Batchelor visits…C&H Fabrics

Scores: 28% What’s good: A familiar British High Street retailer What’s bad: A woefully dated and depressing shopping experience, should be the leader in home wares sector.

The Company

I am fairly well-known for my dislike of C&H Fabrics, and in particular the company’s Winchester branch. While shoppers are spoilt for choice for brands in Winchester High Street, C&H Fabrics is not one that spoils. After the Town Hall the store is the first shop that customers are confronted by, but it has a great ability in making me walk straight past it despite it being part of Winchester’s High Street for nearly forty years. The branch was one of six others around the country that were opened by C&H in the 1970s due to a need for larger selling spaces. This, however, was one of the company’s biggest ‘moments’ in their history for it has had a relatively uneventful seventy seven years. Winchester, therefore, is an important branch for C&H but, despite my famed dislike, I have never given C&H Winchester a fair chance – so I dropped by and, putting my prejudices aside, this is what I thought.

Outside – 8/20

The vast majority of shops on the High Street’s slope are currently having their summer sale, and C&H Fabrics is one of them. But that is where the similarity stops, for C&H has, quite probably, the worst window display in Winchester. What I saw can only be likened to Arkwright’s corner shop in Open All Hours, for C&H’s windows were woefully dated and unimaginative, and had 25% Sale signs sat next to withered displays of stationary, ‘selected’ cosmetic bags, and some truly hideous dress fabrics. Strangely, there was also a clumsily worded sign (I say sign but it was, in actual fact, a sheet of A4 garnished with words in Times New Roman font) advertising a special ‘Buy 1 get the 2nd one half price’ offer on stuffed meerkats.

Inside – 5/20

The store was arranged over three floors with the ground floor catering for custom made curtains and a home measuring service, the first floor dealing in express curtains, handbags, cushions, throws, stationary and a coffee shop, and the second being the home of all things haberdashery, wools, tapestries, beauty products and puzzles. All very normal you might think, but I took a closer look at the store directory and I found that the second floor also specialized in ‘seat pads’. Why bother advertising that? Stranger still, though, was the store directory saying that the second floor had a ‘party dress’ department. All I found in this department was a rickety shelf with a few witches’ false dentures, a plastic Devil’s spear-come-fork, and a comic policeman’s helmet all piled on top of each other.

Customer service – 7/20

From what I could see last Friday afternoon, the average age of customers shopping in C&H Fabrics Winchester was about 71. The sight of a young person walking around the shop was of some surprise by some customers, as one old lady asked me ‘Are you lost, love?’ Shame the staff weren’t so interested in my being there; asking one assistant ‘where are the reading glasses, please?’ I was told ‘Downstairs, go through the doors and they should be on your right hand side. If you’ve gone into the coffee shop, you’ve gone too far.’ This assistant, almost retirement age and shod in a pristine example of C&H’s hideous uniforms, should have taken me downstairs to the glasses herself. Not only to be helpful but to also close the sale.

Did I buy anything? – 0/20

No. I couldn’t find the reading glasses.

The Interweb – 8/20

Amazingly the featured item that adorns the homepage of is seat pads! (Go and check if you don’t believe me). But that is were the excitement stops for the website is bland and uninviting. Click the ‘About C&H’ and you will be treated to a history of the company that is dull and grammatically challenged. Further proof of shoddy branding is the use of their company name ‘C&H Fabrics’. According to ‘About C&H’, the company was rebranded to just ‘C&H’ in 2006 – so why the use of ‘C&H Fabrics’ around the rest of the site? A large red box at the top of the page proudly advertises free delivery on orders over £100 but I can see few customers ever spending that much at C&H. Apart from curtains which can be very expensive, the majority of C&H’s lines are cheap and undesirable, so why offer free delivery on orders of £100 or more? When you consider that John Lewis offers free delivery on orders over £30, C&H seem very out of touch with the internet shopper.

Overall – 28/100

I gave C&H a fair chance at changing my view of the company, and went into the Winchester branch with an open mind. However, the store disappointed me. It was too old-fashioned, and devoid of any passion or imagination, which is a shame because I do think there is a need for such a store in our high streets. Perhaps I am too young to appreciate what C&H does but, worryingly, I think the company is more at fault than I am.

Next Week: Montezuma’s, Winchester.

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