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‘We are like a family – we all try to help each other’

Euronics Agent, Harris Electrical, has been serving shoppers in East London for almost 90 years. Thomas Archibald Harris, the great grandfather of current Owner and Managing Director, Debbie Harris, founded the Clapton-based business in 1934.

The company’s largest and main one-floor showroom is prominently situated on a high-footfall street corner – and has been for more than 20 years. In more recent times, the area has undergone a lot of redevelopment.

“We’re on a busy main road in an area they call Clapton Village,” explains Ms Harris, who has been running the business for the past 10 years. “We’ve seen big changes – it really took off just before the London 2012 Olympics.

“We have a huge mix of customers. We have our fair share of loyal, long-standing customers and we’ve built up a reputation within our local community, but there has been an influx of younger people moving to Hackney and we are seeing young professionals in ever-increasing numbers.”

Ms Harris joined the company straight from school. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do – my mum said that I should go and work for my dad until I decided, and I’ve been there ever since,” she says.

In the early ‘60s, her father, John, was involved with electrical retailing trade association, Retra, and also played a part in the formation of what is now CIH/Euronics. He has now retired from the business, but still present in the background.

Ms Harris’s daughter, Megan, has also joined the company – she’s the fifth generation of the family and she appeared in the recent Euronics TV ad campaign over the Christmas period.

Harris Electrical expanded its retail footprint in 2018 to Walthamstow, East London, with its warehouse located geographically between the two stores.

“It was previously Pee Jay, but the owner retired,” explains Ms Harris. “Our Hackney showroom is slightly more pristine and we will be doing some refurbishment work in Walthamstow soon.”

Servicing

Prior to acquiring Pee Jay, 2017 saw the acquisition of another Euronics Agent called City Domestic, in Islington, which specialises in servicing.

Continues Ms Harris: “I didn’t buy the store – just the books and the staff. I’ve integrated that service department into our business, so now we offer everything, from washing machine repairs to full kitchen installations, rather than just selling appliances. Because of the Smartcare warranty scheme offered by Euronics [in partnership with Retracare] we can use our own engineers to carry out the repairs.”

The pandemic

After the first lockdown last year, Euronics partnered with some of its suppliers to provide Agents with safety equipment and collateral to ensure their stores were COVID-secure – and Harris Electrical took full advantage.

“We also bought screens to go around our front desks,” says Ms Harris. “It was quite a costly investment but keeping our staff and customers safe is our priority. From the start of our financial year – 1 April – we’ve been shut for around 50 per cent of the time. It is a testament to all my staff that we have kept going in the way that we have.

“Euronics has been brilliant too – because of the pandemic, the supply chain has been exceptionally challenging and to keep Agents furnished with product in the way they have is a tribute to the strength and depth of the group.”

Has Harris Electrical been hit by the supply issues caused by the pandemic? “It’s not been great,” Ms Harris replies. “We’ve had to process a few refunds and be more insightful in our forward ordering process. We’ve definitely missed sales to the competition, but to balance that out we’ve had customers coming to us saying, ‘I need a fridge- freezer – I’ve just been to Currys and they haven’t got a single thing to sell me’. I feel that the balance is much more in our favour and we have won hearts and minds with good service.

“Considering the overall effect on the economy and the tragic consequences of the pandemic, our trade has been quite positive,” she continues. “In the 2019/20 trading year we won quite a few commercial contracts, but during the first lockdown, builders weren’t allowed to open, which hurt us a little bit.

“We’ve still been busy with everyday customers who are buying appliances for their homes. Black Friday wasn’t as strong for us, as our showroom was shut – we normally generate quite a lot of sales in- between Christmas and New Year, but we missed out on that in 2020.”

Kitchen furniture

Harris Electrical has also diversified into other areas – its Hackney showroom now sells kitchen furniture after going into partnership with another family business, Balau Kitchens, four years ago.

Says Ms Harris: “The synergies between us are obvious, particularly as the area is seeing an influx of new residents with good disposable income. Since lockdown, they’ve had their busiest trading period. It’s worked out well for us and it attracts a different type of clientele into the store.”

Harris Electrical has adopted the new-look Euronics fascia and corporate identity for its stores too, which, says Ms Harris, is a vast improvement.

On the benefits of being a Euronics Agent, she adds: “I think the framework is an interesting incentive to drive us to be inventive in seeking new business – it’s a real help. The Agency products help with margin. The Euronics online sales over Christmas and New Year were amazing – I believe that’s down to the advertising with Nick Knowles. I think it’s the best they’ve ever done.”

Ms Harris also highlights other advantages, including selling the exclusive Blomberg appliance brand and the collective buying power of the Group.

“We are like a family – we’re all friends and we all try to help each other. I’m always on the phone to other Agents and we bounce ideas off one another.”

A multi-channel business

Harris Electrical is predominantly a domestic appliance retailer (with only a small selection of brown goods) but it also works with local councils and when the retailer took over City Domestic its presence with estate agents increased further. It replaces non-repairable appliances and it has in- house teams working on built-in installations.

Most of the retailer’s business comes through its stores, rather than online. “We do get a lot of traffic on the website, but it’s not fully translating to large volume sales yet – we only really sell Agency products on it,” explains Ms Harris. The company’s big drive in 2021 is to get all its products online and Megan has taken charge of the social media channels.

So how does Ms Harris feel about the year ahead? “It didn’t start that well,” she admits, having caught Coronavirus, but was fortunate to only have a mild case. She is trying to grow the business and she doesn’t rule out buying more stores or businesses: “I’m on the lookout for any opportunity that can help us expand our business footprint.”

Reflecting on being a local independent retailer in the heart of London’s East End, Ms Harris says: “The area feels vibrant and there’s a lot of life here – a real buzz. I love what I do.”

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