Beat the Competition: Samsung at FutureHome – a gentlemen’s agreement

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Trevor Meredith and Ian Biles have successfully run a custom installation business and an AV store – FutureHome – in Wokingham for five years before they embarked on a joint venture with Samsung. Prior to this, Ian was an engineer in the audiovisual industry and Trevor worked in network installation. FutureHome offered complete solutions to the customers. “We concentrated on selling a concept rather than being brand driven, even before we started selling Samsung,” comments Ian. “We focused on the quality and functionality of products.”

Serving the customer

Wokingham is an affluent area with excellent transport links between M3 and M4 and to London. Many professionals and business owners, including BA pilots live here. They come to FutureHome to get advice on products which best suit their needs and sometimes place orders for an entire home. “It is not unusual for us to get customers buying three or four TVs at once,” comments Ian.

FutureHome has a very clear customer service policy. Ian explains: “We don’t like to offer the customer too much for free because there is always the danger that you’re not going to meet their expectations”. “We offer free local delivery; but basic set up is also included in the price,” comments Trevor.

Partnership with Samsung

The partnership with Samsung goes back two years when Trevor returned from CES in Las Vegas with a handful of product magazines and brochures in which Samsung was featured prominently. This still wasn’t the case in Britain. They decided to have a look at Samsung and get into the market early. During their visit to FutureHome Samsung’s representatives told Trevor and Ian they liked the look and feel of their business and the fact that it wasn’t just a TV shop.

The white goods side of the business came later. After attending last year’s Samsung launch at which white goods were represented, Trevor and Ian decided to consider them as well. At the time the Panasonic shop next door was becoming available since the owner was planning to retire and the lease was coming to an end. The rest is the history, as they say. “We decided to approach Samsung to see whether they would be interested in doing with us a Samsung shop that would be selling more than just brown goods. Samsung was possibly thinking about doing something similar at the time. They told us that they will be willing to support us financially and otherwise, and the idea came to life, “ recalls Ian.

The new concept

“Samsung wanted their ‘shop-in-shop’ to have a look and feel of FutureHome’s lifestyle ambience, together with the wooden floor and modern lighting. We agreed together the specification for the shop and this has been rolled out to other dealers participating in the concept.”

The new business concept is proving its worth. “This is a novel idea and very different from that, for example, of a Sony Centre. This is not such a contractual tie-up but rather a gentlemen’s agreement. It has worked very well, indeed. We were successful before, but when we opened the new venture the footfall to the shop more than doubled. Also the turnover of the store is approximately three times of what it was before. The first two Saturdays as a new venture has frightened the life out of us. We didn’t have time to make a cup of tea the whole day.”

Business approach

Their strategy is to add value to every sale and impress customers with their professionalism. Ian explains: “You cannot compete with Internet prices in store because the margins are so small. We take the view that the best way to operate as a retailer is to charge more but to add as much as you can to the sale. So we try to offer extremely good delivery service so the experience of buying a Samsung product from FutureHome will be a very pleasant one.” Then he adds: “Any sale is not only about price – it is about a perceived value for money. We try to treat everybody as though they have just spent £20,000 with us.”

At FutureHome the majority of the LCD and Plasma screens are sold with a five year D&G warranty. The electronics are covered by manufacturers’ warranties that range from one to five years. “We build the cost of the warranty into the price of the product and effectively give it to the customer for free. Because our major competitor is John Lewis and the store is famous for its five-year warranty, we have to offer a service in this area which is at least as good as theirs, explains Trevor.

On the subject of training, Ian comments: “We make it our job to be knowledgeable.

If our guys need extra knowledge we make sure they get it. You could ask any of our customers what they think about FutureHome’s product knowledge and they will tell you – it is exemplary.”

The independent in the Internet age

Ian stresses that now the independent has to specialise. “To be a mini Comet is no longer a viable proposition.”

He also noticed a positive trend emerging in the industry: “A year ago I was worried about our future, with big multiples, supermarkets and stores like John Lewis or House of Fraser getting more business. Now, however, there appears to be greater willingness on the part of manufacturers to support independent dealers. Perhaps in this way their product is perceived as a higher value proposition. I think that this was Samsung’s view when setting this venture with us. They didn’t want us filling our shop with Samsung products but wished their products to be presented in a certain way – in a quality environment.”

Finally, Ian says that he dearly wishes to see a general improvement in the attitude to profit in this industry – instead of just trying to sell everything as cheap as possible in large quantities. “This includes Internet. It doesn’t have to be a bucket shop – there should be more emphasis on making money because this is the only way the customer is supported at the end of the day.”

Beating the competition

  1. Treat every customer as though they have just spent £20,000 with you.
  2. Make every customer feel good and be as professional as you can.
  3. Training is extremely important. It gives retailers their key tool – professional knowledge which differentiates them from multiples and Internet traders.

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