Trends & Features

Tim Smith at Bat and Ball Sports in Sevenoaks, Kent gives us the low down on life in the trade

How did you start out in sports retail?
As an ex-PE teacher, I have coaching badges for football, cricket, tennis and swimming. I’d always felt Sevenoaks needed a specialist sports store, which I opened in 1983 in an area of the town called Bat and Ball. It seemed logical to call it Bat and Ball Sports. Teaching was quickly forgotten, as I threw myself into the new venture.

How has the business changed over the years?

Dramatically. We stayed at the original site for 14 years, but when we outgrew it moved a little further out of town to an upstairs location at Godfreys, which sold lawnmowers and garden equipment. The synergy between the two companies worked very well and we more than doubled our turnover.

As the business grew, we added gait analysis and more printing and embroidery. We stayed at Godfreys for 16 years before, in 2014, moving to our current location in London Road, Sevenoaks. The store is state-of-the-art, with an ASICS running lab and separate areas for individual sports. We also have a room dedicated to cricket, one of several sports we specialise in. As the seasons come and go, this area will change into hockey, rugby and finally skiing.

Although the running costs are higher in the town centre, I feel we can increase our turnover, especially with the greater footfall we are experiencing.

How do you plan to take the business forward?
Giving our customers the very best service with expert knowledge is key. We work hard on staff training and this focus will not change, as it is a crucial part of trading as an independent store.

Trading through the new store will continue to be our priority, although we do have an internet presence selling mainly teamwear and intend to grow our online business. I doubt if we would ever become an internet-only trader, but you never know what the future holds.

What do you stock?
The biggest selling areas for us are cricket, tennis, rugby, hockey, running and fitness. We run the club shop at Sevenoaks Rugby Club and supply kit for swimming, hockey, netball and cricket clubs. Other strong product areas are squash and badminton, which are complemented by our on-site restringing service. Best-selling brands are ASICS and Brooks footwear, Canterbury in rugby, Grays in hockey, Nike in women’s wear and Babolat in tennis.

Any marketing strategies you’d like to talk about?
We have run the Intersport loyalty card scheme for about six years, which allows us to establish where our customers live, what age group they are in, how often they shop with us and what they buy. This is an invaluable marketing tool, as we are able to target customers with promotions and offers depending on their interests.

Being a member of Intersport is extremely helpful. We get good discounts and are able to see new products and innovations at the cutting edge of the sports industry. Intersport is growing its membership and expanding across the globe, which results in a great deal of respect from major brands such as Nike and adidas. We are now offered a lot of deals and product exclusive to Intersport members.

What do you do to stand out?
Customer service is our main priority. All my staff follow the edict that a smile goes a long way, but costs you nothing. Now being in the town centre, we feel even more that we are a community store involved heavily in all the sporting events in Sevenoaks. In fact, last year we were awarded Independent Retailer of the Year in the Sevenoaks Town Partnership Business Awards.

What do you like most and least about the business?
I’ve always enjoyed running the business and the contact with several generations of Sevenoaks’ men and women. Through sport and links with various clubs in the town, I have made lots of friends, who we are lucky enough to see in-store on a regular basis.

My biggest headache is holding onto the best staff. So many of the keenest and most able want to play sport on Saturdays, which is obviously the busiest day for us. Staffing legislation in relation to pay and holidays is also hard work at times.

What’s been your biggest challenge?
Opening the new store. The internal fabric of the building needed complete renovation, but this gave us a fresh canvas to work on. Although a financial headache, I am delighted with the look and feel of the new store and we have had many compliments, especially regarding the layout and product selection.

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