This week it emerged that electronics retailer and Dublin institution Peats would close its doors after 78 years in business. Fellow business owner Peter Faulkner wonders whether his own company can survive.
THE PEATS CLOSURE story really struck a chord with me as I was working from home the other morning before attending a rather sad funeral of a young man from the locality.
It is so sad to see venerable quality firms such as Peats go out of business. They had a huge reputation for what is supposed to be the key to business success, a dedication to customer service and well trained helpful staff. They did their business in a professional way with nice retail stores offering quality products with first class after sales service. Clearly such values are no longer enough.
I have studied long-lived businesses over the years – ours having been around since 1860 – and I think I know why ours has survived, so far. My own father was the only child of a whole generation and took over running the business in the 1950s. His father and unmarried uncle ran the business for the generation before that. I too, am the only one of my generation involved in the business, though we were a family of six kids. The first key operator is no dilution of shareholding to the next generation of cousins.
The second key element is reinventing the business. As the fifth generation running a traditional B2B (business-to-business) firm, we have had to reinvent our business model at least four times in the last 30 years. Contrast that with my forebears, they only had to do it once every second generation.
We still do our utmost to retain the traditional values that typified many older companies such as Peats. It does have one great advantage; customers tend to remain loyal over many years. Sadly the recession has caused many of these customers to become casualties themselves of the ravages of the economic turmoil. To survive in the longer term is not possible without these core values and levels of customer service but it is possible to compete and survive with cutthroat price competition only by adopting the business models of today.
‘It is not completely selfless, as many came back time and again’
Even today there is still an important opportunity for companies to give old fashioned service but in a modern context. We recently produced a comprehensive packaging guide that we have free on one of our websites, into which we have put a great deal of thought and effort. It has been our policy since God was a child to help anyone who had a query – ‘If we don’t do it, we will tell you who does’.
It is not completely selfless, as many came back time and again, essentially giving us first refusal on their business. That is old fashioned customer service and benefits both parties, it is also old fashioned good business. Treat people well and they will respond in kind, most of time, you will never win them all!
I am no longer a young man but I have made a concerted effort over the past thirty years to learn to use and keep up with new technologies. From my Dell DOS laptop and 088 mobile phone in the 1980s to my iPhone, iPad, Kindle et al of today, I have moved to shop online, read my books in eBook format in an effort to stay current. For our business, we have moved our sales efforts online with numerous websites with great dedicated people supporting the customers and the business. We have studied the competition at home and abroad and shamelessly copied the most successful operators and their new products and business models.
Will it be enough? Only time will tell.
To Peats and all those other long established businesses now sadly gone, we salute you and mourn your passing.
Peter Faulkner (59 ¾) is chairman and owner of Faulkner Packaging. He lives in Dalkey and has three adult children, none of whom are in the business. He is a former chairman of the SFA and was one of the founders of ISME. He was a member of the government Taskforce on Small Business. The Packaging Guide can be viewed and downloaded free here.