Innovative Retailer – Lakeland

Brought to you by Retail Insider and PCMS

The Name: Lakeland  

The Place: 64 stores in the UK and 7 stores across the Middle East.             

The Story:  Lakeland is the kind of shop that inspires a very specific kind of devotion in its customers and there are lots of them, mainly women. The store that Kirstie Allsopp famously said was a porn shop for the domestic goddess is an expert in bringing innovation into the lives of householders – not least because its customers help design some of the products – and it can tap into a trend faster than you can say cake pop maker. Who else would dare to take home brew kits away from beardy weirdies and give them to yummy mummies. Genius.

Hang on. It’s not that catalogue where people walk around with radios in their hats? No, that was the cult publication ‘Innovations’ but there are times when a Lakeland catalogue can bear a distinct resemblance. Take the famous banana guard for example.

You’re joking me: Yes, a banana protector. What’s wrong with that?

To Lakeland, not a lot: They sell an awful lot of them at £4.99 a pop. So that’s soggy brown bananas and nil to you and one to Lakeland.

OK, OK: Tell me where it all started. In the 1960’s when three sons began to help their father out in his mainly agricultural business. Come the 1970’s everything was about home freezing this and boil-in-the-bag that and the brothers Rayner (Sam, Martin and Julian) were struck by a thunderbolt from above.

Well, I’m waiting: Just this – if people are home freezing then they are probably home cooking and if we can sell them stuff for the former then we can sell them stuff for the latter. Like so many of Lakeland’s products – simple and don’t you wish you’d thought of it. Cut to the present day and they produce 18 catalogues a year, employ 1,500 people and have 124,000 Facebook likes.

Yes, all very good but give me innovation: Lakeland is extremely good at spotting new ways and places of selling, and what partnering opportunities to avail itself of. In January of this year it announced it would team up with grocery giant Morrison’s to launch a new website selling its kitchenware ranges. Clearly Morrison’s wants to latch onto Lakeland’s pedigree in this sector but there are also wins for Lakeland with Morrison’s large database. In Edinburgh they are one of 13 concessions featured in a new look Dobbies ‘retail village’ setting. And then there’s the Delicious magazine tie in.

Let me guess – a free apple master for every subscription? Well, I’m glad you noticed the apple master. But no, a range of tableware designed under the Delicious brand and sold exclusively on Lakeland. Like I say they know their customers very well. A whole new picnic-ware range just for the jubilee? Thank you very much – these are women who bake and like a bit of bunting. The success of The Great British Bake Off must be manna for Lakeland.

Same Lakeland handwriting but different

Do they get that in Qatar? Lakeland has expansion plans all over the place. The customer base in the Middle East is 50% ex pat and 50% native population and Saudi Arabia is the next country set to embrace the concept. The company is on record as wanting to increase UK store numbers by 100% within five years, possibly targeting London and the south east which are currently poorly served with stores.

Phew, sounds tiring: Then Lakeland also want to get into Germany in a big way because of its maturity as a home shopping nation, starting off with just online but opening stores in due course too.

Is there such a thing as a strudl flipper? No, but if there needed to be Lakeland’s German customers would tell them. Such engagement is actively encouraged. In 2009 Heston Blumenthal judged a competition of new kitchen gadgets with the winner being sold in Lakeland. It went down a storm – and was another match made in heaven.

So who won? The scrudle. It’s a bit of a scoop, a scraper and a ladle and yours for £3.29. But if it goes wrong you can avail yourself of the Lakeland Guarantee.

Which is? If you are not satisfied at any time at all you get your money back, no questions asked.

That’s a bit lenient isn’t it? That, my friend is part of the innovative focus on customer care which is what a lot of customers say is their reason for continually shopping at Lakeland. And if you don’t want to shop at a physical store you can of course do it online. The whole of the stock is available online, not just bits of it as with many retailers, but the whole darn thing.

Cripes. Wholly integrated then: Yes, all orders from wherever they come are distributed from one ginormous distribution centre in the Lakes. Econsultancy, which usually tells retailers what is wrong with retailers’ sites, published an article in 2011 on what was right with the new Lakeland site.

And said? In essence they loved it – from the excellent use of product videos, good megadrop down menus, enclosed checkouts to focus the customer, relevant related goods advertised on each page, customer reviews and review scores used to provide a top 5 list of products, no delivery charge for orders over £20 and no compulsory registration before checkout to put off the customer.

Right, I’m online. Can I order a sausage stuffer? Nope. The final word goes to Harry Wallop writing in the Telegraph a couple of years ago. He said ‘If only all businesses were like Lakeland, capitalism would be in good hands.’

Aaah, that’s nice: How about magnetic toast tongs? Oh go on then.