By Resident Retail Expert Zebedee Boughtazoo
One of the main reasons for success in the customer service sector is word of mouth. If you have a business that goes the extra mile for customers, the theory is that those customers will then tell their friends about your company, and the great level of service you provide. Free advertising. Though you probably should still advertise through the regular channels as well. One particular shop, however, has refused to conform to this idea – almost doing the exact opposite – yet still manages to rake in a tidy profit year after year. I interviewed 60-year old Chorlton Thwomp, the manager of Footwear Ephemera, situated in the town centre in Peterborough, to find out how his successful strategy has survived all these years in the increasingly fragile retail sector.
TDJJ: “Mr Thwomp. your business is selling footwear that is known throughout this town as being of very poor quality. I’ve read a lot of the reviews on your website, people complaining about durability issues and inconsistent sizing among other things, yet here you are, leaning on your fairly new looking black BMW with a cigar. How do you do it?”
CT: “Two things mainly – profit margin and the fact that we don’t honour refunds. I can afford to sell shoes for around the £5 mark because we buy from our suppliers in bulk. It works out at just a few pence for each pair. Honestly, who would come back a week later with worn out shoes that they only spent a fiver on? Some have done in the past, and I either remind them that they only paid a fiver, what did they expect, or I’d explain that the person who sold the shoes to them has since been sacked because they sold the shoes the wrong shoes to them.”
TDJJ: “Has this always been your policy since you opened this shop 35 years ago?”
CT: “No. At the start I was getting the shoes from a different, more expensive place. And like all businesses, you have to think on your toes to survive in this shopping precinct. So I changed to a different supplier after a few weeks, to a company who, like me, believe in buy cheap sell loads, or whatever that phrase is. From a distance, you can’t really tell the difference between what I sell now and what I sold back then, but there’s a notable set of differences after a week or so.”
TDJJ: “How often do you contact your suppliers when someone makes a complaint?”
CT: “I don’t actually know their phone number, or their address. It was an ‘ask no questions’ agreement that I did with them. Taiwan, somewhere like that. They’ve been my suppler for over 30 years. That’s a long time in the game, they obviously know what they’re doing.”
TDJJ: “So, factoring in all the negativity on your reviews page and lack of quality in your goods, you must realise that your business model goes against many if not all business logic. What, then, would you say are the main reasons for your success?
CT: “Listen, Peterborough looks quite nice looking down from a helicopter, what with the 12th century cathedral, a Lord of the Rings style Bronze Age Settlement, and Bretton Shopping Park. But on the ground level you’d see that there’s a sizeable amount of miscreants and proper arseholes who always have court appearances to go to. These people don’t have shoes, and they certainly don’t want to spend more than a fiver on them for when they’re needed in court. That’s where we come in. Also people are dazzled by our fluorescent signage outside and come in to buy things purely because of the low prices. This town has a massive population, so even if people only buy from us once, learn their lesson and not come back, we’re still laughing because of the numbers involved. There’s one born every minute.”
TDJJ: “Do you think therefore, that other, similar retailers are doing things wrong then?”
CT: “Yeah, obviously. They’re shutting down on a weekly basis. People are just attracted to cheap shit. Put it this way, over three months you could’ve bought about six pairs of shoes off us at £30 all in. But you’d go somewhere else and pay more for a single pair. People round here tend to go for short-term fixes, and I know there are regulars who have been in several times to buy the same shoes, thinking the last lot was just from a bad batch, and the new ones will last longer. But they won’t. I’m living proof that you don’t need much of an education or people skills to succeed in retail. You can take your “customer service” and “values”, I’m getting a speedboat next week!”