How a UK brand dominates a tough sector with purpose, passion & a kick-ass culture

There’s no such thing as the perfect brand. However, our decades working with leading brands to help them with their brand experience, have shown us that there are clear winners across every market and in every sector. These are the brands who stand up, stand out and stand firm. And with a full trophy cabinet and a much-studied business model, Richer Sounds is undeniably one of these brands. 

EX = CX

Earlier this month in his regular Sunday Times article, Julian Richer, founder of Richer Sounds (UK’s biggest hi-fi and home cinema equipment retailer) explained his award winning style of brand leadership. It’s an approach we’ve kept an eye on for over twenty years, since first featuring the brand in our book Uncommon Practice. In his Sunday Times column, Julian spoke about the clear link between satisfied employees and satisfied customers. He advised readers to have a clear customer-focused purpose, invest in the employee experience and keep a close eye on the numbers. Unfortunately, for many brands only the latter gets much executive attention.

Richer Sounds is a customer-orientated, employee-owned business with each colleague united by a passion for music and movies. The brand is also unashamed to promote their staff teams, which consist of many budding musicians, DJs, and film buffs, all obsessed with great sound and vision and a desire to share their expertise with customers. And unlike their competitors over the years, (many of whom no longer trade), Richer Sounds recruits on ‘natural friendliness, rather than high-pressure sales skills.’ 

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Julian Richer wholeheartedly embedded the principles of ‘Uncommon Practice’ from the very start, ensuring his people were driven by a clear purpose of delivering an exceptional customer experience. However, he realised that the key enabler to doing so was to create a distinctive employee experience, supported by passionate leadership. This clear and consistent focus has seen the brand enjoy profitable growth over the intervening years.

Which? Retailer of the Year Winner: Richer Sounds 

More recently Julian has been highly praised across competitor and comparator industries, now advising heads of business such as Marks and Spencer CEO, Steve Rowe. Simultaneously, Richer Sounds has been effectively lapping other brands in its sector, picking up Retailer of the Year for umpteenth time and for the second year running. 

For its ‘consistently high customer scores, remarkable value for money and generous product guarantees’, the brand saw off stiff competition from the likes of John Lewis, Seasalt, and Skechers. In the same awards, Richer Sounds also impressed as one of the best overall technology retailers, earning an impressive customer satisfaction score of 92% and a Which? Recommended Provider title. 

Uncommon Practice

As we reflect on the twentieth anniversary of our book ‘Uncommon Practice – People who deliver a great brand experience’, and the inclusion of Richer Sounds in that publication, we are not surprised to see Julian’s approach to brand leadership continue to reap benefits. In fact, over the last two decades the culture of Richer Sounds has further strengthened its purpose-led approach to retail; it has continued to evolve and refine its distinctive culture.

Richer culture:

  • Be clear on the brand purpose/mission statement
  • Only create rules if they’re really needed
  • Give recognition to your teams and reward them often
  • Lead with a sense of urgency or ‘siege mentality’
  • Get feedback and share any customer service measurement results
  • Drive innovation and employee engagement with suggestion schemes 
  • Keep meetings to a minimal with small numbers in attendance 
  • Behave ethically at all times

What we have observed across retail is that providing remarkable customer and employee experiences is uncommon. The very premise behind our book Uncommon Practice is that the success of delivering memorable, stand out experiences inherently stems from a brand’s distinctive culture that is uniquely cultivated to meet the needs of the customers. 

Companies like Richer Sounds have defied conventional wisdom and broken the traditional rules of management to engender exceptional levels of commitment from their people, who, united behind shared passions and a clear brand vision, translate their belief in the company into exceptional customer service. It seems so obvious but unfortunately, it remains uncommon, otherwise retailers like BHS, Woolworths and C&A might still be trading whilst Richer Sounds completes two decades worth of victory laps.

Caffeine and Smith+Co insight…

Twenty years ago we knew that Julian Richer brought a fresh approach to retailing and that Richer Sounds was a brand that was going to fly. We knew this because even then Julian spoke passionately about the importance of standing up with a clear purpose, standing out from competitors in a way that created value for target customers and standing firm through creating a distinctive employee experience and culture that sustains the brand in the long-term.

If you want your brand to be thriving twenty years from now, and not following the likes of BHS into the graveyard of what might have been, there are lessons to be learned from the Richer Sounds story. Purpose-led businesses with a passion for delivering remarkable employee and customer experiences are invariably more efficient, more recognised and far more future-proofed than those that focus solely on the bottom line. These are the real truths of business, ignore them at your peril.

Our job is to help brands stay in the game for the long haul. We have seen the commercial benefits of leading with purpose across the customer and employee experience, and just like twenty years ago, we recognise when a brand has the vision to go the distance, but they just need the tools to help them. 

Congratulations to Richer Sounds, see you in another twenty years. Click here more information on the work of Caffeine & Smith+Co.

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There’s no such thing as the perfect brand. However, our decades working with leading brands to help them with their brand experience, have shown us that there are clear winners across every market and in every sector. These are the brands who stand up, stand out and stand firm. And with a full trophy cabinet and a much-studied business model, Richer Sounds is undeniably one of these brands. 
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Work culture is a vital ingredient to sustaining success, but how does a brand create and then sustain that culture? The answer is through creating an employee experience that mirrors the customer experience. Ronan Dunne, former CEO of O2 and current Strategic Advisor to the Verizon CEO, sums this up well: ‘If you cannot turn your employees into fans there’s no way that you will turn customers into fans.’
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