Paul and Rachel Cook, of Cook and Matthews Sport, have kindly given us an insight into being an Independent in BR7 and tell us how they have managed to succeed and adapt over the years.
Tell us a little bit about your business and how it all began?
Well initially Paul had been laid off after 20 years as a plumber, so decided to embark on a new career with a total change of direction!
Inspired by the love of cricket of both directors, and in an area, which is so well known and has the love of cricket and wanting to embark on a business that was so involved in the local community, we found the shop in the High Street. The shop was ideal as there was plenty of parking, near a post office, we were visible on the High Street, and had some passing trade. Setting up was a trial, as any new set up is, but once all companies were onboard they could see we were in an ideal position and willing to work hard for our dream.
Paul’s initial idea was to sell only cricket equipment, which is and always will be his first love. This was cut short in the realisation that we couldn’t make the shop viable during the months cricket wasn’t played. In the midst of the shop setting up, a friend approached us and fellow cricketer, Mr Charlie Matthews, who was looking to start a business up as well, so Cook and Matthews was born!
After about 18 months Charlie decided to go his own way, and so we were Matthews less! Even though he left it was important to us to still trade under the name, as he and his family had been so instrumental and supportive in setting up the business. This meant Rachel getting more involved in the shop, alongside our young family. We stayed working as a twosome for the next eight hard years (alongside a selection of amazing Saturday lads) when we were in the fortunate position to employ another person, who came from the same retail background and had the knowledge of our industry, and has only enhanced our already strong business.
What do you enjoy about your business on a daily basis?
We enjoy being our own boss, and now having a full time employee, means we can take a little extra time with our growing family. Also the joy of meeting new and old customers and making friends through our love of all sports. Having been part of the community for so long, we particularly enjoy seeing the youngsters growing up and revisiting for their sporting needs. We want every single customer to feel as they are our most important, and we all ensure that every trouble is taken to achieve this, making the shopping experience for each and every one different. There are some that we have had issues with, however over 11 years they must count on one hand!
What is the key to your success?
Hard Work!! We all agree we need to be approachable, and having a mixture of male and female employees, really puts some of our customers at ease when they visit to buy items especially if they are buying things they are unsure of. We enjoy welcoming our customers and always have time to share a laugh or a chat, whatever is needed – even if there is no sale we always are happy to see anyone, and feel we play a small part in our local community.
What are your biggest selling items and why?
We are well known in the local area for our cricket selection, and people travel from afar to visit us, as word of mouth has always proved to be the most popular form of advertising for us. Hockey and rugby come a very close second.
Can you tell us about some of your regular customers and what they look for when they come in?
We enjoy meeting all sorts, and always ensure we give the best service we can. We realise in this ever changing online world we will not always be the cheapest but we hope with the service we pride ourselves on people will return, and hope we are totally different from the main ‘sports’ shop on each and every high street and retail parks. We actually don’t think there is any comparison!
What are your top tips for someone wanting to start their own business?
Be prepared for hard work, no wages for a while (long time!!), re invest, and in these hard times be prepared to reinvent too, as your customers will not always need the same items. During the recent lockdowns we evolved into a delivery company ensuring all our regulars and more had everything they needed to keep them well and healthy – if we could access it!
A huge thank you to Rachel and Paul for an insight into Cook and Matthews Sport. If you haven’t been in the store before do pop in (after lockdown!), or shop online, for some of the best customer service in BR7.