DIVERSIFY TO SURVIVE was key for NK Sports
An expansion into schoolwear has helped push Neil Keeling’s business to new heights
Resilience, belief, high standards of customer service and diversification are key to NK Sports’ success.
Neil Keeling bought an existing sports shop back in 2005 in Station Road, Worle, near Weston-super-Mare. Over the next five years Neil focused on the business’ strengths and sporting specialist markets to develop the business.
He concentrated on non ‘commercialised’ areas within the sports industry such as running, bowls, fitness equipment, team football kits and personalised company work and leisure wear.
These markets built the NK Sports name into a strong local brand which has encouraged individual sports enthusiasts and clubs alike to use NK Sports for all their sporting needs.
Neil said: “When I purchased the shop in 2005 I quickly recognised the need for change and a new direction.
“The shop was all already supplying a local senior school, so I quickly started the process of marketing ourselves to the local primary and senior schools and as of today we now have 20 schools which we supply school and PE uniform.”
The diversification of stock and moving into the schoolwear sector was hugely important for NK Sports.
Neil added: “Looking back, it was a shrewd move, I wouldn’t be sat here today if I was still trying to be a traditional sports shop. You just cant stand still and wait for the door to go.
“All our school wear products are very consistent sellers and our non bespoke products are on the climb as well. We are becoming that ‘one stop shop’ which is becoming our major USP.”
While the shop premises can only hold a certain quantity of stock within its specialist sports, NK Sports prides itself that it can source any sporting brand or equipment, at discounted rates, given just a few days’ notice.
In June 2012, when Neil reached the optimum level of input, he was giving to the business, the realisation he needed a like-minded business partner came to fruition when Jerry White’s career change gave them the perfect opportunity to form Spinning Plates Ltd, the parent company of NK Sports.
With this new innovative website, NK Sports can now continue to move forward, opening
its markets up nationally, if not internationally. The strength in depth the company now has will improve service levels, increase business volume and take NK Sports to the next stage in the company’s expansion, offering the personal service it thrives on while giving value for money due to the quality sporting equipment and quantity of business it will generate through additional online sales and sports store.
Neil said: “We pride ourselves on customer service which is key to any business, but we are always pushing the ‘keep it local’ phrase as it is a tough retail market place.
“Price and quality are always key and we offer really good value for money products, we also offer mix-and-match deals on trousers, shirts and blouses. “I feel it is it important that you offer something back to your customers.
“You need to make your service as smooth as possible and communication is vital. “We have a lot of loyal customers who want to support a local business, which is really refreshing considering the big players involved in retail.”
But there are always tough times in retail and challenges to overcome and that has been the case for NK Sports as well. Neil said: “The recession in 2007 was really tough, but you just have to keep believing in your ideas and keep moving forward. The big sports multiples that have come into play have killed the ‘traditional’ sports shop and brands were too quick to jump on the money train but now they have realised their brand was being devalued, hence their change in approach now.”
Neil is always on the look-out for quality products and value for money for his customers. He added: “There are some really good products out there which are ‘made to last’ and the customer recognises this quickly and that is where we are seeing a lot of repeat business.
“We are always happy to receive feedback on products whether good or bad, this way you can address things quickly.”
Neil is not standing still and is looking to expand the business and stay ahead of the competition. He said: “Our aim is to keep growing and maintain our current schools agreements. My business partner Jerry heads up our teamwear and workwear business and this is seeing real growth. We invested in a four-head embroidery machine last year and we haven’t looked back.
“Retail, for me, is going through a funny stage – it’s very cut-throat. Online has been a major mover over the past few years and it will be interesting to see how it plays out and whether it is sustainable.
“To stay ahead of the game, and the competition, customer service is key – you have to be proactive, not reactive.”