* Prices may differ from that shown
I find it hard to define Clas Ohlson, but ever since one opened in Manchester I find it very hard to walk past, without going for a little browse inside, and probably buying something. It has clearly developed from a traditional general store, and sells a wide range of goods as a consequence. This means that all the family is happy to shop there. All of their goods seem to represent good value, so I'm happy to shop there too.
The homeware section stocks useful kitchen gadgets and equipment, and represents one of the more "feminine" parts of the store, they also sell lighting, electronic goods and gadgets, a small range of toys and art equipment but it is in their tools and outdoor sections that members of my family are most likely to be found. The extensive diy range means that you can just call in for something, rather than having to make a special trip to an out of town megastore, and their outdoor and sporting goods are wide-ranging and appealing. We own their bicycle repair kits and flasks, along with camping mugs and bowls. They also have a great range of torches (including a really useful one that is constantly recharging itself when not in use), and with the Scandinavian knack of producing stylish Christmas accessories, this is a must-go-to store when the festive season comes around.
I have only been to the Manchester store, so I don't know how others compare, but this one has only one pay station for 3 floors of shop. This can mean that queues are long at busy times, but the staff are usually friendly and efficient and the line moves pretty quickly. I actually find that less frustrating than trying to pick the shortest queue to stand in, as I always seem to get it wrong. I have only once had to take something back, a toaster which stopped toasting, and they were very helpful and exchanged it without any trouble at all.
Clas Ohlson is a Swedish...shop. I'm not really sure how else to describe it. Its more than just a DIY store as it also sells a variety of other items such as electronics, homewares, office supplies, cleaning products and computer equipment. Not to mention the completely random items that unpredictable pop up every now and then! If you've walked all over town looking for a specific item and just can't find it anywhere, its always worth a trip to Clas Ohlson just in case!
The branch I am reviewing is at the Arndale Centre in Manchester city centre. The shop is set out over three levels and is very bright and airy, not overcrowded with lots of space to move about, and escalators between floors. There are signs on every level listing the locations of various categories of products, which is helpful as without that you could be wandering around for hours! The checkouts are well organised, with plenty of tills and well staffed, but there are always baskets of random things to tempt you so you can often end up buying little bizarre gadgets and goodies you'll never use if you're not careful!
There are customer service point separate to the tills, and usually a few staff around so if you need to find something or need a bit of help you don't have to join the back of the queue or wander around helplessly for ages.
The products are generally of two kinds. Well known brand names at slightly cheaper prices than you might find elsewhere, or brands you've never heard of which are a lot lot cheaper! For example you can buy a Bosch power drill at Clas Ohlson but you can also buy a Cotech or Kyobi. You can buy a Russell Hobbs blender but also a Coline. I've always found that the 'value' brands at Clas Ohlson have been great quality, better than say Tesco Value or Asda Smartprice products for not much more money.
Clas ohlson also has a website you can order from. I've never done this, so can't comment on delivery speed, security etc. but the site is well laid out and has a good range of products available. They also produce a catalogue you can take home to browse through at your leisure.
Clas Ohlson is now my first stop for light bulbs, batteries, kitchen utensils, computer cables, tupperware boxes, and its also the first place I go if I'm not quite sure what I need or I have no idea where I might find the thing I'm looking for! Great value for money, a pleasant shopping environment and the chance you might find that one little 'doohicky' you never knew you needed that could change your life!
When the store opened in Manchester Arndale centre I thought it was great, no it was fantastic, to the range of products, prices and the most helpful, knowledgeable and friendly staff I have come across for a long time. Nothing was too much trouble; they were a credit to Clas Ohlson.
So what has happened now??????
Where has all the helpful friendly staff gone? If you can manage to find a member of staff they are totally disinterested, to the point of being rude and seem to want to be as unhelpful as possible.
Over the Christmas period they often had long queues at all the tills and only two tills open!! Why so many tills and so few staff? I ended up walking out, then when I returned after Christmas the items I wanted had gone up by £10 each as it was an offer.
Trying to go to the information desk is a waste of time as it is always un-staffed now, when you ask the security guard where all the staff is he says it is impossible to find them.
Hard to find products in store, I have had several incorrect products sold to me, faulty products, and instructions with products incorrect or misleading. Products out of stock, even been unable to be served as they could not find the keys to the security cabinet!!
The managers at the Manchester store need to be retrained, they cannot/will not give you the name, phone number or address of the General Manager, they say they cannot give you the address of the head office (it is on the internet) just a phone number of customer services.
Clas Ohlson learn to walk before you run, going downhill fast. The way you are going you will be closing stores faster than opening them
The web site says,
At Clas Ohlson it is clearly understood that all our customers should be completely satisfied with their purchases and become valued customers.
I think you need to tell your staff and manager this!!
