We interviewed our winners from the 2018 National Retail Awards. Meet Toby Cumpstay from Simply for Strings, Our Small Retailer of the Year.
Where did your retail journey begin?
I quickly learned how to serve customers in my parents fast-food (kebab) shop when I was only 13 right through to when I graduated high-school. You really see the full spectrum of customers when you’re serving the best hangover food on the market.
What was the biggest challenge you have faced so far as a retailer and how did you overcome this challenge.
By far our biggest challenge has been financing growth. I have seen many businesses fail quickly when they try and grow faster than their market allows and this usually involves raising capital through banks or angel investors. We made the decision to only fund our growth organically (re-invest profits).
Whilst a safer option – and we may have missed the market occasionally – this mentality has given us strong year-on-year growth over the 12 years we’ve been operating. Financing in this method has also ensured we’ve remained true to our core business proposition, string instrument sales and servicing, rather than being all things to all people.
We’ve also found negotiating our retail lease to be quite a challenge over the years. We’ve often had to employ specialists in this field in order to ensure a smooth negotiation and the best outcome for the business.
What is the greatest part of being in the retail industry in 2018?
Being able to create a unique brand and have a community grow around it. The Simply for Strings community has taken the brand further than we had thought possible. Our loyal customers inspire us to create new products and services every day and engage in creative conversations with us across all of our sales channels.
Our customers create meaningful, long-lasting relationships with us, and encourage us to employ experts in our field to help deliver outstanding customer service. It’s this deeply personal and emotional connection to our brand that really excites me about retail in 2018.
As a community what do you believe retail can do to grow and overcome the adversities the industry currently face?
We continue to see innovation across all B2C touch points as the key to success. Obviously, the most important area for innovation is our customer service and purchase journey. Whilst this can be achieved through improvements in technology, we see the human-centred approach as just as important, if not more. The customer doesn’t buy the product first, they buy the personality.
We continue to put our energy into creating a customer experience that excites across all touch points whether online, in-store or when our customers receive their violin in the post. We want our brand to be remembered for the great experience it creates for individuals.
What does the future hold for your business? What does winning your award mean of you?
Currently, the music instrument industry is seeing small and large retailers leave the market or have to change their business model to survive due to the large players pricing or international competition.
The future for Simply for Strings is therefore never assured. We continue to grow with our market and respond quickly to any changes we identify in buying habits or behaviours. The future is bright as long as we continue to put the human experience at the centre of everything we do – for both customer and employee.
Winning this award is recognition of the entire team’s hard work at Simply for Strings. We’ll all take a moment to reflect and celebrate together but rather than seeing this as an end goal it’s just the beginning of another stage of growth.