Retailer of the Month: Sweethaven Computers

Originally set up in 1977 as a newsagents, PCR asks Sweethaven’s Paul Rambridge about selling newspapers and PCs from the same store, how the games side of the business was wiped out, and juggling roles with Network Group.

Tell us about Sweethaven’s background…
We started in 1977 as a newsagents. We first started selling PCs around 1982. We had products like Commodore 64/ZX Spectrum games, Amiga computers and the first Amstrad PCs. Around 15 years ago, it became apparent that the PC business was taking over and the newsagent side was detracting from our image. People would come in after hearing good things, then think: “Oh my God. What’s all this? It’s just the bit on the side of a newsagent?”

In the early days, I’d be selling an Amiga to somebody whilst a colleague would be asking me to move so she could get an ice cream out of the freezer.

About 15 or 20 years ago we sold the newsagents and became a specialist computer reseller. We moved from our sweetshop unit, which was freehold in Treehaven Parade – that’s where the name comes from – to the Western Parade dedicated unit, about 850sq ft. We outgrew the premises and moved back to Treehaven Parade in a 2,800sq ft freehold store.

So you sold games too?
Yes – but the games side of the business was wiped out virtually overnight because all of a sudden it went on the High Street. Today, we do gaming PCs, we make them to measure and we run Exist2Game events in-store now and again. Gamers don’t always want to emerge from their cavern to go to a public place, so getting everybody into a store on this basis is quite strange.

What products and services do you offer?
In our store, we’ve got what we call ‘business in a box’, so you can come in and buy a server off the shelf and we can give you a little menu of all of the bits and pieces that go around a server.

We offer bronze, silver, gold and platinum repair services depending on speed, and with platinum we even clean a customer’s laptop up and put it in a sleeve for them afterwards to make them feel good about their repair.

If somebody has a bigger business, that feeds into our Sweethaven Business division. Then with the education side, we have technicians based on-site offering frontline support, getting smartboards working, standard day-to-day stuff. We’ll need separate premises in a year and a half’s time because those different markets need specialisation.

You’re also purchasing director for Network Group – how do you strike the balance between the two roles?
It’s probably one of the most difficult things ever! You always want to do what’s right for the industry. You have to be careful it’s not to the detriment of the business.

What else does Sweethaven do differently?
We’ve got connected home products, robotic hoovers, Segways and Bluetooth speakers in our demo area. We offer a bespoke design service for the customer, so we can visit their home and connect everything up as they like. Also, our apprenticeship programme is key for us.

Year established: 1977
Number of stores: 1
Number of staff: 25
Contact name and address: Sweethaven House, Trehaven Parade, Woodhatch, Reigate, Surrey, RH2 7LL
Telephone: 01737 247 090

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