Tuesday, 6 November 2012

EDITOR'S COMMENT: Avoiding the Comet trail

Philippa Turrell, Editor
Kitchens & Bathrooms News
With the collapse of Comet, one of the biggest casualties of the recession since Woolworths, what lessons can we learn from its administration? It was a well-known retailer, and seemingly successful, selling branded major domestic appliances, alongside AV and electrical goods. But what made this household name, which employed more than 6,000 people, go pop?
Could it be the precarious position Comet occupied in the market. Comet wasn't the cheapest retailer of appliances or electricals, so was under pressure from internet prices. But it certainly wasn’t considered a specialist in any of its goods either. Arguably it didn’t satisfy either end of the shopper spectrum – the empowered, knowledgeable consumer or the value hunter. In fact even a statement from one of its joint administrator from Deloitte pointed out, it had "been battling the changing landscape of the electrical retail sector for many years." And further cited: "It has become increasingly difficult for it to compete with online retailers."
However retail analyst Richard Perks claimed the likely the demise of Comet was in the fact that it didn't embrace the internet, as successful retailers use the best of both.
So herein lies the first clue - make sure you are seen as a specialist in your chosen bathroom or kitchen field. Move your business away from possible price comparisons on the internet. Showcase your product knowledge, understanding of design and client consultation in one package that far exceeds a £199 price tag for a washing machine.  But, and here’s an important factor, use the internet to create internet traffic and to support your in-store offer.
Richard Perks also cited lack of investment in the chain and a slip in service standards that sealed its fate. Although unconfirmed by Deloitte, it points to two further areas that kitchen and bathroom professionals need to keep on top of. Just because times are tight, don’t let the standards in your showroom slip. As if to illustrate my point, CP Hart and Poggenpohl recently refurbished a showroom, which wasn’t performing to their expectations, but has since met with more successful sales.
And although we all know customer service must be the cornerstone of all retail operations, particularly for kbb specialists, make sure it truly is. Go the extra step, even if you don’t feel you should. Great customer service can deliver amazing customer recommendations. And let's not forget consumer experiences can now be broadcast ever further afield thanks to social media. Rather than 10s of people, consumers can now reach 100s.
While it’s always sad to hear of any high street retailer's demise, look at each individual case,  and see what may have gone wrong – but constructively. This will allow you to move forward with added understanding, perhaps an adaptation or two in your strategy, but certainly some confidence in your business.

Do you agree or disagree with this point of view? Email the editor with your thoughts.

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