Martin Peet is nothing short of an inspiration. Not only for his (allegedly) fine impersonation of Meat Loaf, but also for his growing chain of sweet shops, set to top 100 stores within the next five weeks.
“Everyone thinks they can do it better than me, yet there is a science to retailing which has to be learnt and practiced over many years and confectionery retailing is no exception,” says Martin, founder and current owner of Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe.
Location location location…
Confident that he can successfully determine the viability of a Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe within five minutes of visiting it, Martin will firstly count the number of people that walk past during those precious minutes and then he will let his head work the matter out, taking factors such as rent costs, general location and the physical site itself in account.
“Having helped to select almost 100 Mr Simms shops now, I think it would be fair to say that I am pretty good at it. Whilst it might be easy to find a potential site, it is much harder to find the right site that will make a successful business” he says.
The conception of the brand
The story of Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe started in May 2004 with a 1958 copy of Confectionery and Ice Cream magazine. Martin’s eye was drawn to a particular image and he kept coming back to look at it for months. The image was of an old fashioned sweet shop piled from floor to ceiling with all manner of sweets.
No stranger to retailing, Martin knew little about sweets. Up to the age of 29, he successfully ran many newsagents, latterly as his own business. His retail career then turned to sofas with a key role in DFS for ten years.
Totally captured by the sweet shop image, Martin set about researching how he might open one for himself. Hancocks, the local confectionery cash and carry became quite used to seeing Martin wander along the aisles, buying nothing but asking plenty.
Eventually Martin found his first shop in Leek, Staffordshire. It was just 160 square feet with a weekly rent of £35. The first Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe opened in September 2004 after nine weeks of hard graft to fit the shop out – Martin had failed woodwork at school!
An instant hit with the locals, Martin quickly opened a second shop in Longton, Stoke-on-Trent.
His previous retailing experience had taught him to always put the biggest draw at the back of the store in order to maximise sales. This theory resulted in the famous back wall of sweet jars that is now commonplace in every Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe. Martin carefully developed his layout using many retailing principles such as the understanding that people tend to shop clockwise and the impact of lighting on sales.
What’s in a name?
There is an interesting story concerning where the name “Mr Simms” came from. One evening at a local PTA social event, Martin was discussing the name of his potential sweet shop with a good friend, who stressed the need for it to have an identity. Forever the entertainer, Martin had dressed up as a teacher for the event and set about playing the part. Likened to Alistair Simm from St Trinian’s, the nickname quickly stuck and the required identity was found.
The franchise opportunity
Having opened six shops, Martin was finding Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe quite hard work. It was at that point he was approached by the BBC to appear in a business documentary called “Mind your own business”. The programme saw Martin swap places with a sweet store in Bromsgrove, helping to give it a make-over somewhat akin to Changing Rooms.
Within days, Martin was bombarded with letters from people asking him for advice. He replied to all of them. One in particular caught his attention and he agreed to travel to London for a nominal fee, to help the writer select a new site for his sweet shop. The man then asked Martin if he would help him to build the shop and in fact if he could use the Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe name. The idea for a franchise was born and the first one was opened in Romford.
Incidentally, the man that ran the flower shop opposite to the Romford sweet store kept popping over to tell Martin that a sweet shop would never work there. That man now has three very successful Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe franchises of his own!
And so now, would-be sweet shop owners can consider the benefits of becoming a Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe franchisee. The costs are really quite transparent. There is a fee to fit the shop out and then the franchisee pays a flat rate fee of £240 a month. This gives them the full attention of Martin when they are selecting their site, his help and advice as the shop is built, a detailed manual and Martin’s ongoing help and advice going forward.
“The Ashford franchise recently contacted me to say that sales had been a bit slow in the first weeks of January so I decided to go and take a look. Whilst at the shop, seven customers came in and could not buy what they asked for. This is a big issue! If you consider what else they might have purchased at the same time and multiply that by the number of days the shop is open in the year, you get to a big figure. Availability is paramount” says Martin.
Tapping into the younger market
It has to be said that Martin never stops. Every week he is changing displays around by just a few centremetres in order to make additional space or improve the display.
He recently carried out a talk to 100 local school children. Their enthusiasm led to many interesting ideas, one of which is to launch at Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe in a few weeks – a blue bubble gum chocolate bar.
Martin puts great store on maintaining strong relationships with a close set of suppliers. Whilst many would offer him the world to have a space on his shelves, Martin sticks to those that remain consistently reliable and proactive.
So just what happens now for Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe? Well, Martin has already received two offers to purchase his sweetie business but he is not ready to stop playing the role of Mr Simms and has declined to make a decision at the moment.
“I am just too passionate about the business and thoroughly enjoy it. I’m not ready to part with the love of my life just yet” he said.
And so with accelerating competition, Martin is simply spurred on to work even harder. “200 shops are certainly within reach and 500 shops might be possible. I have to remember that we are almost at 100 and I haven’t advertised the franchise yet!”
Ah yes, that reminds me, Martin launched a website to advertise his Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe franchise just last week. The address is www.mrsimmsfranchise.co.uk
But the story doesn’t stop there as you might imagine. Limerick in Ireland saw its first Mr Simms franchise open just before Christmas and the results were astounding. So much so that five more shops will open in Ireland imminently.
Martin now has his own shop fitting company called Charles Worth Shopfitters. Like the Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe franchise, it is not well advertised but kept reassuringly busy with the growth of Mr Simms.
Having received enquiries from Malta and Portugal, Martin can see the ex-patriot market potential and has now trademarked the company name for the European Union.
A Mr Simms trailer has been travelling around the Staffordshire area for the last year and has certainly proved its worth, opening up yet another area for Martin to develop.
Is that the end of the story? Not quite. Martin was recently lucky enough to be introduced to Meat Loaf - his longstanding idol. Eager to please, he took a big hamper of sweets with him. The following day, Meat Loaf called Martin to ask whether he had a shop in the states, as he would buy a great deal from it. Another idea for the Peet list I suspect.
For further information about Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe you can call Martin Peet on 07812 033 618. Get ready to be inspired.