Dorset-based Dacombes of Wimborne walked away from the ERT Awards in October with the prestigious Turning Point Award trophy. And for good reason. The retailer is bucking the trend, fighting the high street negativity and investing in new opportunities. One example is its swish new home cinema demo room, which opened in November. Jack Cheeseman reports.
Wimborne, has operated from its current premises since January 2017. Before this, it used to occupy two smaller stores in Wimborne town centre. Over the last three years, the business has expanded and its 4,500sq ft store has been transformed into a true retail destination.
Managing Director, Matt Renaut, has a clear, enthusiastic vision for what he wants the store to look like. As a result, there have been many changes inside, yet 2019 was a busy year and the place turned into a building site while a new home cinema demonstration room was installed on the first floor. More on that shortly…
Various departments have been introduced on the main shop floor in recent years, including a TV showroom and a modern AV and smart home apartment, as well as home appliances and fitted kitchens; the retailer offers various kitchen designs in association with local business MK Interiors.
Dacombes of Wimborne is now very well known, both locally and nationally, for its unique offering, and this recognition certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed in the industry. The retailer first won an ERT award back in 2016, then again in 2017; at the 2019 ERT Awards in October, it also picked up two more trophies – one for Best Independent Consumer Electronics Retailer – Small – and the other was the coveted Turning Point Award.
Recognising key consumer trends and making the necessary changes in order to secure future business is what this award is all about, and Dacombes of Wimborne is a great example of this. Its new product areas and forward-thinking business activities, led by Mr Renaut, make the store stand out.
Mr Renaut himself has been with the business for 20 years. He became Managing Director in 2011.
He tells ERT: “We were so delighted to win our first award, but so much has happened since then. With the opening of our new destination store and all the hard work involved, our staff have been really rewarded with this latest recognition from ERT.
“The local newspapers have loved our success story and I’ve even been stopped in the street and congratulated on our awards success! And now, after winning the Turning Point Award back in October, I hope even more people are made aware of our business and how good we are.”
2020 brings the centenary of Dacombes of Wimborne… “a definite excuse for a celebration involving all the staff and hopefully loads of customers,” exclaims Mr Renaut.
The immediate plan, however, is to focus on the retailer’s latest investment. In February last year, Dacombes of Wimborne introduced an acoustically soundproofed home cinema demo room. This was a brand new venture so work began on building the room itself in an old storage space. The official launch event in November saw plenty of local customers turn up to celebrate, as well as industry professionals and even Darth Vader and a few Stormtroopers! The staff were also dressed as their favourite stars from the big screen. The event was the culmination of many months of hard work, as Mr Renaut explains…
“This project has been in the pipeline for a long time. We wanted to do something special and a bit different, as not everyone can offer this. So we took the plunge and went for it!
“Throughout most of 2019 our staff were working under piles of rubble while various things were built and moved around in the store! But now it’s done, it was all worth it and I’m really proud.”
Q: So where did you get the idea from to open a home cinema room?
Matt Renaut: It all started with a visit to AWE Europe in Surrey; I went to look at their smart home stuff and I was wowed by their cinema rooms and I knew I needed to have that in my showroom.
Retail theatre is crucial these days and a home cinema is the perfect example of how electrical retailers can stand out from the crowd, where customers can sit in the comfy seats watching what they want, it’s the perfect experience.
I came back from there with so many thoughts about how it would all work. I also started talking to the guys at Habitech in Basingstoke (another distributor of home entertainment and automation products) to research what kind of kit we could install and how that would benefit the room.
All these guys were really helpful and we took the best of all the ideas for our space. Our vision grew from there really, coming up with our own ideas and taking some inspiration from the custom install market too.
Q: So it’s been quite a project for you, how did you start planning everything?
MR: I started investing in training programmes to get everyone up to speed and that’s been really crucial. We didn’t have a contractor or separate team working on this project, it was all done in- house, with staff helping out on top of their day- to-day jobs. We simply didn’t have the budget or manpower to blitz it within a few weeks, it was only when we could afford it, so it took time.
The next steps were about making space for the cinema room and it was like a jigsaw puzzle! We had the storage room upstairs, but in order to kit that out the whole store became a building site for most of last year. A neat-ish building site, of course! I’m very proud of all my staff – they all understand what we are trying to do and it’s a real team effort. Having Chris and Ales by my side has been brilliant, too; they were the driving force behind the build and design. Chris has got a cinema background and a lot of technical knowledge, which came in so handy, while Ales is the carpenter, so whatever you throw at him he’s on it and he works very hard.
Q: What is your future vision for the cinema room then?
MR: We won’t just be selling complete home cinema packages, but upgrading a lot of existing home cinema rooms for people too. Customers might want a new projector, so we can invite them to watch a film to get an idea of what they might want. Or they might just want their existing speakers tweaked to get the best sound – there are loads of elements involved and loads of ways we can help our customers, which is great for business.
Once we’re in a discussion with customers or inside their home, we can advise on products accordingly and most often this will lead on to bigger projects for us.
We have our retail environment all set up for any kind of demonstration, and we don’t just deliver products and walk away. Full installation is crucial – it’s a no brainer. A lot of our competitors operate differently and they can’t offer that product showcase, so that’s the big advantage that we’ve got!
Q: So what sort of cinema packages will you be offering?
MR: We are pitching home cinema systems at an affordable level and we offer ‘buy now pay later’ services. We offer tailored equipment and if customers can’t quite reach their full expenditure, there are various products and packages that will suit. Our staff are trained to offer the best we can! We are lucky to be in an area where there is a large percentage of customers that have the room and the ability to invest in home cinema rooms. There are some companies that offer quite expensive packages and obviously these aren’t always affordable, but what we’re going for is garage conversions or spare rooms, with kit that is affordable for those with a bit of disposable income. It’s not always about full-blown home cinemas, but maybe just a good quality multi-room audio system to complement their TV setup. We can do that too.
Our aim is to just gain more interest, enquiries and demonstrations – and of course our store offers a lot more than just the cinema itself. But there’s a fine line between what our customers want; some still come in buying their £2.99 bulbs or batteries, and we’ve still got to offer those. But the way I see it going is that high ticket items will help us do well and keep us on the high street.
Q: What would your advice be to other retailers thinking about home cinemas?
MR: It sounds like a bit of a cliché, but know your customer. And get the right products in-store that you know you’re going to sell. It’s pointless having big expensive kit if you’re unlikely to sell it. Retailers have got to relate to the customer on every level, so you need a comfortable and inspiring area to demonstrate these products – preferably a sound-proofed cinema room – the full package! Customers have got to go ‘wow’ – they’ve got to be really impressed and you’ve got to leave them wanting more!
Our smart apartment, for example, helps the customer to visualise things in their own home; that’s why we designed it like someone’s front room at home.
Q: What are your plans to develop your home cinema room?
MR: The important thing for me is that people are talking about it. The launch event we had in November was a huge success! We had some really great conversations and we’re following these up with quotes for potential customers.
Looking forward, we want to use the cinema space as a community hub as well as a sales tool. We’ve got people coming in from local charities, for example one supports people who have just come out of hospital and want to see an exciting film on the big screen, and another is for carers that need a break from their day-to-day duties, so they can come here and switch off for a bit. We also want to get other groups involved, like local film fan clubs, that sort of thing.
It’s not just about the hard sale – it’s about being part of the community and the room is there for everyone to use.
It’s important that the staff are showing the cinema room to anyone and everyone, to help with word of mouth, and we hope people leave saying ‘wow’ and wanting something like that installed in their home.