The power of positive thinking

In Features On

Moss of Bath won the Best Customer Service title at the Independent Business Awards 2011. The cornerstone of the company’s success is not only the fast growing custom install business but also the proactive and positive attitude of Tim Moss, the company’s owner. Anna Ryland reports.

Going into electrical retailing was a natural choice for Tim Moss. He is one of five children of Frank Moss who opened his electrical shop in 1962 in Combe Down, a village situated five miles outside Bath, selling black and white TVs and radios, small electricals and offering repairs. “I loved working for my old man and got involved in the business early on,” reminisces Tim. In 1982, the family business relocated to Bath city centre. Shortly afterwards it took over the shop next door.

Moss of Bath specialises in consumer electronics and Tim deals with brands such as Sony, Panasonic and Samsung. “I have been tempted to venture into white goods as the CE market have become very mature and margins have diminished. I may still make this step but it will be from different premises.”

Custom install

“From the very beginning we were doing installations. Initially we had contracts from local schools and pubs. But only during the last two years did we start installing TV satellite aerials as a couple of experienced installers joined the company.

“At the moment we have six full-time installers putting up satellite dishes,  multi-room audio, mounting television on walls etc. Our six vans are constantly on the road.”

The company services the products it sells, and takes referrals from local retailers and from the manufacturers who sell through online retailers such as Amazon.

Tim proudly stresses his personal involvement in everyday business: “Any installation – I will go first and quote.” Over the last ten days he has done almost forty quotes. They range from mounting TVs on the wall and corporate jobs in offices to cinemas to satellite installation. “The local Georgian buildings have to be handled with extreme care and they tend to be very labour intensive, that’s why other companies won’t touch them.”

Moss of Bath’s customers are mostly middle age professionals who work in the city’s university, private schools and the health sector. “They are busy people who need service and wish their products to be installed by us.

“We have amazing customer loyalty. Children and grandchildren of our original customers are coming back to us. We also have a lot of word-of-mouth referrals.”

Staff

“I have great staff,” admits Tim. The company’s 14-member team includes three sales staff, one engineer, six installers and two admin staff. “I could do with another two installers but I need to think hard whether now is the right time to start hiring staff. Nobody has left me for ten years because I pay them well (approximately 15% above the average) and treat them well. None of them is on commission but when we make a profit everyone gets a bonus.”

Beating the competition

Moss of Bath enjoys a very unique competitive position. “Bath doesn’t have out of town shopping centres. The city is surrounded by a green belt which is protected from this kind of development and this has resulted in a vibrant city centre. It is not only an attractive place to shop on account of its Georgian architecture but it is the only place to shop.” There is Richer Sounds store down the road but “they attract a different customer to us”. Also the nearby Sony Centre doesn’t take much business from Moss of Bath. 

Tim Moss is passionate about his business: “My work is not just a job. I really enjoy what I do”. However he argues that a successful retail business is founded on sound margins and the current problems of the electrical industry are destroying that life support system of the independent sector. “I believe that the reason we have been in existence for 49 years is because we don’t give things away. We strive to make a margin – and although a margin has become a dirty word – this is what keeps us in business.”

The key to his success is the consistency with which the company offers top class customer service. “We are reviewing our customer service constantly to make it better than our competitors. I cannot beat them on price but I always beat them on service.

“We make sure that the store always looks good and our website is up to date. But our staff is key. I often receive emails and text messages from our clients thanking our teams for the service they delivered.”

The indie business

Tim admits that the recession is contributing to the decline of the independent sector. The turnover of his shop is down by approximately 15% year-on-year but installations are up by 30%.

“I predict that this year less than half of my turnover will be from the shop, the rest will come from custom install. The independent should look beyond the obvious. Most recently I have done an install job for a prison.

“We need to find different ways of securing the business. In my case this is custom install. Remaining positive also helps. There is so much negativity around. I constantly hear from retailers I meet that times are really tough. I ask whether they go out to find work and they say they don’t. I ask them whether they network and go to local business clubs – they answer no. They haven’t yet understood the days of waiting for a door to open are gone,” he exclaims.

Tim’s wife, Annie Moss, responsible for the company’s marketing and PR, describes a promotion which they prepared when the store had a quiet period in March: “Using our database we offered the customers who bought a TV set  from us a sound bar for free – on trial. We have received an excellent response to it, resulting in a high volume of sales.”

Online – a friend and a foe

Tim does not compete with the internet. “We point out the negatives and promote the positives. If all a customer is interested in is price I suggest they buy online. If they need the same day delivery, after sales care, knowledge and a five year warrantee I can help them.”

Annie Moss adds: “ We don’t sell online. Our website is just another shop window for us. We regularly update it with news and once a month we put a new blog on it. We also have a Twitter feed. We have photographs of the installations we conduct – so people can see the range of work we have done.”

The message for manufacturers

Tim wishes to see “the proof that manufacturers recognise the expertise of the indies.” He believes that they should be offering retailers an incremental reward structure growing in line with the retailer’s commitment to the brand, including the physical store, demonstration, display and training.

He argu
es that the highly specified products should be in limited distribution, as they require skills to sell.” If these products are available from a small number of elite stores, customers’ perception of them would be different. It would be easier to protect the margins. Some companies, such as Sonos or Bowers & Wilkins, won’t tolerate the online discounting and as a results their prices remain the same across various channels and their margins are stable.

“Without margins there would not be electrical retailing,” concludes Tim.

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