When local parking restrictions led to a slowdown in business, they knew at Maxwells that they had to do something drastic to update the image of the store and attract more customers. Marketing manager Nicky Hood explains
Maxwells is a family-run independent electrical business located in Northallerton high street. This year, we celebrated our 75th anniversary.
Over the years, we have earnt a reputation for quality, service and a personal touch that extends into our after-sales support. Like many other high-street retailers, we have also faced our fair share of challenges – from large, out-of-town complexes and internet shopping, to the squeeze on price points and margins in a highly competitive market.
But the biggest challenge for us over the past 18 months has been much closer to home – the introduction of parking charges in June last year for both short- and long-stay parking in Northallerton High Street, which now allows only 30 minutes free of charge. The impact was immediate, creating a sea change in customer shopping habits across our catchment area of more than 30 miles.
Having basked in the glory of winning the ERT award for Independent Electrical Retailer of the Year in 2013, we were suddenly faced with a drop in sales every month since the start of these charges. This was unprecedented in 75 years of trading.
Almost overnight, the introduction of parking charges emptied the town centre of customers for most of the day, with only fleeting visits from hurried shoppers desperate to avoid exceeding the free half-hour allocation. Customers who would normally travel to Northallerton suddenly avoided coming or reduced the length of their visits.
We made bold decisions and invested when it would have been easier to retreat. We needed to recover ground, but also to move forward with a strong strategy for growth
We felt that both the County and District Councils had effectively ruined the one great asset Northallerton had – free parking for two hours – simply to fill their coffers at our expense. As members of the local business and retail forum, we complained bitterly about the impact this was having, but have had to face the fact that it is now permanent.
Luckily, we own all of our assets, but we knew we had to mitigate the long-term impact. No more carrying on as before. We needed to adapt and develop a stronger Maxwells brand that would make us more attractive, even indispensable to our customers.
We made bold decisions and invested when it would have been easier to retreat. We refurbished much of our shop, reinvigorated our online presence and repositioned our product offer. We needed to recover ground, but also to move forward with a strong strategy for growth.
We wanted more customers, more sales and more profit. We needed to promote our total in-house package of sales, delivery, installation, service and repair. The Maxwells ‘experience’ was to be promoted, enjoyed and shared.
Relying on the old saying ‘build it and they will come’ was not an option. We didn’t sit back waiting for the stampede, we started telling people about it. It sounds obvious, but we were previously guilty of not singing our own praises. We did more social media and invested in web optimisation to draw people to our website – our shop window 24 hours a day. We also developed an e-newsletter to reach customers directly to share news and promotions.
Our staff embraced the changes with enthusiasm. We made some staff jobs more flexible, so they could sell as well as deliver and install products, which enabled us to adapt better during busy periods. The whole process took severalmonths to complete and, while investing at a time of lower turnover was risky, we have turned the corner.
The monthly deficit decreased and we are now back into positive growth. Footfall and web traffic has increased, with great feedback from customers about the new shop layout and range of products available. The website is generating referrals with more click-and-collect orders. We are selling more multiple built-in appliances and AV entertainment products, thanks largely to improved shop demonstration areas and bespoke in-house home-installation services.
By making the most of our assets, we remain relevant in todays’ electrical retail industry. Moving forward into 2016, we are confident that we have the right formula to hopefully take us on to celebrate 100 years.