57% What’s good: Well stocked and easy to navigate store What’s bad: Trying to be a leisure retailer, cluttered website.

The company

In the world of car accessories, Halfords is one of the biggest players. It has got to this position by owning over 400 orange coloured shops throughout the UK, a colour that has brightened up many a dull retail park. However, with the – oh God, here we go again – ‘global economic credit crisis crunch’ and the Government’s car scrappage scheme, the future didn’t seem quite so…ummm…orange.  As more people than ever before exchanged their old bangers for brand new cars, Halfords realized those people would now not need the services of Halfords and needed to do more than to be seen as a retailer of car batteries and fluffy dice. Their first action to hit back at the recession was to make their company more of a ‘leisure’ and ‘lifestyle’ brand by selling tents and camping equipment. But this was nothing compared to second recession-beating trick as Halfords bought the garage-chain Nationwide Autocentres in February – Britain’s largest MOT and car-servicing company – acquiring 224 garages at a cost of £73.2 million. This will make Halfords a brand that, with its clever technicians, can service your car while you wait and mess around in the tent that is plonked in the middle of the store. You can see my cynicism here, for as I popped in to the Halfords at Waterlooville on a Bank Holiday Monday (you can see where this is going), I was less than impressed at this contradictory marketing direction. 

Outside – 6/20

That contradiction is very obvious even before you enter the store as I was barraged with signs advertising useful and not so useful offers. ‘Screenwash – Buy 1 Get 1 Free’ and a 3 for 2 offer on Autoglym cleaning products is what I expect from Halfords, not ‘50% off on all tents’. I mean is this Millets? In all fairness though, the arrangement of the signs was probably the fault of the staff and not the company, but that is not the point. On a happy note, although their corporate colour is too lurid to be called welcoming, the store definitely stood out from the dreary Dreams and Jollye’s Pet Stores which sat either side.

Inside – 12/20

That orange paint is not translated inside the store which, surprisingly, is a bad thing. The grey tiled flooring had seen much better days and the walls were grey too, but the store was easy to navigate (mind the tent and the hordes of bank holiday shoppers) and the shelves were well stacked. However, I feel as though they have missed a trick as they could exploit the customer a lot more. Like supermarkets, Halfords should put consumable items such as wiper blades, bulbs, polishes etc, at the back of the store thereby forcing the customer to navigate through the useless car accessories in order to tempt them to purchase these normally unwanted goods.  I was also struck at Halfords’ new venture in ‘branching out’ – wheelchairs and mobility scooters. I mean why would you go to Halfords to purchase a maroon scooter with fake wood trim? That’s what the supplement in The Daily Telegraph is for. 

Customer Service – 10/20

Like Halfords’ marketing direction, I had two very different experiences. I went in to Halfords to get a new front number plate, so I went up to the number plate producing counter. Akin to an episode of Are You Being Served? a man called Lee popped up from behind the counter asking me ‘Can I help you?’ I said what I wanted and he told me to come back in ten minutes, which I did. However, what he had actually produced was a rear number plate instead of a front plate, which I was about to get cross about but I only wanted the number plate to adorn my shed’s wall so it didn’t really matter. Whether I could have got cross with Lee was another matter, he was probably in his thirties but he had the look of a man who had already retired with an AXA pension plan; I didn’t like to make his day even worse. Lee’s service was immediately offset by Julie on the ‘Pay Here’ counter by the exit – she was one of the friendliest shop assistants I’ve ever met.

Did I buy anything? – 19/20

Along with the aforementioned number plate, I also bought a new wiper blade and some exhaust cleaning paste (don’t laugh). Both were reasonably priced although the number plate cost £13.99! But that is an average price for legitimately made number plates it seems. 

The Interweb – 10/20

For such a big player, Halfords’ website leaves a lot to be desired. looks as though it was designed at the dawn of the internet for their website is cluttered and uninspiring. However, to be fair, the ‘advice centre’ button quickly gets you to where you want to be, and this week’s offers are clearly shown on the homepage.

Overall – 57/100

As a company that sells motor accessories, Halfords is one of – if not – the best. Its dominant position means that is the natural choice for anything car-related – whether that be a new fuse or a larger roof-box for your grand tour of Sardinia; Halfords is really the only place to go. However, as with most powerhouses, Halfords lets itself down by being too broad – too greedy even. We all know how difficult trade is in these economically hard times, but by selling lines that jar with your long established brand image I simply cannot sympathize with Halfords.

Next week: Jack Wills, Winchester.

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