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  • Nick Hague and Paul Hague

Upside down management works

John Timpson's business isn't glamorous. He repairs shoes, cuts keys, does some watch repairs, and offers other services which you would imagine few people want nowadays. You would be wrong. His business continues to grow and is currently delivering revenues of around £300 million per annum with profits nudging £15 million.


John Timpson has learned the hard way. He started life in his father’s shoemaking business. That didn't go too well . Imports eroded profitability and internal squabbling at board level resulted in him having to leave the family business at a very young age.


In 1987 John bought out the shoe repair side of the business and this has been his focus ever since. However, with shoes being so well made nowadays they don’t often break down and very few people ask for a Phillips Stick-A-Sole.


So how has John Timpson built an empire which is a business school case study? His starting point was to expand the business through a number of acquisitions. This took him into all sorts of household services including dry cleaning, key cutting, photo processing, engraving, house signs and the like. They may not be much individually but they add up to a sizeable amount. What is more, someone who calls in for one of these services is a potential lifetime customer when they learn what other household support services are available.


However, the product offer is not the magic sauce that has built the business. Timpson is a humble man. He knows this from fostering 90 children. He also knows it from the kiosks where customers arrive for service. It is the people in the kiosks who are the ambassadors of his business. He has faith in them. Indeed, he believes in them to the point that he has become one of the largest employer of ex-prisoners in the UK. He shows them trust, he explains the values of his business and the importance of customer care, and he leaves them to it. And they do a brilliant job. In return they are looked after. Not in a patronising way but in a genuine family way. They get a day off on their birthday, weekly bonuses, and the free use of the company holiday cottages. We like his rules. He doesn't have many. In his words:

'We have only two rules – that our people look the part and put money in the till. Other than that they can do whatever they think is right for the business."


John Timpson calls this upside down management. He has shared his thoughts on customer service in an amazing book - Upside Down Management: A Common Sense Guide to Better Business.


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