“Make your business fun and interesting”

DIY Week’s Industry Personality of the Year, Mackays of Cambridge joint md Neil Mackay talks about spotting opportunities – however quirky – to grow his business, the value of building relationships and why he gets out of bed in the morning.

N he

eil Mackay certainly lives up to the title bestowed on him at this year’s DIY Week Awards. He has personality in

spades, a great sense of humour and exudes energy and passion whatever

is talking about,

particularly if you get him onto one of what he calls his ‘pet subjects’. He is self-deprecating and doesn’t take himself too seriously. However, he does place a great deal of importance on his responsibility as a DIY retailer and member of the local community. “I want to provide my customers with a quality service and one aspect of running a business like this is being involved in the community.” When Neil begins detailing the list of things he is involved or responsible for outside of his ‘day job’ as an independent retailer, as well as the many marketing and profit-turning activities he undertakes at the family-run business, one asks how he has time to fit it all in. “I think my wife probably wonders the same thing,” he laughs. As well

as helping to

Mackays in Cambridge, Neil is also patron of The Phoenix Trust,

run and

supports three other local charities, is a director of buying group THS, and frequently speaks publicly and on TV and radio about key issues facing retailers. But forget any thoughts of him slowing down. “I’m glad they’ve done away with this whole retiring thing –what’s the point?”, he jokes.

Not one to shy away from hard work, Neil started his career in retailing

straight from school,

working in his father’s tools and ironmongery business. “I swept the floors, stacked the shelves, served the customers – did it all.” His father then tasked him with turning a neglected building in the store’s car park into a shop. “I looked at what wasn’t doing very well and

where we could do better and decided to focus on garden tools. The building was full of junk. I cleared it all, painted the walls myself and turned it into a shop selling a range of garden tools, offering to get all of the really difficult to get and awkward stuff. I built up a very loyal customer base and it was a very successful, thriving little business.” Before his


retired and Neil moved his focus back to the main shop, he also set up a successful business selling bespoke racking and shelving solutions around Cambridge. “I like focusing on niche markets and I developed that

Neil Mackay, centre, receiving his Industry Personality of the Year accolade at the DIY Week Awards in February

business and

made it profitable,” he says. He now runs Mackays as a joint managing director with his brother Duncan who is secretary and oversees the financials, while Neil handles marketing and supplier relationships.

and nurture as

Neil has worked hard to build relationships

personal friends. with

people throughout the industry and now counts some of these contacts

These connections have helped him strengthen and grow his business over the years and also means he is not shy of support with his charitable ventures. One example is his work with Repair Café – where volunteers offer their services to repair any items people bring in to the drop-in café and, in turn reducing landfill waste. Neil offered to put together a tool kit for the volunteers to use and told them to devise a wish list, planning to go to his suppliers for help. Draper fulfilled the entire list and supplied more than £1,000-worth of tools.

“That’s another benefit of speaking

to the right people,” he says. “The key to business is you’ve got to make it fun and interesting. You’ve got to build these relationships. It’s essential and it makes life an awful lot easier!”

Neil has a keen eye for an opportunity and has capitalised on some very creative and quirky marketing

techniques over the

years, including a miniature train in the shop window where suppliers bought ‘tickets to ride’, displaying their products in the carriages, and, of course, the famous Dickie Mackay mannequin who regularly wins publicity for


business through his adventures and has promoted everything from discounted facemasks when the UK was affected by Sahara dust, to the shop’s fireworks offer by dressing as Guy Fawkes.

Neil has even found a way to make money with the customer car park outside of trading hours, hosting regular food festival on site in the evenings, complete

with mobile food vans, a bar, and firework display orchestrated by - you guessed it - Neil himself. He plans to extend the idea to include an open-air cinema night this year and credits these events with bringing a host of customers through the door

that wouldn’t

otherwise have visited Mackays. One of the topics Neil speaks passionately about is retail theft and is often interviewed by TV and radio programmes on the subject. Why does he feel so strongly about speaking about this? “Some of the people interviewing me have said they have great trouble getting people to talk about this. The danger is that people will see it as a challenge and start targeting you. But, if everybody sticks their head bellow the parapet and portrays the problem as unimportant, then those who perpetrate will think it is fair game.”

He concludes: “You’ve got to have

a reason to get out of bed in the morning and making myself useful is the key to mine.”

28 APRIL 2017 DIY WEEK 13

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