Nigel Grainger runs independent ski shop Lockwoods with his sister Maxine and his daughter Hayley, along with Maxine’s son Oliver Watts, making it a third-generation family-owned ski and outdoor clothing shop. Lockwoods first opened its doors in Warwickshire’s Royal Leamington Spa 41 years ago, and despite the British Retail Consortium (BRC) reporting that non-food sales rose by just 0.2% in the year to October – the weakest growth since 2011 – this independent store is not only surviving, but thriving, in the digital age, says Nigel.
Is it true that there’s been a big drop-off in the number of independent ski shops with the rise of the internet?
There are very few specialist shops such as ours in the UK now. The change in people’s buying habits to a more online-dominated scenario has made them something of a dying breed, with only around 100 in the UK currently, compared to probably 1,000 in the 1990s. We’d like to think we’re proof of the fact that these type of shops can still prosper when run properly.
So how did you come to run a ski shop anyway?
The opportunity arose when the previous premises, which was a garage showroom, was up for sale when I worked as a local estate agent. I decided to put an offer in and it went from there. So I went from selling houses to selling tents!
So what are you doing right to ensure that you remain one of the survivors?
Well, we’re not selling products which are any different to any other retailers in our sector, but what we are selling is knowledge, attention to detail and great customer service.
What would you say to someone tempted by a cheap deal on the web?
People can often spend thousands of pounds of their hard-earned money on skiing holidays, yet are prepared to potentially ruin that by ordering an ill-fitting pair of boots from the internet. We offer our time and knowledge, which helps customers avoid buying an ill-fitting ski boot which causes agony on the slopes.
So customer service is the key?
Each industry and each business is unique, but regardless of what product they are selling, everyone has the ability to provide exceptional customer service. Many high street stores across the country are in a battle to keep their heads above water, and we’re no different, but we try to do the very best for our customers.
Where will Lockwoods be 10 years from now?
In 10 years I’d still see us fitting shoes and continuing to add value to our customers in store. The retail trade is going full circle – even Amazon is talking about putting shops on the high street. People still like to go into shops and get advice on what they are buying, and I don’t think that is going to change. We started off as bricks and mortar and ventured online, and I’d like to see the third generation of our family taking it forward from here.”