DIY stores build a nationwide co-op

If you're looking for a DIY and hardware business that has all the expertise of a small, independent trader but is able to offer the sort of value...

If you're looking for a DIY and hardware business that has all the expertise of a small, independent trader but is able to offer the sort of value and promotions you expect from a major chain, then Mica might be the answer. And even better, it's a co-operative.

Mica is a co-operatively-owned chain of more than 60 independent hardware stores based in all parts of the country.

Mica actually has its roots in South Africa where it is the country’s leading DIY and hardware brand, but having operated in the UK for the past 15 years as a 60 per cent member-owned company a vote at this year’s annual conference saw a Mica DIY Ltd complete its move to 100 per cent member ownership.

 Steve Ball, the company’s just-appointed Chief Executive and a former director of the company said: “Both myself and our new Chairman David Morris and the member board wanted to promote co-operative principles within the company, but we felt we couldn’t do that while the company was partly owned by non-members. So we proposed the change to 100 per cent member ownership, which was accepted.

“I now run the business on a day-to-day basis on behalf of the members, keeping in close contact with the chairman and having quarterly meetings with the board of members.”

Following the change to 100 per cent membership, Mr Ball resigned his directorship and took on the chief role in-line with the co-operative’s constitution. 

“This is a member owned co-operative and it is right that members should be the ultimate decision makers. I continue to attend board meetings, but do not have a vote. 

“Becoming a co-operative will further re-inforce to consumers the positive nature of shopping at independent Mica Hardware/DIY Stores. We believe our new status will appeal to retailers who are looking to retain their independence whilst gaining the advantages of a national brand, to launch or develop their businesses”

The principle behind Mica is a simple one: providing members, the independent traders, with the marketing expertise and purchasing power of a large company, while retaining their independent expertise, customer service and local decision making.

Mica stores can be found across large areas of the UK, from the Isle of Skye to South Wales. The Mica branding is not prescriptive — customers will recognise a Mica store as such, but they will not all have the same fascias or signage. 

Members pay a one-off membership fee which both covers the cost of branding and shares for the member. All Mica decisions are taken on a one-person-one-vote basis and that applies whether a member owns one small store or a chain of stores — each member still only has one vote.

Mica has a team of retail development managers who support members with their marketing, branding and staff training. Mr Ball argues that even in times of economic difficulty, and perhaps especially in such times, retailers should not be tempted to cut back on their marketing budgets.

“During times of recession it is important, but also most difficult, to maintain your marketing expenditure. If you cut your marketing budget while the larger players carry on, all you’ve done is reduced your share of a competitive market.”

Mica stores don’t expect to compete with the big DIY hypermarkets such as B&Q or Focus on a like-for-like basis (average Mica store sizes are 1,000–2,000 sq ft compared to perhaps 40,000-60,000 for a large hypermarket), but Mr Ball suggests they are more competitive than people think.

”The big chains will advertise a number of lines very cheaply to tempt people in the hope they will then fill their trolley with other non-discounted items. When you compare the overall price of that trolley you may find you could have bought the same set of products cheaper at a Mica store.”

Mica produces monthly promotional leaflets with the products featured being selected by members. The leaflets are distributed by Royal Mail in postcode sectors around stores.

As a 100 per cent member-owned company, Mica is still finding its feet. It has just joined Co-operatives UK and is talking to other co-operatives about funding possibilities to help it to grow the business.

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