Innovative Retailer – Timpson


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The Name: Timpson

The Place: Little tiny outlets all over the UK, providing those useful old-fashioned services like key cutting, cobbling, dry cleaning, house sign engraving. Around 1,020 in all but doing so well it should/could be 1,500 before you know it.

The Story: Quick question – if you wanted your precious house door keys cutting would you give them to a known criminal with a history of acquisitive crime?

John Brown. Business Agenda - James Timpson.

James Timpson. MD, Timpson

Acquisitive crime, is that a nice way of saying… Stealing, yes. Well would you?

This is the sort of straightforward question I like. No: Aha, well if you are a client of Timpson you probably already have done and not even known it. In fact they may have even been on day release and gone straight back to prison at the end of the shift.

I’m shocked and appalled and will write to my MP forthwith: Don’t. This is a heart-warming Christmas story of a good innovative idea being worth its weight in HR gold. Timpson is one of the very few retail employers – managing director James Timpson also lists Greggs – in the country who will take on ex-offenders and train them to work in their shops. Over 10% of Timpson workforce is made up of this category of employee, equating to around 320 people.

Good God, you mean they could be re-heeling my shoes as we speak: Oh do calm down. Clearly they are very closely vetted and the specifics of their case taken into account. No sociopath is going to be allowed in. And actually there are limits – no sex-offenders and if your crimes are gang-related then don’t bother applying either.

I can’t believe this was a pain-free process: Definitely not. It’s a decade since the idea was first tried and at the outset when everyone was naïve there was no end of trouble, fights in shops, plenty of ahem ‘acquisitive crime’ going on. The innovations Timpson brings to its treatment of staff include things like providing loans to tide over hard times and so that was being abused too. But they persevered and now 16 of their shops are managed by ex-prisoners. In fact in one prison there is a mock up Timpson shop where inmates are trained.


All about the people

And what except from a nice warm glow, is the upside for Timpson may I ask? They have the most fanatically, fantastically loyal staff base you could possibly imagine. James Timpson has claimed the company has the lowest staff turnover in Europe and you wouldn’t care to deny it. No one could prise these people away from the employer who has given them a second chance, and that goes for the staff generally. This is not a company centred on a head office culture.

Well I don’t think anyone would object to that: In fact while I am on the subject, head office is positively frowned upon. One bod at HQ is the equivalent of one shop’s profit. Forget head office and branch out in your own pod.

You’re losing me again – pods? Pods are the way forward. There are around 250 of them at the moment. They are the tiny retail units which house Timpson shops in supermarkets. Footfall in high streets is down, I don’t need to mention, but likewise supermarkets are not good at offering the handy services like key cutting customers sometimes require so Timpson slips in there and bobs your uncle. They are opening them apace. By the way – revenues will be £190 million this year. Not bad for what are, essentially, semi-emergency services.

Tidy. Can’t be room to swing a cat in those pods though. You’re not wrong. In fact the outlets are pre-made in a factory and there is no plumbing at all installed, just electricity for the machines. All the myriad services it provides have to fit into the tiniest space. Even though each shop only has an average of 2.2 staff it’s still a squeeze and now it is moving into mobile phone repairs, which has to be fitted in too.  The same goes for the high street – the company has always slotted its premises into the tiny, awkward, ‘can’t let it to anyone else’ units which can save it a fortune in rent.


Pods in production

Just had a thought, no plumbing = no toilets surely? Correct. No Timpson employee ever spends a penny on site. Or has a cuppa whilst at work either. They have to nip out for any water-based activity. I suppose they could always quickly raise the prices when they return to make up any shortfall, as the individual shop manager can charge whatever they like.

I think I must have misheard: No, you heard right. It’s all part of the Timpson strategy to let the employee’s personality shine through and lead the business. The company issues price guidelines but if you want to haggle with a customer then go for it.

Blimey. This is all a bit free and easy isn’t it? Well, it certainly seems to work. Remember Timpson faces no real competition from the internet, you can’t have your shoes mended online or your keys cut, so everything is about the innovations it brings into its shops.

Well, my cockles are well and truly warmed: But I haven’t told you about the staff bonus scheme.

No, it’s OK: Or the Champagne on your birthday.

Really, it’s fine: Or the gifts when you get married.

Don’t make me come over there: Or the six holiday homes with free accommodation.

Alright. I’m in. 

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