Bath and beyond
ERT Award-winning Coopers Stores is well known in Bath for its leading home appliances, and despite now being under new ownership, it’s still business as usual on the shop floor. Jack Cheeseman hears the latest.
Coopers Stores is an independently owned business, trading since 1948. The 2,000sq ft showroom is set over two floors of a listed Georgian building in the town, but it’s the inventive shop window displays that are probably the most famous part of the store.
After moving to Bath – from the outskirts of London – 26 years ago, Coopers quickly stepped away from the brown goods market and now focusses solely on kitchen appliances, sinks and taps, and has done very well from it.
In 2017, the retailer won the Domestic Appliances Retailer of the Year Award at the ERT Awards, and last year Coopers did the double and picked up the same prize again at the ERT Awards in October.
Darrin Christan was there on the day with Paul Cooper to collect the trophy, but, in other news, Mr Christan has since taken over the business as Owner and Director with his business partner, James Brotherton.
Previous owner, Mr Cooper, who is very well known in the industry, decided to retire along with his wife Marion, who also worked for the business as a Director.
Mr Christan tells ERT: “We often discussed various options and spoke at great length about how we would make a takeover work – it almost became an ongoing joke – but then he [Paul] came to me and said he’d offer me first refusal if I wanted to take over.
“Then we worked out a process we were both happy with and suddenly it was all happening!”
Q: How was it to win the Best Independent Domestic Appliances Retailer award again? Darrin Christan: It was fantastic! It’s not just another trophy to add to the collection – it gives definite validity to what we’re doing. We really want to instil that kind of independent high street retailing and make it relevant for today.
And it’s great that the judges looked at our Awards submission and agreed with what we’re doing. It isn’t just a vanity thing, it carries weight when we’re talking to manufacturers; and for consumers, too, it does make a difference because they can be sure we are a reputable company compared to shopping with an online retailer.
Q: And what is it about your domestic appliance offering that makes you stand out?
DC: We like to be unusual and we like to be innovative. For example, we happily took the one- off Micky Mouse design fridge from Smeg to put in the window because it’s different and it stands out. Many years ago, we were one of the first retailers in the UK to showcase American refrigeration; I think the only other retailer showing it at the time was Harrods! We’ve always been ahead of the curve and that’s where we want to stay.
Also, I would say that we are very relevant and local – we put our hearts into everything we do and people recognise that about us. I know that the other entrants at the ERT Awards have some fantastic showrooms, so to win this award is really great!
Q: You’ve got your ‘ERT Awards winner’ banner in your shop window. Coopers is quite well known for its window displays isn’t it?
DC: Yes, Marion [Cooper] is so creative and we really enjoy doing our displays, like the Brexit/Pro Europe display that featured on BBC News. We are known locally sometimes not as Coopers but as “the shop with the amazing window displays”.
I think you need to be inventive with these things. We get more benefit from our window displays than we would with any conventional print advertising – people tend to notice the windows much more.
Q: How are you finding the retail market generally at the moment?
DC: Things are tough on the high street at the moment but we have been quite resilient. I think there is plenty of scope for growth for the independents who can offer true service and knowledge. But people also want the right price, which is difficult as prices are always being driven down.
Over the years, the January sale – which used to be the best time for sales – has become less and less important, and with the internet especially there are always special offers going on.
It’s now more about pushing key product lines specifically. I think that consumers get bored walking down the high street and seeing sales signs and discount banners in all the windows. Do consumers really take notice of things like that anymore?
DC: Absolutely! Paul decided that it was time to retire. He refers to the office here as his ‘potting shed’ – he comes in every day and potters about and chats to the reps. As I moved up and learnt more and more, I started helping to make big business decisions and then it became a natural progression for me to take over.
I am now the company Director and Owner, along with my business partner James, but I still do everything as normal and we’re a small business so we all work together in the shop.
Q: And you’ve been at Coopers for many years now, most recently as Store Manager. What’s kept you there for so long?
DC: Yes, I started here after college and I was particularly lucky that I ended up at Coopers – a small, family-orientated company with a family ethos and Paul at the helm.
I am very proud of my achievements. I really enjoy what I do here and it’s an incredibly friendly environment, so there’s never been a reason to move on. And although I have taken over, it’s still business as usual as far as the customer is concerned – it still says Coopers above the door and we still do business in the same way.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
DC: I am working hard to create some unique and stunning dedicated display spaces, incorporating live demo machines for the customer to really get involved with; we fully appreciate the touch and feel nature of the shopping experience. I want to become a true destination, to set myself apart from the competition.
I will also work to embrace the world of advertising, both printed and digital. I believe that both have their place and this is all to strengthen the Coopers brand, and make sure we will be around for the next 70 years!