Steven Lightfoot, owner of Pudsey Computers in Leeds, talks to Matt Grainger about his family-run store, changes in the retail trade and the issues facing independent retailers…
When did you start out and how?
The business was started by my parents, in 1990. Back then we were selling Spectrum, Atari, Nintendo and Sega, selling both games software and the consoles themselves.
My father still has a ledger from his early years of operation, showing the first months of trading all sorts of games consoles and software. Personally, I have vivid memories of climbing onto the back of an articulated truck filled with all sorts of Nintendo and Sega gear. The family had done some type of clearance deal and got hold of a huge load of games stock – it was truly a kids dream.
We were also very good at importing all the new games titles, I remember seeing a queue of people running out the front door of our shop when we had got hold of Sonic the Hedgehog a week earlier than anyone else – those were some good times. From there it’s just continued to snowball, we have traded successfully ever since
How has your business changed or expanded over the years?
There have been some big changes in terms of the markets we sell into; traditionally we have always sold into retail, and really that’s our background, but in the late ‘90s we started selling into education mainly within the Leeds area, and this market has really flourished for us.
Education – specifically primary education – is very relationship led and our education business has grown organically year-on-year, to a point where we now service around 20 per cent of all the primary schools in the Leeds area.
Retail, on the other hand, has always been very steady for us and in recent years we have put extra effort into our online operations in order to maintain growth. In 2001, we took on another store in the town centre to act as a sales showroom, this has helped us maintain a good presence within our catchment area.
What are the biggest issues you face as an independent?
As an independent, I would say the biggest three issues are pricing, building relationships with vendors and distributors, and adding value. Today, more than ever, people know the price of everything and the value of nothing, so it’s becoming harder and harder to prove you add value to products that are quite literally available for sale everywhere.
As I mentioned, primary education is very relationship led, but we still regularly get taken to task on pricing against the big guys. We battle this by providing our schools with some of the most experienced technicians out there, and by doing this our contract schools really do see the value of our service.
Within retail this is a tougher job – every customer wants something extra so that little bit of added value that sets us out against the rest. We’re well known within our catchment area though, which always helps us out.
What are the biggest benefits of being an independent?
The ability to react to the market as it changes has got to be the one biggest benefit. Sales channels are constantly evolving, vendors are constantly innovating, product ranges and models are almost being renewed by the week, so the freedom and flexibility of being an independent allows us to react to this, and hopefully stay one step ahead of the game.
I would also say that the service and support that some distributors and vendors offer us as an independent can be very helpful. The Brother Authorised Independent Retailer certification is a great example of the effort that some vendors go to in supporting the independent dealer.
What direction do you see the industry moving in the near future?
I would say there will undoubtedly be changes in the way retailers target consumers with devices – long gone are the days where you can simply set up a high street store with a website. The smarter resellers are looking at ways to target customers to give them more convenience, more flexibility and save time.
Within the home I also believe that connected devices is the way forward. I recently sat through a demo from Micro-P on the connected home that was so advanced that it seemed to still be in concept stages; some of the stuff available out there just blew me away.
Within the business to enterprise and business to business arenas it’s all about taking the pain of IT away from the clients, with services like offsite backup, remote management, and managed print services being big growth areas for the future years.
What has been your ‘finest moment’?
I suppose I should say being nominated for Independent Retailer of the Year at the PCR awards, but we didn’t win, so maybe next year, eh?
To be honest there isn’t one underlining finest moment. It’s always a fine moment to see all our education customers coming back to us year after year due to the quality of our service, and to see our sales increase month-on- month due to our growth within the retail space.
And on a personal level, being nominated for an exec position as marketing director of the Network Group at the age of 23, has undoubtedly changed the way I do business, and taught me a lot of valuable lessons.