Coast to Coast – Part 2 (UK Retailers)

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Welcome back on our journey, I hope you enjoyed Part One and you found the visits interesting and productive for your business. For those who missed Ponds Business Retailing the UK Way – Part 1 be sure to check it out.

Saxons Water Gardens

We jump back on the M62 and go one junction East to Saxons Water Gardens in Leeds. A stand-alone busy site situated alongside a busy route into downtown Leeds.

Here Ian and Tracey Appleyard welcome us; the site was started by Ian’s father Lyndsey who sadly passed on in 2007, a real character and a loss to the industry.

Saxons Water Gardens is open 7 days a week with a turnover under $1 million.

Fact: Saxons is in its 29th year of business.

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Main areas of business are Water Gardens especially Fibre Glass ponds. A side business was manufacturing driveway gates, which resulted in this good idea of wheeled trollies to move these in and out every day.

A new tropical section has just been added to increase winter sales as Tracey says we constantly have been asked for aquarium products as a high percentage of our clients are Aquarium owners as well so it was a easy decision and so far has added turnover to the business.

In my travels around the US, I see hardly any sites that do both Watergardens and Aquariums. I understand many sites close for the winter unlike the UK. You should start asking your customers if they have an aquarium, and research the local market, it could be your next growth area. Let’s be honest it fits well, Fish + water + plants, just less water and a higher temperature.

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Fact: Novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford and Furniture maker Thomas Chippendale were born in Leeds.

We sit down over a cup of tea and I quizzed Ian and Tracey.

We start by what is going up and coming down in sales, Fishfood is up, Ian puts this down to the better weather we have had in the UK this Spring allowing customers more ‘Pondside’ time. Plant sales are down mainly due to the economy we all feel. Customers visit Saxons from a wide area, some travelling over 100 miles, but most coming from a 60 mile radius, which is good by UK standards. They are known for good pricing and a wide range so Pond customers will travel.

What is your site known for? Start asking questions to new customers who visit and start using the comments in advertising in fresh markets to drive business to your site. One thing that I have seen in both pond markets Recession allows opportunity to grow.

Fact: Leeds is twinned with Louisville, KY

I ask them what is your best tip to pass to another retailer to increase sales, they both answer in unison, “Good personal service and advice,” and they added “sell yourself not just the product,” which ties in why some customers travel 100 miles.

We get on to the subject of Online sales, never far away from a Brick & Mortar stores heart. Ian gave me the way Saxons handle this.

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“When a customer calls the store to enquire on what size and type of pumps and filter they need which 8 times out of 10 is to compare against Online, we only give the price of the product they require not the make and model. We then invite them in for a consultation to discuss the customer’s needs.

This usually tips it in favor of Saxons with the ranges and personal service.”

And finally “What makes you most proud of your business,” satisfaction of a good job is the answer.

I say goodbye and keep heading east. We leave the metro area of Yorkshire and slowly decline in height towards the East coast, the land becomes flatter and agriculture starts to take over.

A19 Koi

Our next stop is A19 Koi near Selby, a Market town that thrives on Mondays as the market comes to visit. It is in a rural area so will give a different angle and input from the owners Paul and Debbie.

Paul was in the mining industry, which was a major employer in the area. He has a love of koi for 27 years so took his redundancy payment and set up A19 Koi in 2003.

This is a koi hobbyist site with a relaxed feel. Clients come from all over the North of England to visit Paul. Koi Keepers will travel, but with any business you need to give them a reason to do so. A19 Koi keeps an immaculate store with a personal touch, like the walls covered in koi variety posters to help increase the knowledge of clients and sales of course.

A19 Koi is small site in comparison to other Water Garden retailers so every part of the store is used to sell products. The fully enclosed outdoor area is well laid out with a attractive main pond.

Koi can be very expensive and if clients have travelled some distance this relaxation area viewing the outdoor displays is ideal for allowing decisions to be made before purchase.

Here Paul answers the questions.

Q. What investment is planned in the business over the next 12 months?

A. Expansion of the building to allow a bigger sales area, a competitor nearby has closed so more local customers are coming.

Q. What would be your best tip to pass on to another retailer?

A. Always give fair honest advice and customers will appreciate that.

Q. What annoys you most about the Industry?

A. Retailers giving bad advice to customers.

Time is moving on so I say goodbye and head out of the door.

Ings Lane Garden & Water Garden Centre

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We head for our last stop Ings Lane Garden & Water Garden Centre a 5-acre site just on the outskirts of Hull. On the way we pass the Humber Bridge.

Fact: When the Humber Bridge was built it held the title of the longest suspension bridge in the world for 16 years

Fact: Population is 250,000

Here Claire and partner Ashley await us. Ings Lane was started in 1970 by Claires father Bill, who passed away in 2003. As with Saxons Water Gardens a new generation comes with new ideas to carry the business on.

They have seven on staff and the breakdown is 20% indoor, 40% outdoor and 40% gardening.

Major investment has been made over the last 5 years and we will concentrate on this to see what it has brought to the business. Phase 4, the new Glasshouse starts soon.

Their new web site, www.ingslane.com goes live shortly to enter ‘cybersales’ and compete for business in this marketplace.

The new coldwater section with this imaginative use of the end pond with the glass has increased sales and people going all the way to the end.

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I sit down with Claire and Ashley over a cup of tea, see a trend do you! We love our tea, the nations favorite drink. It must go back to when we had a empire including India a big tea producer. As I say to clients in the US, we did not need America so gave it you back, always good for a laugh. Anyone for Fireworks.

Tip: Put livefood at the cash register, great impulse sale.

I quiz them on what is growing and declining.

Ashley: Specialized koi equipment is growing mainly due to lack of competition in the area. Hull had a few specialist retailers of koi equipment who have closed their doors allowing Ings Lane to increase sales. String algae products are up, again probably down to a bright start in the spring.

Claire: Indoor plants are declining, in her opinion down to impulse sales in supermarkets.

Customers travel from a 25 mile radius and what has surprised them both in 2009, is how well better quality products are selling. Cast your mind back to Part 1 where at Water World, Lewis commented on how well high end water features are selling.

They both put this down to the economy, customers are spending more time researching the products before purchase allowing the items with better build quality, warranties and so forth to shine.

What is your best tip to pass to another retailer.

Claire: Make sure staff are clean and tidy with decent workwear.

Ashley: Be polite to your customers.

And on that note I say thank you and leave.

End of the road, next landfall is Denmark! Hope you enjoyed Coast to Coast UK Style.

For further information on the UK marketplace visit these useful links.

www.ornamentalfish.org – The main Industry body in the UK

www.gca.org.uk – Industry association of Lawn & Garden Retailers.

www.bkks.co.uk – National Koi Club Society

www.direct.gov.uk – For UK business information

www.visitbritain.co.uk – Official Tourism site

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