Retailer focus - Signals

Friday, June 1, 2018


Signals

Since the age of three Alastair Gardner has had a fascination with record players, which potentially makes him the most prepared owner of a hi-fi shop. In fact, so prepared was he that when he was 11 or 12 he’d already developed the plans to open his first shop!

It took a further 25 years to bring it to fruition, but the result is Signals in the Suffolk village of Trimley Saint Mary - one of the most forward thinking and original hi-fi shops in the country.

Why Signals? The answer harks back to Alastair’s prior working life in a management role for British Railways Freight. Part of the plan was to convert a former railway station into the shop, hence the name. That didn’t happen, but the conversion of a totally different style of building into a hi-fi shop is a big part of the Signals story. The company spent 24 years hidden away, working from Alastair’s home, with ex-directory telephone numbers, growing by word of mouth and the grapevine. When the time came to emerge and shout about the business, Alastair and his co-director, Andy, settled on the former Catholic Church in Trimley Saint Mary. Far from the usual hi-fi shop, this beautifully and tastefully converted building stands proud as a stunning way to display and demonstrate some of the finest hi-fi equipment.

Alastair’s truly eclectic taste in music ranges from the rock music of his youth, including Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, John Martyn, Kate Bush etc., to what he describes as ‘proper stuff’ - Benjamin Britain and Arvo Pärt. He’s quick to point out that opera’s not really his cup of tea and ‘clever’ jazz leaves him cold. But with a wide and varied interest in music and a number of listening rooms designed as ‘realistic’ domestic environments, Signals really does help point its customers in the right direction, with a decidedly laid-back approach to demonstration. The aim is to give customers the best possible experience of the products, enabling them to choose what to buy, rather than selling them something.


It’s an approach that really works, with huge loyalty shown by customers over many years. The key to the retention of customers is through getting to know them, treating them as individuals and in many instances the lines between customer and friend have become blurred. This is reflected in the number of referrals the business gets and some great comments on the forums.


Back in 2009 Alastair and Andy started holding a summer ‘bash’ which has now grown into the annual Audio Show East, which is held at Trinity Park in Ipswich. This event is a great opportunity for customers old and new and potential customers to meet the Signals team and many of the company’s suppliers.
Hi-Fi is a real passion for the pair, sometimes maybe a bit all consuming, but that means a real sense of understanding, a knowledge and a real desire to help people get the best out of their music. Music is, after all, the reason why hi-fi exists and it plays an important part in Alastair’s life outside of the shop, with live music a favourite pastime. Andy also DJs and hosts his own online radio show, with Soul music playing an important role in his life.


PMC products are a very important part of the Signals product offering, which can be traced back to Alastair’s home-built transmission line speakers from 1973. It was seeing PMC’s display at the Penta Hi-Fi Show, Heathrow, in the year that Alastair started the business, and realising they had perfected the transmission line design that led to a long-standing relationship between the two companies. When asked his all-time favourite hi-fi product, Alastair says “I shouldn’t show bias, but the Cor amplifier is awfully good…”

 

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