Ben Lewis of Burton safes answers Peter Hoade

In the latest editions of two locksmiths’ magazines a letter was published regarding internet traders and their threat to traditional bricks and mortar shops. This letter accused specific manufacturers of supporting the internet trade to the detriment of the locksmith and urged action to be taken. As one of those named I would like to air Burton Safes’ point of view on this issue and show that in fact we do value the locksmith trade and continue to have big plans to support it.

The internet is indeed a potential threat to the locksmith shop, as it is to all bricks and mortar retailers. A growing proportion of all retail sales are going online, a reality we have to face up to. To ignore this and indeed to think that suppliers can ignore this is foolhardy. I wonder how many locksmiths have themselves shopped online for clothes, holidays, white goods, music, books or anything else? Choosing to shop online is not that dissimilar either to choosing the Supermarket instead of your local butcher, greengrocer or fishmonger? It’s cheaper and more convenient. How many locksmiths shop at Tesco, Adsa, Sainsbury’s and the like? And how many locksmiths have played two suppliers off against each other to drive down the price of goods that they buy? A very similar scenario to the consumer using online prices to bargain down the bricks and mortar shop owner. So yes the internet is a threat but, before retailers get too upset with suppliers it’s time to realise that a changing marketplace is something we must all embrace, accept and adapt to. For the supplier that reality probably means they need to be able to supply the whole multichannel marketplace. For the independent retailer that means not panicking and getting smart.

So what should the locksmith do about this problem? The first is not to worry too much about price and the future of bricks and mortar retailing. There are two very interesting articles in this week’s (8th July) edition of Retail Week discussing multichannel retailing and in particular pricing. The conclusion is that there is very much still a future for bricks and mortar retailers and, that customers are prepared to pay a premium for the services that they offer. A very good example is given of the fast expanding Express Stores vs. the Supermarket, where consumers will pay a higher price for the convenience of not having to travel for their groceries. The other strong pointer towards this argument comes from the internet itself where e-bay offers a “buy it now” option over the potentially cheaper auction format and Amazon its “marketplace” where customers can choose from a myriad of retailers, all at different prices. Some consumers will always go for the cheapest but others will choose the store they perceive to be the most trustworthy or the most reliable.

Granted, in order for the bricks and mortar retailer to convince the consumer that his product is worth more he has to work hard. He should aim to give the best possible service, both pre and after sale. Be proactive in getting customers his shop and be helpful and offer positive advice once they are in there. He must create a clean, attractive sales environment and choose reliable suppliers with good quality products to put on his shelves. In other words make sure that customer has a good reason to visit him, to trust the quality of the product they buy from him and know that he will back up the product should the worst happen.

What should the locksmith expect from his suppliers? A reliable service that makes him look good and makes running his business easier. A reliable product that gives him a good reputation and again makes running his business easier. Good back up should anything go wrong and the ability to give sound, reliable advice when he demands it. Should he also expect them to also supply exclusively to locksmiths? I think this is unreasonable and unrealistic. Firstly many suppliers, including Burton Safes are not big multinationals, making millions of pounds in profits and we do therefore rely on internet traders to make our businesses viable. Secondly several genuine locksmiths now have successfully trading web shops. How do we decide if we can deal with them or not? Finally and perhaps most importantly, in today’s multichannel world consumers often want to make their own background checks about products and companies online. If they cannot find reference to a supplier online this will often put them off. Why are they not there? What sort of outfit are they? It is often something overlooked by the bricks and mortar retailer that as well as the online shops using them, they can use the internet too, to give credibility to the brands that they sell.

At Burton Safes, locksmiths are our biggest customer base by some way and we do genuinely value their custom. We want to support them and do recognise that the internet has been a problem for some. So we have come up with a solution that we hope will work to support the locksmith, get over the thorny issue of pricing but keep a high profile for our brand. We plan to offer a range of products, branded Proline, that will be exclusively available to locksmith customers. It will not be our whole range but will encompass some of the most popular stock lines for locksmiths. We have in fact been running this scheme for the last 2 years but in a more limited way. Unfortunately not all locksmiths have supported this scheme and two of the three product lines have not been a success. However, we have decided to re-vamp and expand the range to eight products, encompassing cash ratings from £1000-£10,000. This will give locksmiths a much wider, more competitive range of safes to choose from. Starting in September this year we hope that locksmiths will support the scheme this time, as it is a big risk for us to shut off such a large number of products from our other customers. This fact in itself should be proof that we are serious about supporting the trade. We have created a brand new logo for Proline and will be featuring and promoting these products heavily within our sales literature and website. All Proline products will carry an extended warranty of 3 years, giving the consumer a good reason to choose these products over others too.

In conclusion, everyone must be prepared to adapt to a changing marketplace but we should not become too obsessed with price. Some customers will always shop around for the cheapest price but our statistics show that locksmith sales have remained steady over the last 2 years, despite cheaper online prices. Service and brand selection is equally important. Choosing an exclusive line from a multichannel supplier like Burton Safes may be just the solution you require.

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