March 5 2015 Latest news:
Ben Woods, Business writer
Friday, July 18, 2014
Electrical retail group Hughes is to close three stores and pull the plug on its Bennetts brand as part of a bold new strategy that will put internet shopping at the heart of the business.
1958: The Bennetts story began in 1958 when Barry Adams founded the first BB Adams store in Great Yarmouth selling watches and jewellery.
It was followed by a further four stores in Yarmouth, one of which was dedicated to selling electrical products.
1960s: BB Adams takes its first steps to expand the company beyond the seaside resort by opening five shops on Guildhall Hill in Norwich.
1970s: This decade sparked a region-wide expansion across Norfolk and Suffolk. It launched branches in Bowthorpe, Cromer, Dereham, Thetford, Mildenhall and Wymondham.
1980s: Continued expansion saw BB Adams outgrow its store in the city centre of Norwich. To cope, it purchased the freehold of a store on King Street, which would become its flagship operation.
1985: Founder Barry Adams sells the business to his son Dean Adams, Richard Jackson and Gerald Buffini in a deal worth £1m.
1986: BB Adams was sold to Bennett & Fountain PLC.
1991: Bennetts is born after a management buyout from Bennett and Fountain plc, which sold off its retail arm to concentrate on wholesaling.
1997: Bennetts closes the King Street store it occupied for 13 years. It opens a new electrical megastore with 12,000 square feet of retail space at Hall Road, Norwich.
2008: Named “Best large independent electrical retailer – consumer electronics” by The Independent Retailer magazine.
2011: Bennetts collapses into administration putting 300 jobs and its 14 stores at risk.
2011: Hughes Electrical buys Bennetts and announces that six stores would reopen, led by former Bennetts director Mark Ferdani.
2011: BB Adams relaunched independently of Bennetts brand as electronics trade website.
2014: Hughes Electrical to lose the Bennetts brand as part of a relaunch strategy.
The EDP Top100 company plans to forge closer ties between its e-commerce website and its larger shops to capitalise on the growing number of customers who want to click and collect – a service where shoppers buy goods online before picking them up in store.
The move has been underpinned by a £500,000 investment drive to rebrand six of its biggest sites under the name Hughes Plus – including three former Bennetts shops.
But the new direction will spell the end of the group’s smaller stores in Bowthorpe, Colchester and Woodbridge, which are now set to close.
Robert Hughes, managing director of the business – which bought Bennetts out administration in 2011 – said there was no longer room for two independent electrical retailers on the high street.
“Fewer electrical products are being bought in store making it harder to justify our two existing brands,” he said. “Of those people who do buy in a shop 60pc have already looked at the product online. A single brand is a lot easier and more cost effective to promote across all these media channels.”
He said the company took the decision to shut down the shops which were close to the rebranded Bennetts stores, or did not have the stock room capacity and car parking facilities to support a click and collect service.
“We have not shut a shop for over a decade so it is not a decision taken lightly,” he added. “But the changing market means that it was necessary. All staff affected by this process have been offered relocation to other Hughes and Hughes Plus stores. There are no plans to shut any other stores, but relocations to larger shops with parking remain very much on the agenda.”
The relaunch will target Bennetts outlets in Cromer, Martlesham and Colchester; the Hughes store on Mason Road in Norwich and a new shop in Felixstowe Road, Ipswich.
The Norwich shop on Hall Road is the first site to be transformed under the new brand, while the store planned for the site of derelict Two Bears hotel in Great Yarmouth will also open as a Hughes Plus store in March next year.
The Lowestoft-based company – which employs 800 people and is forecast to turnover £108m this year – is also looking to set up new Hughes Plus stores in Bury St Edmunds and West Norfolk, with Wisbech earmarked as possible location.
Mr Hughes said it was important to rebrand the big stores to underline the extra services they have to offer.
“We have called it Hughes Plus because it will have so many features that our other shops cannot have,” he added. “They will have installation vehicles that will follow you home with your product, as well as full built-in ranges, including audio and imaging.
“And it will also have free customer parking for cash and carry, and more room for back up stock.
“We see the growth in the business coming from the people who now research online before they buy,” he added. “Later this summer we will offer a service where that customer can view a product online and then find out whether our shop assistants are available to give them a free demonstration in store.”
The company plans to review the success of the Bennetts rebranding before deciding whether it should be rolled out across the whole group, including its Apollo stores in the East Midlands.
But Mr Hughes stressed that it was still vitally important for the company to have a presence in East Anglia’s market towns.
“A lot of big online companies are now trying to set up local outlets because they know that consumers don’t want to see their high streets die, so they will support local shopping.
“We are the only electrical retailer in Hunstanton and Southwold, for example. There is a need to have a specialist in each town, but you have to have some form of back up stock and a range of parking.
“If we hadn’t changed our model, then we wouldn’t be sitting here now,” he added. “And that is the problem for many retailers who don’t have the capital or the ability to adapt to the changes on the high street.”
Mr Hughes said he wanted to increase the amount of stores it owned outright across the group from 75pc to 85pc. The company had leasehold agreements with the three businesses set to close.
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With a reputation as one of the toughest people in business, many stores would shudder at the thought of getting the Mary Portas treatment.