Perkins, where he was responsible for opening of two new sites and a distribution centre. Gary was then headhunted by Saint Gobain for a role that included him overseeing 140 branches. When the opportunity arose to come back to Thompson & Parkes around four years ago, Gary jumped at it, bringing with him a wealth of knowledge and experience that puts him in good stead for exciting projects such as

this expansion. “The guys

from builders merchants don’t necessarily know how to

a retail environment,” Gary says. “That’s why, in the new store, we have

purposely not employed

anyone from a builders merchant background. Our new manager Nikki Shipton used to manage a chain of pubs, although she does also have experience in the painting and decorating and landscape gardening sectors. Her number two in the store – supervisor, Harry Dowling-Bingle - was an engineer for Rolls Royce, and we have another lady, Rachel, who worked at a garden centre. We wanted a real broad range of skills and I believe they will be much better at customer-facing roles.”

Stack the shelves Creating the all-important slick retail environment Gary and his team crave for this venture has been made far easier thanks to the backing of some of its key suppliers. “I have to say, the support we’ve had from suppliers is fantastic,” says Gary. “We’ve had between £12,000 and 15,000-worth of racking free from Draper and don’t have to pay anything on the stock for six months. It’s an amazing deal. Every supplier has offered to help - it’s been great - but Draper has really stepped up. We also have a brand new Dulux mixing machine and are the first in the country to have it. Paint is a big part of our business at our Kidderminster store, so it’s fantastic to have this in the new store. The machine has updated software and now means we can mix woodstain, Garden Shades and Dulux Trade paint all in one machine. Plus, it’s a quarter of the size of the one we have now.” He adds: “It is a big investment from Dulux and they have been very big supporters of us for many years. “We could have gone forward with this project without the backing from suppliers but it


have looked like this. The help has allowed us to open our doors with all the shelves full.” The store’s finish and shopping

environment may be geared towards the end-user but its offer will still be about serious DIY and not be as

soft as some other major retailers, Gary insists. “We will have around 25m of tools, plus gardening tools and lawnmowers. We will not be selling pots and plats, and so on, as there are enough people out there doing that. We will be a proper DIY merchant but will also offer fencing panels, grass seed, and so on.” To shape the range, Gary, Jean and the team have had to think carefully about what the kind of products DIYers will be looking for, and expand the offer in certain areas compared to what it carries in its other branches. “We’ve brought in a different range of tools and gardening equipment into this store, which we wouldn’t typically stock in our other branches,” says Gary. “On the electrical and plumbing side, we’re set up to deal with the trade but DIY customers don’t want to buy boxes of this or that and buy in bulk, so we’ve gone down the pre-pack route. It’s also things like washing machine splitters, which I would never think to stock because the trade would never need them but we do get people come in and ask for them. We need to take our lead from the customers and what they want. We won’t get it right first time - we’ll put in what we think we need but we will then shape it to meet demand. But, we’re very clear that we want to be a merchant for DIYers, not a home and garden centre.” Of course,

there is a natural

crossover and, having the support of two other branches relatively nearby – Kidderminster, in particular, being just a five-minute drive away – will help keep stock levels topped up. “People all think we’re mad because we’re opening just one mile from our other branch but, actually it will work really well to help keep stock replenishment up. The other branches will have the bulk of the stuff all of the time. In the DIY store, we will offer all sizes but not have to carry any real depth of stock. We will probably have between 60,000 and 70,000 lines but, when you consider

Kidderminster carries 240,000 lines, it is still a relatively small amount. We can top up the new store every day if we need to and it means we will have great availability.”

A team effort

Thompson & Parkes has invested a lot back into the business in recent years and has seen great growth as a result – something that was much needed, says Gary. “The business is unrecognisable from four years ago. The company didn’t even have a single delivery vehicle and had let all the stock go. Plus, a big challenge was that the name just wasn’t out there. We have invested a lot. For example, we have four new delivery vehicles, plus a Mercedes sprint for emergency delivery. We also have a cracking team in place and they’re really committed.”


Jean Morris adds: “We’ve been very

busy. We are really

bucking the trend. We had a record April, a very busy May and July was manic!” With new customers, comes new demands and Gary and the team recognise that end-users have a different set of expectations from retailers, including seven-day opening. “Convenience is a big thing,” says Jean. “People aren’t


willing to wait; they want it there and then.”

“Seven days a week is a new concept for me,” laughs Gary. “But we would cut off 60-70% of our potential business if we closed Saturday lunchtime like a normal builders merchant and like our other branches. In retail, you’ve got to be there all of the time.” Full-time employees are also supported by part-timers who have been brought in specifically to work weekends, including a couple of people who have retired from the decorating or DIY trade and have good knowledge to draw on. The refurb is making great

progress and racking was put in this week. Staff have all mucked in and Gary is delighted with the team for the new store. “Our team help make us who we are with the service we provide. Our new members of staff at the new store are over there right now painting, cleaning racking

and working

alongside the builders. It’s great because they have some ownership and feel part of the project. We took on six or seven new people so far and there are another couple still to bring on board. The store looks fantastic and we’re really excited about the opening.” A date is yet to be set in stone but the plan is to be up and running by the first or second week of September, with an official opening day in the week and promotions running all weekend to encourage customers through the door. The opening of a new store is a big undertaking for an independent business but Gary, Jean and the rest of the team are confident they have a winning formula, with the right location, products and people in place.

“I believe people are

leaning towards buying from local merchants,” says Gary. “And then, the level of service you offer is what wins out.”

The team hard at work during the refurb process 23 AUGUST 2019 DIY WEEK 11

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