History in the making

After 50 years in business, success at Gillman’s Appliance Specialists shows no signs of slowing down, and with many strings to his bow, Chief Exec, Robert Gillman, talks to Jack Cheeseman about all the things the retailer offers to make it a one-stop-shop for customers.

Celebrating 50 years in business this year, Gillman’s is a true family-run retailer on the outskirts of Gloucester. Marking this milestone back in May, there was a month of activity and customer promotions at the store, involving local radio advertising and store events to make it a big occasion. As well as this, there was a big party for all the staff and some ex-employees.

Day-to-day, while he remains very hands-on on the shop floor himself, Robert Gillman, Chief Executive of Gillman’s, pictured above (right), says that all the employees across the business are a crucial part and have helped it move forward in recent years.

“If it wasn’t for our staff, we wouldn’t have such a successful business,” he said. “They work so, so hard and they are a real asset. They’ve helped the business grow and our legacy will continue thanks to them. At our party we also wanted to reward long-term employees as recognition of their service to the company.”

The Gillman’s business started as a service and repair company, which was founded by Mr Gillman’s parents. Over the years it has expanded and diversified into various sectors of the electrical and gas appliance industry, covering national distribution, retail and service of both domestic and commercial appliances with its on-site call centre.

On the retail side, since moving to its current 10,000sq ft site in 2001 – before this the company operated from smaller premises elsewhere in Gloucester – the Gillman’s store has been extended over the years to cater for the expanding business. It now even occupies a storage unit across the road – yet still, Mr Gillman says he’s struggling for space!

Showroom space is extensive, as the site used to be a car dealership, and there is a huge range of products on display.

“We sell a lot of range cookers here,” explains Mr Gillman. “We’ve got about 36 on the shop floor. It’s a special market for us, with all the additional bits to sell and the installation. I’m very fond of the UK brands; we’ve got good brands in this area and our strength is with the UK-made range cookers.”

When it comes to other product areas, Mr Gillman has concerns and feels markets have become too squeezed by manufacturers.

“Products just aren’t lasting as long anymore. We have too many players today all chasing the same goal; they are all worried about what each other is doing, what cheaper products can be brought into the market to bring prices down and down.

“It’s more of a disposable market now, especially for smaller appliances. Years ago, people would consider having their appliances repaired, but so much is being thrown away now when it’s still so modern.

“We have the disposal side of our business, of course, and we dispose of a huge amount of waste every week. Some products may only be three or four years old. Manufacturers should be building longevity into products to encourage consumers to purchase products that last.”

On the subject of working closely with the manufacturers, Mr Gillman says that a strong partnership is key. One of his frustrations he emphasises is manufacturers selling direct to consumers online and cutting out the showrooms completely.

“I am a firm believer in see, touch and feel; I can’t imagine people buying some of these appliances, like a range cooker, without seeing it in person first and having store staff explain all the benefits.

A show on the shopfloor

This year at Gillman’s, the retailer undertook several refurbishments and introductions of shop-in-shop investments, with brands including Siemens, LG, Miele, Fisher & Paykel. The store offers a whole host of leading home appliance brands as well as product demonstration facilities.

The team often holds in-store events and cookery demos for customers and provides the opportunity for them to ask questions and get hands-on with products. There’s a yearly calendar of events, which are promoted on social media as well as local radio, and manufacturers are often involved providing their home economists.

Says Annabelle Gillman, Company Secretary/Owner (pictured left): “The general feedback we get is that our events are very good. Our staff also get involved as everyone gets hungry! It’s a really different atmosphere but a great environment to sell in and to speak to customers.

“With the host, chef or home economics person there it’s great for them to answer customers’ questions and advise while they’re cooking. And it’s not just cookers and ovens – we also have fridges and dishwashers in use… the cleaning has got to be done somehow!”

Not only this, but the store also has a dedicated space for vacuum cleaner demonstrations too.

“I have certainly noticed how that market has changed over the years,” says Mr Gillman. “People will pay hundreds and hundreds for new vacuum cleaners but they want to know they’re getting their money’s worth.”

Ms Gillman adds: “I remember when we had our first shop, we only had a small floorspace area, so we welcomed customers trying our vacuum cleaners because then we didn’t have to clean at night before we left!”

A family affair

Gillman’s prides itself being a true family run, independent business. With each major department headed up by one of the siblings of the Gillman family [including Adrian Gillman, Chairman/Owner of the company], they believe it’s their unique chemistry that ensures the integration and smooth running of the whole company.

“Each department runs so well, like cogs in a perfectly oiled machine,” continues Mr Gillman. “For example, installation has always been a part of the business, and there’s our dedicated call centre and service department.

“Customers understand that when a product goes wrong they need to know it’ll get sorted out. We like to think of this as a white glove service – and we’re constantly monitoring our service to ensure customers are completely satisfied.”

Mr Gillman goes on to talk about the current state of the electrical retail market – he says it’s a bit of a “rollercoaster for everyone” at the moment.

“Being independent, we have to compete, we have to stand out and we have to try everything we can to survive these difficult times,” he says.

One of the retailer’s unique offerings is its aftercare service. He maintains that if any independent retailer wants to move forward with home appliances, in his view, it has got to offer aftercare.

“I know a lot of independent businesses that have done away with aftercare repairs, but you need the speed of service and to me that’s the success of it all. We are a one stop shop for our customers.”