Following the screening of the Millionaire Intern on BBC worldwide we have received many emails of support, observations and objective criticism. There has also been a great increase in the traffic to our website www.havens.co.uk
Rather than try to respond individually to all the emails I thought I would set out our views on the program and the way we see business going forward.
To start at the beginning a TV production company called Outline productions was commissioned by the BBC to make a series of business programs. Outline approached us and whilst initially we were hesitant they pitched it to us that the show would feature how a 100 year old company has changed and adapted in a fast moving trading environment to remain successfully trading today.
So we agreed and interestingly the entrepreneur, we later found out, was also under the same impression that it was to be mainly a business program.
The reality, we now know, is that the production company needed to make the show more appealing for TV purposes so they would try to pick on and expose personal weaknesses and relationships. Fair enough but my brother Paul and I are very different, clashing rarely if at all and one thing we are certainly not going to do is bad mouth each other or any of our loyal team.
The next angle they take is to test our reaction and relationship with Suleman Sacranie the entrepreneur- their thinking that it cannot be right for a 23 year teaching old folk to suck eggs. This also was a non starter, from the start Suleman was respectful and immediately got the family business concept and it’s unique dynamic – he had grown up in one, so respect all round.
By and large the focus was on the declining retail side to our business and the apparent lack of change. The reality is that we have always made changes in product categories, brands and the way we do things: change is in our DNA. What the program did not really address are the changes we have had to make to our whole business model. Early adoption of our very successful website and our business to business company that specialises in Service and Recognition programs for companies.
We have had to diversify as we could see the high street changing greatly in the UK and that change is not going to be reversed any time soon. Footfall in town centres is way down, not least in the secondary retail locations as Havens is.The service industry including banks and building societies have closed as the consumer increasingly banks remotely, not only have their customers disappeared, so too have their staff, all potential customers for businesses in the area.
Out of town shopping destinations are also more compelling than the high street along with the significant growth of online shopping. I will address my thoughts and solutions for the high street in another blog.
So to the program itself and the issues raised.
Firstly the building – It is an iconic building developed in the 1930’s by my grandfather. We have had plans drawn up for the refurbishment of the outside along with a new fascia and window beds. As you will appreciate the cost is quite high and we therefore needed to commercially justify the expenditure. In truth other projects like investment in our website and systems have taken priority and we can see an immediate return on that investment. The refurbishment plans are not abandoned just on hold.
The History of our business – this has always been featured on our first floor and always creates interest. Suleman felt we should make it more prominent and feature it on the ground floor so everyone who comes in the store can see it. This we have done and it looks good.
The shop windows – my sister in law Sarah is in charge of the windows and has a natural eye and talent for making things look good. With a small investment in back drops and props the windows look even better now and feature less stock and are changed more often – it has certainly reinvigorated Sarah.
Getting customers in to the store – this is the hard one. Firstly we are in part reliant on the footfall in the area, the lack of which I have covered above. We also have the additional issue of change in the socio demographic and economic situation, again shared by many towns, changing the profile of the immediate residents. We have done many events in the past and they do drive people into the store. Our next one is Thursday the 14th November which is our Christmas open night event. This does not resolve the day to day traffic which we need to sustain the store.
Being selective about customers – could not be further from the truth, I had been hung out to dry leafleting and knew exactly how that would be cut and edited to make good TV! We have always welcomed everyone to our store. Indeed we added product like stationery, jewellery, perfumes and cosmetics along with quirky gifts to appeal to a much broader range of age, tastes and indeed budgets. The issue is perception – as an old established business the young sometimes feel that we are their parents or grand parents shop, a china and glass shop, too expensive shop and therefore not relevant to them. I am reassured that once inside, as Harry Derbidge of The Only Way is Essex fame found, opinion changes – the Selfridges of Southend he effused, for us that is high praise indeed. I spoke to him at length and he was very complimentary and more importantly loved the products on show which he did not expect to find when he first stood outside. And here is our biggest challenge, breaking down those preconceived ideas as once in the store there are few who leave empty handed.
And so to the future. We know retail will continue to be a tough challenge but we are now seeing the decline reversed, albeit modestly. Not mentioned in the program is that in turnover terms we have enjoyed overall growth as a company and we will continue see our growth and future in our website, our company employee Service and Recognition business and in a new venture that we have been developing this year. We are looking to use our customer service expertise to assist and fulfil internet orders for other website owners – a kind of specialised affiliate program. So suppliers and competitors in our field if you want help fulfilling your internet orders talk to us we can take the cost and hassle away from you. We are also looking at how we can facilitate at low cost other retailers to spread their wings online too.
Apart from the publicity – and I hope that most will see through the sensationalising – the key thing to come from doing the program is the relationship, mutual respect and bond I have with Suleman, there is no doubt that he thinks like an entrepreneur not just as a good business man. We are regularly in touch now and you never know there could well be some commercial opportunity we could both get our teeth into.
I welcome all your comments.
The key thing to remember is our customers are our focus just look at the independent reviews on the Havens service and finally change is in our DNA and doing nothing in business is not an option.