For the autumn issue of SMG News it was timely to visit the beautiful Gloucestershire countryside to call on a long standing member of the Group; Aaron Newell of Winnens in Cirencester. Aaron is a third generation retailer with this family run business. He and his sister Talitha now run the two shops they have. Winnens have been a member of SMG since 1998 when Aaron’s father John joined the Group with his store in Cheltenham. Selling flooring and furnishing the store soon became too successful for its initial location and moved to larger premises. Expansion continued as Aaron rejoined the family business four years ago with Winnens opening a second store in Cirencester in July 2016. This stunning store islocated in a beautiful area of the town which has a huge parking area opposite encouraging plenty of passing trade. The store is modern, sleek, light and welcoming. A great complement to their Cheltenham store. We put the usual questions to Aaron and here are the results….
WHAT DO YOU FEEL IS THE INDEPENDENT RETAILER’S STRENGTH?
“The main strength is the breadth of product knowledge that smaller family businesses have to offer their customers compared to the multiples. For example in a department store the staff may change regularly and have some basic training on product but not to any great depth, whereas with a family business you are brought up with product and know the business inside out. Attention to detail tends to be greater than multiples and going that extra mile for the customer is a definite strength. If the customer wants something you don’t have in store, you can usually source it for them, whereas multiples will only sell what they have in store.”
WHAT IS THE KEY MARKET CHALLENGE TODAY?
“The main challenge as I see it is keeping up with the rapidly changing market place. How you market your business is changing fast – you have to keep a pace with that and not get left behind. You need to modernise and move with the times in order to attract new customers. Social media, website sales, targeted marketing are all important factors and, as an independent business you don’t have the luxury of a dedicated marketeer who can run social media and web design for you – it’s a big challenge.”
SMG HAS A STRONG POLICY OF SUPPORTING BRITISH MANUFACTURERS, IS THIS SOMETHING YOU SUPPORT?
“Yes very much – it’s very important to my customers – especially at the mid to top end. I get asked where product is made all the time – there is a perception that British made is better quality.”
WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON QUESTIONS YOU HAVE FROM CUSTOMERS?
“‘How soon can I get it?’, ‘where is it made?’, ‘how long is the lead time?’, I would say those are the most common questions with ‘how much does it cost?’ coming close behind. I am finding customers are becoming far more accepting of waiting for the product to arrive, especially at the top end – they don’t expect delivery the next day. I find many of my customers are coming in well ahead of when they need the product to ensure they almost ‘project manage’ their room preparation.”
IF YOU COULD ASK SUPPLIERS TO CHANGE ON THING, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
“Slightly contentious but I would ask suppliers to tighten up their quality control and their customer service when there is a problem. I only make a profit when I sell something once! If I have to refit, or rearrange fitting then I’m costing myself money and time. I have to pay fitters, the customer has to move their furniture again and often they expect some kind of compensation from the retailer without any recompense from the manufacturer. It makes it very hard to make any profit.”
WHAT IS YOUR TOP SELLING PRODUCT AT THE MOMENT?
“Hard flooring – mainly Karndean. I am finding customers are going for hard flooring all over their houses apart from the stairs now. This is due to many factors; an obsession with cleanliness, better quality hard flooring, houses are better insulated so don’t need carpet for warmth and builders are putting in underfloor heating.”
WHAT WAS THE MAIN REASON FOR JOINING SMG?
“My father joined the Group in 1998 for the many benefits it gave him. There are business support benefits like the credit card rates and cheaper insurance and then there are the product advantages – discounts and rebates. I don’t want to have accounts all over the place – it’s just more admin – I want to deal with one contact and be able to access all of the products I need.”
WHAT WOULD YOUR ADVICE BE TO NONALIGNED RETAILERS?
“What are you gaining by not being in a Group? You lose nothing by joining a Group and gain many benefits. There are a lot of pluses!”
WHAT HAS CHANGED MOST DURING YOUR TIME IN THE INDUSTRY?
“I was involved in the business right from a young boy and then left for a while to work in other industries. On returning after a 20 year gap I can say that hard flooring has improved enormously. You can fit LVT with minimal sub floor preparation, the product looks so authentic and it wears really well. There really was nothing of that standard 20 years ago. Carpets have not changed all that much – apart from colour trends.”