Going one step further

In Features On

The electrical independent Paul Taylor is well known in Spalding and the surrounding area. Every morning commuters to the town hear the company’s promise on local radio: ’If your appliance has broken down and you place an order with Paul Taylor for a new one before 10am it will be delivered and installed by the time you come back home in the evening’. With this approach he successfully wiped out most of the competition from Spalding. “When I took over Paul Taylor there were eleven electrical shops in Spalding, in one form or another, including department stores. Now there are only our shop and the Co-op,” says David.

The location and the locals

Spalding in Lincolnshire is a quiet market town surrounded by a large rural community. The town and its catchment area has approximately 100 thousand people.The population of the town is growing fast, due to many retired people coming to the area and an inflow of migrant workers from Eastern Europe employed in the food processing factories and farming. David comments: “Spalding is rapidly becoming a retirement town. People from areas such as Kent are moving here taking advantage of much cheaper property prices.” This is a very welcome development for David Carroll since the over 50s are his main customer market. “These people have a relatively large disposable income. They need extra help when they’re buying electricals, and they value service. Many of them know me well and there is a lot of banter in the shop. I am often called by my first name, whether this is Paul or David.”

The origins of Paul Taylor date back to the 1890s when it was a bicycle making shop. David came to work for Paul Taylor in Spalding in 1982. Prior to this David worked for 11 years with Currys. He started in deliveries and left the company as assistant district manager in charge of three Currys stores.

When David joined Paul Taylor the company had six stores. Now the Spalding store is the only remaining branch of the original company. David bought it after managing it for 18 years.  Some time afterwards he expanded his premises by buying two shops on both sides of the original store.

David Carrroll employs six staff, including two engineers. They have been with the company between five and 35 years. “I’ve been very lucky to recruit such good people but they all know the rule: ‘Everybody has to sell’.”

Products and service

Paul Taylor sells televisions and recording equipment, DAB radios and white goods – mainly washing machines. The turnover split between consumer electronics and white goods is 50:50. Washing machines make approximately 70% of white goods sales. The company also stocks a range of accessories, particularly for televisions, and sells a range of small appliances.

“I carry a very large stock, which my accountant doesn’t like. But I can promise customers to deliver their goods either today or tomorrow or any other day which is convenient to them. I don’t like to leave things too long because the longer you leave them, there is a greater possibility of something going wrong,” says David. Then he adds: “I’m trying to go that one step further than anyone would normally go and to please my customers all the time.”

David is not worried about competition from supermarkets. “Let them sell six pallets of whatever stock they have while I do my thing. But we do the repairs of their products, such as Panasonic TVs. Our service workshop covers a fair chunk of the east coast.”

The company doesn’t service domestic appliances but focus on televisions and video. “Repairs under guarantee are done by manufacturers, and for ones out of guarantee we recommend a local service engineer. We do free delivery up to 20 miles radius. Beyond this we make a small charge. The same applies if the order is below £180. However as a part of our service we take the old appliance away and connect the new one.”

 The company deals directly with Indesit, Electrolux, Bosch, Hoover Candy and, on the brown goods side, with Panasonic and JVC. David has a particularly strong relationship with Panasonic. “I don’t know a better manufacturer than Panasonic to deal with. They look after us very well and are very good on credit and returns.” He also stocks Amica’s appliances for the Polish customers who live and work in the area and who know the brand well.

The opportunity

It’s unusual for an electrical independent to sell mobility equipment, such as wheelchairs, scooters, walking sticks, hearing aids  and even…incontinence pads.  David is enthusiastic about this side of the business: “There is real money to be made in this sector. First of all there is a recommended price in the mobility which is very high. If you sold everything at a recommended price you would be making between 100 and 150% margin. I think that this is too much and only wish to make a reasonable profit on it.” 

Mobility products now constitute approximately a quarter of David’s business and he both sells and rents mobility equipment. “You can buy a scooter for £500 and rent it for £60 a month while you can rent a £500 television for only £20 a month.”

Facing the challenge

How has the current recession affected his business? “We had our two best trading years during the recession: the whole of 2008 was very good and 2009 was even better – we recorded an increase of 12% on 2008. January 2010 has been good too. It is a combination of things: our service, the fact we are one of only two in the town and winter weather during Christmas. It stopped people going to Peterborough and Boston where there are multiple stores.”

“However, the biggest challenge will be getting through 2010 because it is the aftermath of every recession which causes many retail casualties. The cost of staying on top can be high.”

Beating the competition

“I don’t beat the competition on price. Our prices, not the cheapest in the area, include service. In all our press advertising we carry a statement ‘There are no hidden extras’,” explains David. Then he adds: “It’s just hard work and giving customers what they want.”

“I think I was born to give service. I know how I would like to be treated when I am going to a shop or a restaurant and I try to convey the same in my store. With a bit of fun attached to this.”

“I also don’t compete with the internet.” The company has a website but it’s purely an information tool without prices. It also has links to manufacturers’ sites so the customers can see the full range of their products.

Future plans

David has recently submitted a planning application not only to renovate and remodel his three high street units (to gain more retail space) but also to build a row of Victorian cottages and a block of modern apartments on the land behind the shops which he owns. He is also involved in a local radio and in the development of an Internet café in the building of the local railway station.

“I do not see myself retiring in the near future. For me the time to go would be when I no longer feel the buzz at the end of the day after we’ve clinched several deals and given good service to the customers.”

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