Trends & Features

Talking shop: Michael Cooke of Melton Sports

Why did you become a sports retailer?
I’d spent the last 25 years working as a local and regional print journalist, but while it was a good life, it was a hard one. I felt the time was right for a fresh challenge, but what? Melton is a quirky, unpretentious, market town that is holding its own, but its last sports shop closed not long after we moved here and as a keen sportsman I wasn’t alone in missing it. I signed a lease on May 1 and opened for the first time on July 1.

How has trade been since you launched?
Overall it’s been a steady start and word is spreading that Melton has a sports shop again. We’ve built up the stock quite quickly and also offer a range of services through third parties, such as racquet restringing and bespoke teamwear. We held our official opening on August 16 – we’d held a competition to find Melton’s sportiest family and the winners cut the ribbon.

This month I’m going to hold a couple of club nights and then get out and about to see them all. I like championing sport and local clubs. Our catchphrase is ‘for beginners to winners’, so for me it’s as much about participation and enjoying your sport, as being the best you can be. I also aim to add a select and collect service to the website in the new year.

What do you stock? What are your current best-selling products and brands?
We cover running and fitness, ball and racquet sports, swimming and cycling and have a growing footwear wall. Fitness and swimming has done well, alongside running shoes, children’s football boots and astros and accessories. I’ve done well with Ron Hill apparel, Hilly socks, Speedo and Fitness-Mad.

Who are your competitors? How do you compete?
Sports Direct has stores in Leicester, Loughborough, Nottingham and Grantham, but I’m stocking brands they don’t. There’s the internet too, of course. To compete I pass on any discounts I get and do online price comparisons. Where possible I have two brands per sport at different price points, as there seems to be two markets in Melton – one where people are looking for value, the other for quality – and it’s important to cater for both. In Melton the independents work together and try to avoid duplication in terms of stock – the emphasis is more on recommendation and referral, convenience and choice.

Tell us about your marketing strategy
I’m trying to mix up my marketing by doing some traditional advertising, leaflets and flyers alongside social media. I’m looking at bus advertising in 2015. I’m being proactive with local clubs and will be offering their members 10 per cent off. I’m also starting a monthly email newsletter and those that sign up will get a 20 per cent off voucher for the month in which their birthday falls. I’m trying to build some loyalty to Melton Sports as a brand.

Are you a member of any buying groups?
I was recommended to join STAG and it seems to work for all parties. The suppliers/brands know they are going to get paid and I can pass on any discounts to be competitive. I attended a buying show just before we opened and that was very informative. It is helping to make a steep learning curve slightly less daunting.

What about your online business?
I have invested in a bespoke website with blog and social media feeds and will be able to bolt on ecommerce once funds allow and I have a firmer grip on stock. I wouldn’t dream of being an internet-only trader. I believe in the high street and customer service. I want children to be as excited about going to their local sports shop as they would a toy shop or sweet shop. And I’ve yet to work out how you try on a new pair of sports shoes in a virtual way.

What do you like most and least about your business?
I’ve enjoyed the challenge and finding out what works. I’m not so keen on spreadsheets. As a journalist, no two days were the same. There is more of a routine to my working day and working life now, but I still have to be creative and open-minded in my thinking.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?
Managing the set-up costs and stock – it can be a black hole. I have made some mistakes, but hopefully have learned from them. You have to keep your nerve. With hindsight, I might have done a few things differently, but I don’t have regrets. Nothing is without risk, you just have to give it your best to maximise your chances of success.

Picture courtesy of the Melton Times.

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