|Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire Life Magazine 1983, transcribed by Susan Manton
Retailer of the Year 1983 - Peter Crisp’s recipe for success
Sheer hard work and devotion to the business. That is the recipe for success recommended by Peter Crisp who has been made “Retailer of the Year” in the 1983 Hardware Journal Awards.
Peter Crisp has grown from a small ironmongers bought in 1959 to a department store occupying premises extending around a prominent corner site in the centre of Rushden and still growing. You can buy anything from a teapot to a pram in the store that is known locally as “The Harrods of the North” and which Mr. Crisp claims as the county’s biggest hardware retail store. Turnover has increased from £12,846 to over £1 million in 23 years and staff grown to about 40, 10 of whom have National Institute of Hardware diplomas. The three co-directors are Mr. Crisp’s wife Rosemary, Barry Nutter and Keith Walker.
The success of the store is so great that Peter Crisp has outgrown the local market of Rushden’s population of 22,000 and now attracts customers from surrounding towns in the county as well as from Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire.
Range and depth of stock and personal informed service from well trained staff is the keystone of the Crisp empire. Peter Crisp is always on the look-out for areas of improvement and new facilities to please the customer. A family atmosphere prevails there is even a Santa Claus at Christmas and plans are in hand for a coffee bar.
This scheme is in response to customer demand. Purchase of nearby premises is under negotiation, but if this does not go through expansion of present floor area onto adjacent land will enable extension of the occasional furniture department as well as a comfortable area for customers to relax in and take refreshment before going on to explore other departments.
The three existing premises total 11,772 sq. ft. of sales area with warehouse space of 15,000 sq. ft.
A display lawn features in the garden centre and in November last year the Crisp Kitchen Studios were relaunched with two open evenings.
“Now that the kitchen studios have been modernised we are in contact with bedroom furniture manufacturers to choose a suitable range to complement the kitchens. We shall then be able to offer the same planning and fitting service as we do for the kitchens” said Peter Crisp.
Special demonstrations are a regular feature. A local hotel was the venue for one to launch a new trade paint and working demonstrations for Kity, Elu and Coronet Lathes have been held. The deputy tool manager attended a Wood Turnery Day for adult education as a lecturer and demonstrator and demonstrations of kitchen equipment have also been held.
A professional window-dresser has been engaged to produce eye-catching window and in store displays and Miss Anglia has paid a visit to the kitchen studios.
Peter Crisp has even thought of the customer who is too busy to browse, or perhaps prefers armchair shopping. Five thousand copies of a glossy catalogue showing the vast range of china and cut crystal available and a leaflet giving details of the various departments is regularly given to customers.
China featured early on in the Crisp store. Before he had any customers, Peter Crisp obtained a list of local businesses and visited each one in turn asking if anything was needed. One wanted cups and saucers for the works canteen and so the china department was born. Today prices range from £1.80 to £450 for collectors’ pieces. A selection of paperweights is to be found among the Dresden and Royal Doulton.
In the Cook Shop every conceivable piece of equipment one could possibly need in the kitchen is attractively displayed on pine shelving making it easy to see how this pot or that utensil will look hanging on the wall at home.
A vast range of architectural ironmongery is available as well as tool room machinery and contractors’ tools are available on Thursday afternoons. There is even a nut and bolt fixing department. Almost everything can be hired too, including a hydromist carpet cleaner and liaison with the local crime prevention officer has ensured suitability of the security products on offer. Key cutting and engraving is carried out on the premises.
The store is laid out on various levels, the many windows are open backed and the interior of the store is well lit. The manager of each department is responsible for his or her own stock selection, control and merchandising and decisions about new lines are taken after discussion with the directors. A stock control system is being introduced.
