01 January 2007

Julian hasn't changed much

In the early 1980s after my wife and I came back to the UK after living in Belgium for 3½ years, I worked close to London Bridge. Morning and evening I would pass by a little shop which was crammed, floor to ceiling, with HiFi separates. That store was Richer Sounds which is now a $200 million business with 43 stores.

Richer Sounds was owned by a guy called Julian Richer and he produced a little give-away sheet with his current stock range. The give-away was outside in the street, just by the front door. People could grab a copy as they walked by and read it later. The style was deliberately chatty and jargon-free - a bit like the people who worked there. That store used to be in the Guinness Book of Records - it outsold every other shop in the UK (irrespective of sector) on the basis of revenue per square foot.

Julian's give away paper might have been deliberately chatty, but his business model was created by a thoughtful brain. He had some excellent contacts in the trade - his shop was a delight for HiFi lovers. It didn't matter what you wanted, amps, decks, CD decks, tape decks, tuners, interconnects or speakers, Julian had a great range with something to suit all pockets. Better, his staff had time to talk - they knew the products and it showed.

The product range has moved a bit over time. I seem to remember portable players and digital cameras, all of which have now disappeared. Despite those excursions into alternative product ranges, the shop has always seemed to do best with HiFi. Today the range seems to focus on HiFi and Home Cinema so there is a strong thematic link throughout the business.

What made me think of Julian was that I was in one of his shops yesterday and the colleague who served me (Richer Sounds calls all its staff colleagues), asked me where I had found out about them, which was when I realised that I had been a customer for almost 25 years (24 years and 9 months, but who is counting). Not a continuous customer - HiFi isn't something that you buy every day, but a customer nevertheless. I have bought my own kit there as well as presents for people. I have encouraged my sons to go there for their kit and I have told many people over the years that Richer Sounds is the first place to look for certain kinds of kit. All that behaviour puts me squarely in the 'delighted customer' category.

The idea of building long-lasting relationships began early and is still going strong. Here's an excerpt from their site:
At Richer Sounds we constantly strive to give our customers the very best service in the hope that they will recommend us to others and be customers for life. Every aspect of our business throughout the company is aimed at making us accountable to you, from our sales colleagues' name badges, and aftersales numbers on receipts, right down to the mystery (under-cover) shoppers we employ to visit our stores. But... we are human and even with the best will in the world mistakes can and do occur. The only way we can improve our service or solve a problem is if you tell us about it, and give us the opportunity to put things right.
Customers are still encouraged to complete a shopping survey with every purchase and Julian has his address and email address on the site if anyone needs to contact him. His picture shows that he still looks much the same as he did 24 years and 9 months ago although he is now the Chairman of Richer Sounds rather than the owner. Chairman certainly sounds more weighty.

A great business, built from a clear strategy and an absolute obsession about customer service.

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