NIBELUNG SHOPPING? WHATEVER NEXT?
In a world suddenly gone crazy for all things Swedish, IKEA, Stig Larsson's books, Wallender et al, the name Clas Ohlson might not yet roll off the tongue in the same way as does that of a dysfunctional detective in what is seemingly Sweden's murder capital, but it could well, and soon.
I stumbled across a branch of their store whilst browsing around Kingston (Surrey, not 'Upon Hull') on the site of the ill-fated Woolworth's in the Market Square. What caught my eye was the presence in the window of some rather good handyman's tools, powered or otherwise, followed by stationery items and computer consumables.
This, I reckoned was a store that even I wouldn't mind a browse around, and I was right.
It would be difficult to button-hole the market share that Clas Ohlson are aiming for, since I could see items in there that were going to worry W H Smith, Boots, Halfords, Toys 'R' Us, Maplin, Homebase and your friendly local boat chandlery in equal amounts, and if CO's staff know what they're talking about, then Halfords should be VERY worried.
To understand the background of Clas Ohlson, it's helpful to know a little of its history. Founder, not surprisingly called Clas Ohlson, started a mail-order business in Insjön in the Dalarna area of Sweden in 1918. Sweden was, and still is a large rural country in places, so as with the US example, a mail order firm made a lot of sense.
The first store opened in Insjön in 1926.
However, expansion to other Swedish locations didn't start till 1989. 1991 saw the first Norwegian store, followed by Finland and the first British store in 2008.
There are now stores in:-
Croydon, Kingston-upon-Thames, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Reading and Watford, bringing the Europe-wide total to 115.
Curiously, despite having a 626-page catalogue and a web-site, www.clasohlson.co.uk, there's no sign of either a UK-based mail-order facility or an on-line purchasing method. Yes, the web-site does have a shopping basket facility, but it only prints out a shopping list with serial numbers for you to take to your nearest store.
Given the huge amount of stock and the differing sizes of stores, there's also a stock-checker so you don't waste your time on a fool's errand. I'm presuming that anything your local store doesn't have can still be ordered though.
The easiest way to give you a heads-up on what they stock, is to look at the 5 main headings from the catalogue, these being:-
These then break down into sub-sections. For example, Leisure includes;-
Boating (a water activity when I went to school!)
Fun and Games (Oooh Matron!)
At the other end of the scale, Multimedia consists of:-
Sound and Vison
Photo and Video
Land Line Telephony
OK, I'd argue that "Walkie Talkies" seem like something that could have been included under Mobile Telephony, but it's an ambitious list to live up to, including as it does, computer consumables, digital cameras, laser printers and mp3 players, not to mention actual mobiles.
The Kingston store is the only branch I've been in, but I think we can at least expect a corporate similarity to run through all locations.
An information service desk features large by the front door. Here, you can check stock availability or just the location for goods you're not sure of. After all, if you've never been there before, the daunting array of departments listed might be a tad confusing to the eye. Herein lays the one major cause for concern I had of the place. On one hand it feels like the small goods department of an IKEA, only instead of light fittings and switches, this one sells cases for iPhones and boat accessories along with bike inner tubes and face painting kits! It ALSO sells light fittings and switches.
As for value for money, it's a little difficult to judge against any items I know the price of, since many of their goods are European brands of which I have no experience, or in the case of their own brand tools (CO Tech), you can only set them side by side with, for example Wickes' own brand.
Other own-brand goods adopt the CO Line logo, for instance CO Line electronic bathroom scales at £9.99.
My limited experience of staff service levels was good. Polite, efficient and friendly seem to be the orders of the day.
Warranties are for two years unless otherwise stated.
Kingston is a sea-sick making 40 minute but single bus-ride away for me.
One major concern I have relates to the sheer scale of the catalogue, and given, as I've said before, that the stores must vary in size, they don't stand a snowflake-in-hell's chance of stocking everything at every store. Therefore, the catalogue becomes an instant source of interest and subsequent disappointment rolled into one. This is doubly annoying as they have no on-line ordering facility.
Maybe this is to come, given the firm's mail-order origins?
Call me strange if you will, but one of the things I love doing whilst on holiday is going into non-touristy shops, I find supermarkets overseas a source of constant fascination. My slightly off the wall shopping habits are what lead to me first coming across Clas Ohlson, in Bergen, Norway, whilst on the hunt for an umbrella. I still have said brolly today, a magnificent affair printed with many of the items the shop sells, it's not a supermarket by the way but more a DIY shop - sort of.
