If T21 was a smart-home retailer…

It is easy when running a business to fall into the trap of concentrating on where the threats are and miss the big opportunities, claims T21 managing director Paul Laville

At a recent client meeting, I was asked – not for the first time, whether I would go into electrical retailing, if I were setting up in business now?

I answered with a cunningly deflective, ‘why do you ask?’ only to unleash a tsunami of grievances from my client. A few phrases surfed the torrent, things like, “the high street is dead”, “unscrupulous online giants are killing the industry”, “the indies can’t compete”… and so on.

Now, I’m not saying these grievances aren’t valid, but I have heard them all before. In fact, ever since my first Saturday job working for an electrical retailer in the Nineties. The surface detail may have changed over the years, but the underlying issues are universal: business is unfair, customers are fickle and things ain’t what they used to be.

A key difference between the Nineties and now is that the speed of change is increasing, which means any business can become a casualty very quickly if it doesn’t move fast enough to recognise not only where the threats are, but also the opportunities. Sometimes we get so concerned with the former that we fail to see the latter.


So, if I were setting myself up as an electrical retailer, I’d ensure that my business model was agile enough to cope with unexpected changes, and I’d make it a habit to look for opportunities way ahead of the curve. I wouldn’t waste time waiting to see what the other guys did first, and I wouldn’t give a damn if they were watching me.

In this way, actually, no different from running T21 now.

But let’s imagine I’m setting up ‘T21 Technofuture Retail’ – what would I sell and how would I do it?

The first part is easy. Smart home. Frankly, I wouldn’t look at anything else. Sure, I love the technology, I’m a geek for it, but it also makes business sense.

Smart home represents possibly the best opportunity for any retailer to establish and grow a viable business right now. Where else is the growth being forecast? Where else is there such a rapidly growing need among such a wide consumer base? What are my potential suppliers manufacturing and what can I tap into, with relatively little investment, to start providing value to my customers straight away?

First, I need to understand who my customers are, what they want and how they shop. Again, that’s simple. The resolution of marketing data in smart home and IoT is extremely high. I can see technology trends and customer penetration forecasts rising well into the 2020s in multiple sectors, giving me confidence that the smart home is here to stay.

Now it’s time to build my range and market my business as the place my customers can go to learn about smart home. Maybe I won’t be able to sell Echo, Dot and Google Home, but I can sell the wider superstructure of connected products and services that bring those ubiquitous chatterboxes to life.

As for my physical showroom – the experience, the place where my customers can touch, see and learn how connected technologies work – I want it staffed by people who willingly engage browsers, who can listen, advise, demonstrate and sell. Regardless of their prior experience, they’d be trained to the max. Trained to sell my way, for the benefit of my business, not my suppliers. I’d need installers too, and there are plenty of courses within the industry I can send my guys on to learn those skills – AWE and Cedia for starters.

But the showroom is only one part of T21 Technofuture. My mobile-first online strategy is equally critical because I want my brand seen at all stages of the customer journey. Whatever avenues my customers travel to fulfil their smart-home needs, I want to be there as a credible authority, seen as the best provider for exactly what they want.

I mentioned high-resolution data. It’s been building for years and, yes, I could ignore it, write it off as marketing hyperbole and sell commoditised low-ticket items instead. But no. It’s smart home for me. And you know what? I’m getting quite excited by this…