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Aug 29, 2014

Retail Interview: Martyn Grimes of Berkeley Sports

How did Berkeley Sports come about?
Berkeley Sports started out in Rod Berkeley’s attic in the 1970s. He was a BOAC pilot and brought cricket bats and balls back from India. He was interested in their technology. The business was doing well when Patrick Strachan bought it in 2001 and moved it firstly into an industrial unit then to its current location on the high street in Upper Hale. Farnham Rugby Club was having problems getting its kit together, so they asked him to help out and from there he started to specialise in hockey too. It all happened very organically.

How did you get involved?
I’d worked in the family metal finishing business for years and when we closed that down I got involved with a few jobs, but in 2012 was made redundant. I took my son’s cricket bat into Berkeley Sports to get it fixed and Patrick said he was retiring. I’d always played sport and had worked as a rugby coach. I’d also loved sports shops as a child - I was like a kid in a sweet shop. I thought, this is what I want to do. So I took Berkeley Sports on.

How has trade been and what are your plans for the future?
We tick along, but this is a good brand and I want to grow it. I’m not expecting to make a fortune, but I like the challenge. I’ve expanded the floor space in the shop so there’s more room for cricketers and hockey players to try out and I’d like to move into two more retail outlets. I’m already looking for suitable sites.

We sell lots of different cricket brands, but also have our own brand, Aurora. It’s doing okay, but could do a lot better. We need to update the styling and carry more in store. We’re possibly going to launch a hockey brand too, but there are 68 others out there so we’ll have to see. I’m investigating cricket helmet technology too - I’m applying for a grant to do it.

Who are your competitors?
Online retailers are the big problem. There are one or two other independent retailers and of course, Sports Direct. We compete on quality, customer service and value. People do buy cheap things online, but it rarely works out. A man came in with a bat he wanted me to knock in for him and has now had to pay more than if he’d bought the bat from me in the first place.

How do you find out about new products?
We’re a member of STAG, so I find out a lot through them. I also do online research, go to trade shows and listen to other people’s ideas. Being involved in sports is a great way to find stuff out.

How does business in your physical shop compare with that online?
We sell more through the physical shop than we do online, but I want to increase online sales to 50 per cent of the business. However, that’s as part of a drive to double all sales overall. It’s a business model I feel comfortable with. I like working in a shop because I get customer contact and I wouldn’t ever want that volume of work to decrease. I would never consider being an internet-only trader.

What’s been you biggest challenge?
Time. I want to get out into the clubs and community to tell them about the products I’m taking on. For instance, we’ve got New Balance and trail shoes now in stock. But while that’s an easy thing to do, it’s not such an easy thing to do. Currently, Patrick still works part-time and so does another original member of staff. They’re great, but I need staff who can work more hours, help me get out there and take the reins in the shop. But finding them and getting them trained also takes time.

What do you like most and least about your business?
The best bit about the business is the customers. The worst bit about it is the lack of them.

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