Now the Clas Ohlson experience has made it to the UK. There are 7 stores around the country at time of writing, from Kingston, to Leeds, and the store I visit in Reading - Scandinavian shopping has replaced what used to be Woolworths. I first was made aware of the shop when a catalogue appeared through my door - the catalogue which is also available online pretty well sums up what Clas Ohlson is and is full of all kinds of things you didn't know existed. Perusing it is almost as fascinating as visiting the shop; a random flick through my copy reveals a "tick remover", a Sauna thermometer and one of these signs for the loo door that is of a little boy weeing into a pot.
That's not to say that the shop sells things you don't need - when you walk through the doors you are bound to see something that appeals. The store has quite traditional DIY sections selling tools and the like with branded names you would recognise, a good amount of the kind of things that the computer savy might require, there's also hardware and all you might need for the kitchen and bathroom in your house. If you happen to be into camping, fishing or boating or you will probably love this store which has all kinds of things for those hobbies, from buoys through to tents and toilets. It's like a little bit of an insight into life in Scandinavia in the heart of Reading.
On my last visit I bought a great funky insulated picnic bag complete with plates and glasses for £14.99, it's also where I go sometimes to find craft items for my children, their felt tips at £4.99 for 25 are a make I've never heard of (Carioca) but are the best we have found anywhere. If you've spotted something in the catalogue prior to coming you can print off a list before coming from their website or check on-screen at the store entrance - me I prefer to wander around the maze-like layout (very reminiscent of Ikea actually) and find myself tempted by clips for my food bags or thinking I should really take up painting - that's watercolours not actual decorating which I detest. Some of the aisles are full of the mundane - there's rather a lot of electrical items, switches, lightbulbs, screws and things, but there are also some great things to find, many of them of an unfamiliar brand and a little bit different to the norm.
Price wise some items are very well priced, on other items you would perhaps fare better elsewhere, I'm not a DIY expert but the power tools didn't seem cheaper than in other shops. I'd be loathe to buy a "Coline" household appliance or hair dryer just because I am not familiar with the name, but all products are apparently guaranteed for two years with a 30 day refund policy. I've never had cause to use this so cannot comment on how good this actually is, but their website does say they pride themselves on making sure their customers are happy.
In store I've always found the service to be very good, the staff are friendly and helpful, the store is clean if confusingly laid out and certainly stocks a huge range of items.
I'm not really sure who the Clas Ohlson typical customer is in the UK, though the store I got to is normally moderately busy. I think possibly they might find it quite hard to establish themselves here if the other stores are on the High Street like the Reading one is - we are more used to going to Retail Parks for our DIY needs and the shop is a bit of a hodge podge of things I think - quite hard to define and perhaps in an area of the market already quite amply covered in the UK by other stores.
That said I thoroughly recommend a browse of the catalogue for curiosity's sake alone - it's a bit like looking through one of those magazines you find in Sunday Paper supplements, with bells on - or Tick removers more accurately. Fascinating stuff. Likewise if there is a store in your area do visit it at least once, you will be pleased you did, it's quite an experience. Details of the stores and that catalogue can be found on the store's website. Clas Ohlson is hard to sum up, but definitely an interesting shop, in a strange way. Don't take my word for it, go visit, or if you can't have a browse of the catalogue and you'll see what I mean!
Clas Ohlson is a Swedish chain store which sells quite a lot of things, and the one I will be reviewing is the branch in Watford, Hertfordshire; which is one of a few that is in UK at the moment!
~~~LOCATION AND ACCESS~~~
The branch in Watford is situated in the Harlequin Shopping Centre in the lower high street, which is extremely accessible by London Overground (Watford High Street Station) and many major bus routes travelling through the town centre.
The store has taken over the old Zavvi store in the Harlequin, and is opposite Borders, Boots area and is next to GAME. The inside of the store is also quite funky... as it has two levels, with half levels as well... It is an interesting layout and will provide you with quite a bit of a wander round.
The store sells a range of goods, mostly hardware, household goods and a select range of media. I took a good walk through the store, and managed to find a grappling hook amidst toolboxes, canvases, emulsion and acrylic paint; and bicycle horns. Everything else from pens, paper, clocks, kitchenware and so on, can also be found within the store.
I was also astounded by the media there... although it was a small section. They have video games, as well as a select few consoles.
Most of the goods are averagely priced, and nothing is THAT expensive. Video games are on the lower end of the scale, with prices rivalling online retailers of quite recent games.
~~~STAFF AND SERVICE~~~
There is quite a lot of staff in the store, maybe because it is relatively new. Nonetheless most of them were helpful and will ask if you need help looking for something.
The store is relatively new to Britain, but through its range of products and competitive pricing, it could definitely become a big high street contender. The store this reminds me of is Woolworths, as it contains such a large variety of different products for the home... all it lacks is Pic n Mix!
For all the odd bits and bobs you need around the house, or for a major redecoration, or even if you're an international spy, I'm sure there's something you can find in Clas Ohlson that you would be fond of buying.