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In the second of our ‘Five Things…’ series, Stephen Brookes of Liverpool’s own NPK Technology laments the shopkeeper’s lot with some sage advice for anyone planning to open their own shop, and a rueful giggle for anyone who already has!  

1. Customers can get it cheaper on eBay!


It would have saved many years and a lot of effort explaining to people that, although you can get it cheaper on eBay (it’s usually not the same brand but a more affordable version), returning the item if there is a fault is a nightmare. The plants you’re growing are also really inconsiderate and they don’t care that the equipment was bought from eBay and it’s now got a fault, they want to carry on growing regardless of your warranty problems. If I’d have known this, I would have put a sign up much earlier stating, in a very polite and business-like manner, that they’re free to shop at eBay, just as long as they don’t come back to us for advice when it goes wrong, or to try and replace the broken eBay bought equipment.

2. The shop around the corner does it cheaper.


If I’d have known this, I could have dropped all my prices to match every other local shop’s rates, had lots of customers and made no money… The funny thing is, every single hydro store in the UK and the world will have one customer a day at least who says they can get the product cheaper elsewhere. Being from Liverpool, we’re a friendly bunch and the Liverpool shop owners talk, so we know that apparently, NPK does everything less expensive than everyone else and that’s precisely what we hear about every other shop in Liverpool. So it’s no surprise that the customer wants the best price, but we can now operate knowing that a few of our prices are cheaper on some products and we are more expensive on other products. I wish I’d known that it’s not good business to compete on prices in all markets, but to give the customer excellent service with expert advice to help them through the tough times, because that’s worth more than the tenner saved by the customer driving to another shop.

3. The customer's mate always knows best.


I could have saved a lot of money on books, a lot of time on the internet and even more time not experimenting and doing research, because John’s mate Bob knows it all apparently. He never measures the EC or keeps parameters with pH. He doesn’t ever calculate the correct air movement for the room or amount of lights and humidity… that’s just something that they use to sell more humidifiers! So John’s mate Bob knows it all, there isn’t a thing you can teach him because he’s been doing it for 20 years and his results are great! Don’t be John’s mate Bob and don’t be John; trust nothing and always try and do your research to see what works best for you!

4. Bagging media is a massive ball ache.


Bin bags are the bane of my life! Firstly, it’s back-breaking to put 20+ bags of growing media into bin bags. Secondly you either go bust buying good quality bin-bags or buy the cheap ones that rip, and the 20+ sacks of media need re-bagging, so you do it twice anyway. Then to try and prevent this, you double-bag with the cheap bin-bags to stop it ripping, but it costs you more while also making you do twice as much work. On top of all this, many customers will likely change their mind after they watch you bag the 19 bags of pebbles to decide then they think they’d be better with 60/40!

So to be a little smart, it might be a good idea to get the manufacturer to put the media in plain black bags for the customers… That’s until you buy a pallet of them and they don’t sell because the customers don’t trust the plain bags! Who are they, what’s in it, how does it work? I wish I’d have known bin bags would be the bane of my life, so I could try and convince everyone that hydroponics is the best way to grow. I’m sure I could slap a fancy label on some Evian and sell that to the customers, it sure seems like a lot of other companies like to sell water as well.

5. How amazing the hydroponics industry is!


We love doing what we do, but the fact that this industry is so tightly knit and family-like impresses me more each day. Despite what you may hear, the vast majority of shops get on well with each other even in similar areas. Then the relationships that the stores have with manufacturers and wholesalers is something I have never felt before. First name terms, building genuine friendships with people in an industry that has us all trying to achieve a similar goal. If I’d have known how great the hydroponics industry is, I’d have become a part of it many, many years ago.


You can catch Stephen on his new YouTube show, available for free- right now!

Read the first in our ‘Five Things..’ series here.

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