Staff are encouraged to study for the National Institute of Hardware courses and making sure staff keep up to date with product knowledge is the responsibility of department heads under the supervision of training officers, Mrs. Crisp and Mr. Nutter. Staff regularly attend product training courses and close relationship is maintained with the local careers office. Peter Crisp represents the Retail Distribution Industry in Rushden and this year has taken four young people under the Youth Opportunity Programme, two of whom have been promised regular employment.
Peter Crisp tells the story of his company’s rise to success, gives away a few hints on how he did it and pays tribute to his wife, who has shared the journey and his other business partners and staff.
“I have always been ambitious and enjoy a challenge and making decisions and, most of all, being my own boss. I left school at the age of 14 and had the choice of working in a seed or an ironmonger’s shop. I chose the ironmongers S.C. Averill and Son of Evesham.
I began my career as an errand boy at 7s and 6d a week. In November 1940 I was indentured as an apprentice to learn the art and trade of an ironmonger earning 12s 6d in the first year, 15s in the second year and £1 in the third year and £15 in the fourth year. But I did not complete my fourth year as I was called into the forces at the end of 1943. When I was demobbed in August 1947 I was asked to return to complete my apprenticeship and started back at £2 5s a week. The business had then been purchased by W.F. Bailey, members of the wallpaper manufacturers.
In 1954 I moved to Hereford as shop manager of Philip Morris and in 1955 I was promoted to General Manager. In the same year I was made a fellow of the National Institute of Hardware. In 1957 I made the most important and rewarding decision of my life. I got married. Rosemary must share equally with my success. She has always supported me 100 per cent and without her help and guidance we would not be where we are today.
In 1959, after visiting over 21 businesses and writing more than 300 letters, we eventually decided to purchase the business of Fairey Bros. at Rushden with a turnover of £12,000. We aimed at increasing the turnover to 20,000 and then selling and moving on. We reached our target in the first year and decided to stay a little longer and we are still here in 1983. The first Christmas we took £94 on Christmas Eve and the first time we reached £100 in one day we opened a bottle of beer. Success has come by hard work and complete devotion to the business. Many aspects contribute to our success, but the two I have chosen are customer service and range, availability and depth of stock.
We have always, from the beginning, been up market in quality and good service. A shop and business is only as good as its staff and they must be well trained and experienced if you are going to succeed. A friendly, personal, pleasant shopping environment has a great advantage over the supermarkets and discount stores. Most customers, even those in a hurry, respond to a friendly greeting and (most important) a smile.
The minute a customer walks in the door, he or she must know what kind of store it is and staff must always remember that it is their job and livelihood to make the customer feel that he or she is wanted. The customer is always right and they must not forget it.
It may not be fair to compare us with Harrods, but we have been called “The Harrods of the North”. Success has been a team effort. Most of the management have been with us for long time and some since leaving school.
Carving your share of the hardware market requires planning. It means you decide what you want to sell, whom you want to sell it to and how you are going to appeal to that customer. It means deciding between price and service. The decision to be a specialist carries with it the decision to be service orientated and the business must be managed to pay for that service and make a profit.
There is a need and a place for hardware specialists. We fill a vital need that no other hardware merchant can and we pride ourselves as being one of them.
Presentation and product selection sets the hardware specialists apart from his competitors such as discount stores and supermarkets. The discounters are famous for cherry picking only the fastest moving items, ones they can promote at low prices and they are frequently out of stock. The supermarkets offer an even more limited selection. Not so with the hardware specialist, with our depth of stock, presentation, service and very importantly, after sales service.”
“Being made ‘Retailer of the Year’ means a tremendous lot to me and all my staff. It has been a team effort and we are all proud because it confirms what customers have been telling us for very long time that we are the best. Why are we the best? We have the largest and most comprehensive stocks of hardware and ironmongery that you will find in a 50 mile radius. We have trained staff who are courteous and helpful to customers however small or large their purchase. We never say no if it is at all possible to obtain special orders. We have built up an image of quality and pride ourselves with 99 per cent availability of stock and our customer service is second to none.