It is a big decision to change a habit of a lifetime and try something new, but in the case of Neal Palk, he took that plunge 18 months ago to take over an ailing car accessory shop after growing tired of ‘driving a desk’ everyday.
September 2013 saw Palk take over TMC Towcester the only remaining store still emblazoned with TMC in the region. However car and motorbike enthusiast Palk came across the business purely by chance as he explains:
“I wanted to buy an existing business and I have been a car and bike nut since I was 12 years old. It was purely accidental that I happened to find TMC for sale.
“When I took it over, it was 50-50 whether I carried on the name, rebadged the name or called it something completely different. I wouldn’t say that it had a wonderful reputation but it was well known. I decided to keep the name but change the colour scheme to make it look new, hence why it is now black on white out there rather than the garish orange and green of the past.”
Having taken over TMC with no previous retail experience, Palk knew immediately it would take time to get to grips with the automotive accessory world and competing with other independent automotive retailers in Towcester and the internet. However, an enthusiasm and knowledge of cars, motorbikes and DIY has helped build a solid customer base over the first 18 months:
“Ignoring any seasonality in weather terms, there is certainly a buying pattern. I do some outdoor gear and being located close to Silverstone means when it comes to the British Grand Prix, the MotoGP and the British Endurance races, I do get a bit of extra trade from the preceding days from those who have got a tent but no pegs or need an extra sleeping bag.”
As for the internet, Palk admits that competing on certain products is often futile as they often sell for less than he can buy them for (via phillip). However, there are some lines that give TMC the edge, such as selling DIY tools and fittings, fireworks, fuses, nuts and bolts for cars and the ability to order in any hard parts within 24 hours. Regular customer Jody Willis explains why he is happy to give his custom to TMC over the other accessory shops, including Halfords:
“Neal does it because he is into cars, and often I am in here for an hour or so chatting about various bits and pieces. You just don’t get that in a bigger store or on a retail park. I also know I can come in and if Neal doesn’t have it on the shelf, he can get it for me, same day, next day or in a couple of days…”
“Some things are cheaper in Halfords than they are here, and some things aren’t, but regardless I would still come here.”
In his first 18 months, Palk has come to realise that the business never really stands still, but one thing that has surprised him is the impact a well-dressed front window can have on a business, as he explains:
“I try to change the display no less than once a month and I get a lot of people looking at it.
“I had a Ferrari F1 electric toy car in the window in the lead up to the race, and lots of kids were saying to the parents they wanted it. Another time I had eight or nine Guy Fawkes made by local schoolchildren as part of a competition I ran. It was great free advertising.”
As Palk completes his second year in charge of TMC Towcester, it is fair to say that it will continue to turn heads on the town’s high street.