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In a Clas of One
Member Name: Nibelung
Date: 22/08/10, updated on 24/08/10 (478 review reads)
Advantages: Very wide useful stock base
Disadvantages: No quite sure who they're trying to appeal to. No on-line odering or mail order in UK
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?
Summary: Department store covering leisure, DIY, electrical and multimedia goods