Key Cutting or Cutting Edge?


I was recently at an HR conference and was fortunate enough to watch a keynote speech from John Timpson, the chairman of the family-owned retail chain of the same name.  His son James is the MD.  He later agreed for me to interview him and this video blog or vlog reveals some of the highlights of what he shared. In this video, we'll talk about key cutting or cutting edge.


TIMPSONS are the go-to people for key cutting and shoe and watch repairs, and have just over 1600 shops and about 4000 colleagues, of which about 90-95% are customer-facing.  “We don’t have people doing jobs that are not related to what we do in the shops.” John told me.  “They’re all there to support the people who serve the customer.”


Key Cutting or Cutting Edge?And its obviously working,   Annual sales last year moved closer to £200m as the roll out of branches in Tesco and Sainsbury's car parks continues apace.  And this is up from £169.4m a year earlier. Pre-tax profit surged from £13.5m to £17.3m over the same period, while operating profit grew from £11.9m to £16.3m.  Maybe we can all learn something from this?


Some of you may have read John’s book “Upside Down Management” which is all about the very different way they do things at Timpsons.  This is the Timpson Upside Down Management model.


I was able to recount a story to John from another delegate at the conference, whom I met over one of the break periods.  She had shared her story with John already, and he clearly remembered speaking to her.  She told me a very positive experience she’d had with her husband’s belt involving one of Timpsons London shops.  “Seems her experience mirrored everything you said” I told John.  She was also impressed that he not only knew the shop, which had since closed, but she was even more amazed when he immediately remembered that the manager had relocated to Paddington!  “It was like you knew every member of staff!” I said, only to be reminded that at Timpsons they’re called colleagues, not staff.  I told John that the delegate went on to say that she wouldn’t shop anywhere else for the things they provide plus she’d become a great advocate for your business!!  But more impressive was just how John seemed to remember such details, even though it was a while back.  He even remarked that the same manager was now in Balham, South London!


At Timpsons they only have two rules:

Rule #1: Look The Part

Rule #2: Put The Money In The Till

Timpsons have two rules: Look the part and Put money in the till Key Cutting or Cutting Edge


Just lovely, I thought!  And so simple!  Timpsons is a private business, so they can afford to be quirky AND different.  And how about this… the immense trust they extend to staff to settle complaints.


And their approach to recruitment just beggars belief!  Typically Area Managers run the recruitment interviews.  There’s no process, no check-list of questions, its just a conversation. “They just get the candidate to talk about themselves.  Timpsons hire on personality, using the Mr Men scorecard” he said.  This is in two parts.  John declared that this was absolutely essential for the way they do things.


I quizzed him about being concerned that unconscious bias might creep in and his puzzled reaction told me I’d broken one of Timpson’s cardinal rules: do not use management speak!  He either genuinely didn’t know what I meant or was just asking me to say it in a more everyday way.  As another one of the Timpson policies is to actively recruit ex-offenders, I used the example of people’s typical stereo-typing of an ex-convict although on reflection, I wished I’d simply referred to his calling the scorecard Mr Men instead of Mrs Women!


Key Cutting or Cutting Edge?


John then avoided the question by saying that the Timpson approach “concentrates the mind on personality and takes you away from anything to do with their CV.  It works if you’ve got the right people doing the interview.  It takes one to know one!”  Having said that, John recognised that some people are useless at judging others – they tend not to be a 9 or a 10. “On the whole, we don’t have people like that, if we have ‘em, we say goodbye to ‘em.”  Their approach to letting people go seems as maverick as their approach to attracting them, but you can’t deny it seems to be working!


At least once a month, they make at least one colleague’s dream come true…just like Cilla black used to in her Surprise! Surprise! programme.  One month it might be paying for them to visit a long-lost family overseas, another month buying someone a dog!  A lot of these ideas came from John himself.


So what about this surprising , yet at the same time, innovative, idea they have to deliberately recruit ex-offenders?   After all, there’s not a lot of competition for candidates in this demographic!  Starting in 2004 after a prison visit by the MD James Timpson, they established the Timpson Foundation to not only give ex-offenders a job, they provided funds to set up home and get re-established in society.  Of course, the same Mr Men interview process is used – Timpsons still looked first and foremost for personality.  Within 3 years they had interviewed 100 prisoners and employed 24.   Now nearly 10% of their workforce are ex-offenders.  It’s interesting to observe that while the national average rate (SLIDE 9) for re-offending after leaving prison without a job is 61%, the rate falls to 19% for those who have a job.  Remarkably though, the re-offending rate for those who get a job with Timpsons drops significantly to just 3%.


This is particularly relevant as the recently published report from the parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee found that half (50%) of more than 1,800 surveyed employers would not consider offering a former offender a job, often citing concerns around skills, capability and reliability, as well as potential damage to the public image of the business. Rumours and myths also play a part in discouraging potential employers, the report found.


All in all, it was a refreshing look at a simple management and leadership philosophy, devoid of the normal corporate BS and very authentic.  Successful too.


That said, and judging by the some of the shaking heads in the conference audience, I suspect some of the Timpson way was a step too far for some of the larger institutions present.


I invite you to share your reactions about our video "Key Cutting or Cutting Edge?"using the comments box below, Thanks for watching.


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