Michelle Hespe catches up with Matthew Canwell, Director of Buying for Lakeland in the United Kingdom – one of six 2014 Global Honorees at the gia Global Innovation Awards in Chicago.
It all began back in 1964, in a humble garage in the United Kingdom. In that garage, a family started selling plastic freezer bags, and the demand for the bags gradually grew. By the 70’s, the determined family started selling cookware, and 50 years later, Lakeland had established itself as the UK’s largest specialist cookware store.
Kitchenware is a massive category in the housewares industry, so to stand out a store needs to be truly exceptional. Lakeland is exactly that – a kitchenware retailer that raises the bar on innovation, and has a mission of helping customers to cook better than they believe they can. The company strives to introduce their customers to new methods and techniques, holding their hand to achieve results that they didn’t think they were capable of.
This year is a milestone for Lakeland – not only because it is celebrating 50 years of being a family-run business with 67 stores in the UK and 9 in the Middle East – but because it also became one of the six gia Global Honorees in Chicago this year, upholding it as one of the best retail stores in the world.
“We were very keen to be part of the award,” said Matthew Canwell. “It is a significant badge of honor to be recognized as being amongst the best retailers of housewares globally. Given all the work and passion our colleagues put into delivering great service to our customers, it’s lovely for them to be recognized in this manner.”
The Lakeland stores are all designed to offer customers a premium shopping experience where everything is easy to find in expertly categorized sections. They take the approach of having ‘shops within the shop’ (for instance bakeware is almost a shop in its own right) ensuring everything is navigable, and for those who know what they are after, they can zero in on the part of the store that interests them. Products are there to be touched, held and used because understanding, appreciating and being inspired is a big part of the Lakeland experience.
Management also prides itself on being able to surprise and inspire a customer with innovative products that are often demonstrated at strategically placed benches. iPads are available in-store as many of Lakeland’s products require more explanation, and videos show ways in which products can be used. Clever ideas in marketing, in-store and online, and great staff who take pride in their work are all priorities.
Lakeland has taken the bold step of offering any customer a money-back guarantee if they are not happy with a product, no questions asked, which shows the confidence that Matthew and his team have in their products. “Our customer service practice is simple,” said Canwell. “We want our customers to be happy with their experience at Lakeland. And we are able to achieve this because of our full satisfaction guarantee.” He goes on to explain that this principle, of keeping a customer happy, is a touchstone across the business. “For example, we only buy products that meet the standards of the guarantee.” It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved, and it has led Lakeland to being voted 2nd in the UK’s 100 biggest brands for Customer Service by Which, the UK’s leading consumer affairs magazine.
Marketing products is a huge part of Lakeland’s success. Every year, they publish 18 catalogues that are sent out to 1.2 million homes, and over 1 million people are reached every week via email. And although the store employs the relatively old-fashioned method of door drops to distribute brochures, 30 percent of their sales is through home shopping, and social media is a rapidly expanding sector of their promotional activities. “We’ve created a low-sell/no-sell environment when it comes to social media,” explains Canwell. “It’s all about sharing hints, tips and discoveries with our customers, encouraging them to comment and be involved.”
The Lakeland website is incredibly interactive – filled with video, buying guides, great food photography, recipes and even instruction manuals so that if customers lose theirs, they can consult them online. “We also encourage reviews, and we publish the good, the bad and the ugly,” says Canwell.
And the icing on the cake regarding Lakeland’s recent innovations is their iPad magazine. “The single most important innovation is the way we are taking our offerings forward in the digital age,” says Canwell. “Our iPad app is amazing – it’s full of very rich content and has over 100 recipes per edition, with videos and techniques.”
With such innovative offerings, and with 50 years of experience behind them, its not surprising that the gia jury and expert judges found this retailer in the UK to be worthy of being a Global Honoree for 2014. And for the family, in the year of their 50th birthday, the award could not have come at a more exciting time. “We were elated by the win,” says Canwell. “Being our 50th birthday, it seemed very fitting to win the biggest industry award. What has meant the most to me is having Lakeland recognized as a world-class brand – our passion and dedication shining through.”
And that’s what keeps the Lakeland brand and business flourishing – the passion that the family and its many staff have for what they do. That comes from above and filters down throughout the company. “I love the challenge of being in the retail industry,” says Canwell. “Every day is different. Working with product is our passion: finding and developing new, innovative ideas that make cooking and baking easier and more pleasurable for our customers. It’s a joy.”
For more information about the gia (Global Innovation Award) program, the co-sponsors, or participating in 2014-2015, contact Piritta Törrö at email@example.com. Additional information on the gia program is also available online at www.housewares.org/gia.
For more information about the International Home + Housewares Show and to pre-register for the 2015 Show, taking place in Chicago on March 7-10, 2015, please visit www.housewares.org.