 36 years which is all my working life. I’d have to be pretty stupid to not have noticed changes going on in the marketplace in which I work.

One of the main reasons for change is because customers requirements are evolving and retailers are not correctly anticipating and accommodating their needs. This is one of the reason why High Streets are often like toothless mouths.  Another is because councils have allowed the development of out of town shopping centres (with free parking) that have frozen out independent retailers and decimated city centres. I recall the effect Meadowhall had on the centre of Rotherham. I also remember that during the last recession, Sheffield City Council doubled parking charges in their city centre street parking sites.

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Left to right; Robert Iwan, Nigel Charlton, me and my father Keith – outside our first shop in Rotherham.

As an independent retailer we’ve never had any assistance from the council or the government and I don’t expect we ever will. On the contrary we’ve had endless changes in legislation, paperwork and online declarations of compliance that take hours and hours to complete and prevent me from doing what I love to do; which is look after customers.

We moved out of the city centre in Sheffield because it was struggling. As well as making parking extremely difficult, the council had opened a substance abuse clinic across the road from our shop on Fitzwilliam Street. The area really did slip into a sort of Twilight Zone at times and when our landlord told us of his intention sell the whole area to developers it came as a sense of relief.

Moving to our new store at Woodseats was one of the hardest six month periods of my life. Not least of which was discovering that the landlord for one part of our business( we spanned two retail units) wanted all the rooms we’d built dismantled and 15 tons of rubble moving down two flights of stairs. We argued that the whole building was going to be demolished but he was adamant and within his rights to make this demand. As a matter of fact the building is still standing two and a half years later.

My dad opened that shop with and 28 years later it was the two of us who locked it up for the last time and walked away with a tear in both our eyes.

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Pain aside (no pain, no gain right?) our new store enabled us to create a better environment for our customers. I had envisaged a space that was a cross between an art gallery and a man-cave. So we set about creating that. We wanted a restful and fun place where people could drop in, relax, hear great sounds and spend as much time as they liked. We think we managed that and we’re delighted to say that business has improved for us since the move. Having our own parking has helped immensely and is drawing people from farther afield. Even regular customers tell us they were fed up of driving into the city centre.

We’ve always been active online because we know that many of our new customers find us that way. We also keep in touch with many of our old customers that way too. So we sell online and we sell on ebay and we do social media and try to engage with people by whatever platform our customers choose. To avoid doing so or to refuse to engage with people in this manner is an extremely bad move. Our statistics prove that 95% of our customers first discover us and then make first contact with us online.

We’re independant and will always remain so. Personally I fear big business. I am the opposite of a globalist and prefer to deal with people rather than faceless organisations. Call centres make my blood boil. We used to know people at our bank. Now we don’t even have a bank to pay our takings into and when we rarely need any customer service we have to engage with people we don’t know in another city. They call that progress?

Independence allows me to do things very quickly. If I fall out with one of our suppliers (for any number of reasons) I can take their products off display and list them on ebay within the matter of a few hours. Once those items are sold I can invest money in stock that myself and my staff believe in and want to stock. We’re human beings and the things that turn us on and off are the same as you. So we want to stock the best products and not also rans. The market is full of also rans. It also means I listen to you. When customers tell me things I can weigh them up and act. And I can act fast.

I try and support independants wherever I can and I love dealing with people who I know. Even if its a “good morning” or “how are you?” is something that makes the day go better.  I hate it when you walk into a store and are not even acknowledged. Anyway we all have a choice and I make mine. Please consider how you spend your money. Amazon and the like do very little for their employees, let alone the communities in which they operate.

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One of the things we like to try and do is be entertaining. We all love music and we know you do too. That’s why we have so much in common and that’s how we connect with you. Equipment is simply the means to do that. Over the next six months we will continue to make changes to our business to make you want to keep visiting us and maybe to visit us more often. We’ll have an announcement to make before too long. We are committed to what we do and will continue to invest. We have no remote shareholders who want a new jaguar; our money is invested in facilities, people and stock.

Sitting here at Woodseats and being able to look outside my shop without seeing people knocking seven bells out of each other or begging from passers by or urinating in the street is a big thing for me. It makes me more optimistic about the future than at any time in the last ten years and as passionate as ever.

Salut!

Paul Hobson
25th August 2018