A Retail Journey Back To The Future
Bettahomes - and yes, they sell fork handles too!
I thought I knew retail; maybe you thought you did too? Time for a reality check.
Truth is, retail isn't just to be found in the retail parks and in the shopping centres or for that matter - online; no, to find retail at its purest you need to venture somewhere a little different.
And so my journey took me to the outskirts of leafy Reigate in Surrey, there to meet with Dave Williams, the extremely affable proprieter of Bettahomes.
To call this a hardware store would be to do Dave a disservice for this is hardware meets garden centre meets pet shop meets yarn meets.....well, pretty much everything!
On the same site for the last 27 years, it is clear that Dave is doing something right, I was intrigued to know the secret to his success.
To Know Your Customer Is To Know Your Business
After the somewhat sterile experience we all have in some of the large chains, spending time with an indie retailer like Dave was like a breath of fresh air.
And it only took a few minutes to see why as the first of a string of customers came in whilst I was there.
These didn't feel just like customers however - they were more like old friends, all greeted with the same cheery "hello, how are you today". But more than that, most if not all, knew Dave and it became clear that they came to him not just for great prices but because they trust him.
Fabulous adjacency unique to Bettahomes - ventilation meets brackets meets wool
"Often all they know is what they're trying to do, not what tool(s) they need to do the job. They come to me for that advice" Dave exclaimed.
In a space no larger than your average living room, Dave manages to carry over 4,000 different lines; crammed floor to (literally ceiling) not a square inch of space goes unused. However, the mix has changed over the years.
"I used to sell plenty of kettles and toasters for example" he explains, "two or three of each a week; now I'm lucky if I sell one a year since the Tesco Extra down the road expanded. My whole store is less square footage than their toaster and kettle aisle!"
In another fascinating insight, he adds; "People under 45 don't fix things anymore, so my stock has changed to reflect this".
I asked him what the most popular lines are: "Bird seed followed by light bulbs and black bags". And as if to underline the point, one of Dave's customers enters the shop in need of a new light bulb for her lamp which she is clutching.
It unfolds that she went to the aforementioned superstore but she says they seemed totally baffled so she came to Bettahomes and admits she should have come here first. Not only is the light bulb supplied but also fitted - not a big task but another example of the service Dave's customers have come to expect.
Every square inch of space is utilised
Barometer Of The Economy
But it's when we start discussing his customers' shopping habits that the true picture unfolds.
Located on a small parade of shops, in the 27 years since he's been there, Dave has seen many changes. Where once there were other similar convenience type shops, now he has a kitchen design and a hairdresser for neighbours.
"People come here specifically for something, there's no longer any passing trade" he says. And in a somewhat perverse twist, they still sometimes buy the same items at higher prices in the big chains, bemoaning the fact when they see he carries it at a much lower price.
And of their monthly spending habits?
"Last week of the month, just after payday I see plenty of these" says Dave, holding up a £20 note. As the month goes by however, these begin to disappear in favour of coins. "It's getting earlier and earlier in the month now" he adds, indicating that shoppers' spending is being squeezed more and more.
"I often get customers come in to the shop, check out a higher value item and then they will come back and purchase it once payday comes around".
It's a window not only into retailing but the local economy and all the better for it.
Perhaps a little scruffy round the edges, for this writer it all added to the wonderful patina which is Bettahomes; like your favourite pair of slippers - good, honest down to earth retailing at its best.
And in the final analysis, Bettahomes manages to do something which every retailer aspires to - they really know and look after their customer. If you're ever in the Reigate area I urge you to go and take a look.
Andrew Busby is Founder of Retail Reflections, an IBM Futurist and a columnist for Retail Week