Old-school experience will always beat modern marketing methods


In the world of big data, business decisions must be evidence-based. Marketing departments that once relied on flair and intuition are now producing decision games based on extensive research. Expensive consultants are on hand to analyze customer attitudes towards your brand by socio-economic groups. An orgy of excessive intellectual thinking seduces the rest of the leadership team to applaud their findings with the same blind faith given to the Emperor’s new clothes.

Timpson doesn’t have a marketing department, which saves us a lot of money. We don’t need market research to find out what customers want, because it’s obvious. To be successful, we must do professional work with personalized and friendly service. We let our store colleagues advertise us by impressing customers so much that they recommend us to their friends and family.

In the late 1990s, we benefited from a competitor who bet his company’s future on the back of focus groups and blue sky thinking. In the late 1990s, UBS, the Swiss bank, acquired Mister Minit, the leading shoemaking chain with 550 stores in the UK and 3,700 branches worldwide. The master plan was to build a global full-service brand, starting with a major change in UK stores under a new brand, Minit Solutions.

To extend the range of services, Minit acquired the loss-making chain Sketchley, which specializes in dry cleaning but also owns the photo processing brand Supasnaps. They also bought a watchmaker, InTime, which had several dealerships in Debenhams.

This gave Minit expertise in dry cleaning, photo and watch repair, to add to its traditional shoemaking and key cutting skills. The big idea was to put all these services in a “state-of-the-art” one-stop-shop.

Marketing gurus teamed up with design consultants to create the perfect store. They decided that shoemaking and dry cleaning wouldn’t work together (never mix clean and dirty), so the shoemakers and their shoemakers were banished behind a screen at the back of the shop. It was a big mistake. The new concept of professional managers was based on research and theoretical thinking without talking to the experts: the people who worked in the stores.

The new concept produced by a group of professional managers was doomed to failure. Prior to the mid-1960s, counter assistants served customers and all shoe repairs were done behind the scenes. But as soon as the machines were exhibited, sales increased and personnel costs fell.

If a traditional Minit store was converted to Minit Solutions, with the expert shoemakers hidden away, their sales went down and costs went up. Wherever we had a store nearby, our sales jumped up to 35%.

It’s a good example of modern marketing methods beaten by old-school experience.

Sir John Timpson is chairman of high street service provider, Timpson.

Send him a question at [email protected] and read more answers from his Ask John column here


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