Barry Jenkins has transformed his business several times over the last thirty years. A passionate surfer, who used to take part in international competitions, he started out manufacturing fibreglass surf boards and exporting them to France. In winter when the demand was slack he produced swimming pool furniture for hotels. His next business venture was souvenir retailing at the time when Jersey was a bucket and spade holiday destination. He had five shops at one stage. When tourism in Jersey started to decline he developed the photographic side of the business. “I expanded the range of cameras and started bringing in more audio products – radios and recorders – and eventually we ceased all other businesses and concentrated on what we do now.” The company was renamed Fotosound to reflect it. It is now linked to two associated businesses: a photographic shop – Digital Photo Centre – and Telefitters, specialising in installations of televisions and audiovisual equipment.
The business profile
The company has been operating as Fotosound for almost 20 years but the current focus on television dealership began only seven years ago. It currently sells around 1,500 TV panels annually. Barry Jenkins has been a Sony dealer for 15 years. Ironically, it took him four years to get Sony account in the first place.
Televisions make the largest contribution to Fotosound’s turnover, closely followed by Vaio computers. The company achieves its highest sales volume on digital cameras and camcorders, followed by binoculars and various forms of audio.
Fotosound has one competitor with a similar product mix on the high street but it also competes with Jersey Electricity Company (51% of which is owned by the government), which sells consumer electronics and domestic appliances. It is located out of the town centre which works in Fotosound’s favour.
“E-commerce is not a large market for us but it gives us better brand awareness as we have a very good site which is constantly updated. Although the site offers competitive prices (also for the UK consumers), it doesn’t discourage a large proportion of our consumers from coming to our high street store. We also use eBay and Amazon when we get special offers or exclusives from manufacturers. There are certain brands – particularly of cameras and MP3 players – which are almost exclusively sold via our website.”
Fotosound’s customer base ranges from very young people right through to people in their 60s and early 70s because of its product mix. “Since we sell a considerable number of mobile phones, this brings a lot of young people into the store. We market ourselves very strongly locally. We have an electronic passport picture service which attracts to the store all kinds of customers. Last year we took 23 thousand passport photos – at £5 a shot.”
The staffing issues
The company currently employs 40 people. There are 13 people in the Fotosound store, five employees who work in the photographic centre and five in the installation business. The rest are the office staff.
Retaining retail staff in Jersey has always been a challenge. “There aren’t too many career opportunities in retail in Jersey. The island has always had a vibrant economy and very well paid public and banking sectors. It is very difficult for us to compete with them. Most of the youngsters who come to us don’t have many academic qualifications so we need to teach them so-called soft skills. They often return to us after finishing university courses. The permanent staff stay with us between two and five years.
“Fortunately Jersey has always attracted a large immigrant workforce. Initially there were the French, then the Portuguese who came to Jersey to work in farming and the hotel industry and gradually went into retail. After the accession of Poland to the EU we get a lot of very well qualified Polish people. In Jersey we have to have a licence to employ non-residents and in our two companies no more than six people can be non-residentially qualified, ie who weren’t on the island for more than six years. To fill these vacancies we advertise in the job centre and usually get many applications.
“Currently all our staff but two have been with us for over three years. The longest serving person is the sales director who joined the company at fifteen and has been with us 27 years. When a new member of staff joins us they spend a week with our product trainer. Then they have an hour with me and I go through a basic sales approach, ie what’s expected on the sales floor and how to greet customers. However, we have a very strong sales team so a new person learns a lot on the job. We also use a couple of agencies to teach our staff sales skills. As a result we have earned a solid reputation in the local community for our customer service and product knowledge.”
Beating the competition
It doesn’t take very long to identify the strengths of the company. Barry keeps a keen eye on every detail of his business operations and even during a brief visit to the Fotosound store he records his observations on a pocket recorder to address them later.
So how does he keep ahead of the competition? “By being better. This does not mean beating competition on price because they catch up with you on this fast. You have to make sure that your staff is better – the way they serve the customers, the way they look, how much training you give them. You have to ensure that you provide the customers the best shopping experience you can.”
He attributes his approach to many years of practical experience. “I have been in business for a very long time. After leaving school I went to work in a manufacturer’s office where I learnt a lot about running the business. When I travelled the world surfing and skiing I was working with people – in the hospitality industry and then in retail and I was always interested to learn how to deal with customers. When I came back to Jersey I tried to implement this.
“I drive the company’s approach to customers; and I constantly look to improve how we deal with people, how our shops look, how the staff presents themselves. I demand great attention to detail. However, I have a good and loyal team who know what’s expected of them. Hopefully they think that I treat them well and reward sufficiently for their efforts.”
The greatest challenge
Barry Jenkins thinks that the greatest challenges for the independent are the factors over which they have no control. Primarily this is the ultra cautious consumer who in the past enjoyed swapping technologies. The second major challenge is combating price erosion. “Our sales are greater than before but our prices have gone down. We have to find ways of increasing our market share in the finite market and converting into sales the enquiries of people coming into the store. The only way of responding to this is to have an extraordinary customer service.”
However, Barry believes that the sustainability of the independent electrical business is currently on a knife edge. “We used to refurbish our business every five to seven years to create an improved experience for the customer. Now with less money to reinvest in the business we cannot do this more frequently than every 10 years. The same problem applies to retail employment; are you able to sufficiently reward people who work for you? This also has implications for service.”
Winning the IBA
“As soon as we received news that we were nominated in the Independent Business Awards we informed the local press how good it was for a small business in Jersey to be competing against much larger companies in the UK. As soon as we won the Best Large CE Independent title, we called the press again. Now all our adverti
sing carries the IBA logo and the information about our win. However we have to make sure that we are better then we were before.”