An Independent Electrical Store on the Isle of Man
For almost 100 years, Colebourn’s has provided the Isle of Man community with top-quality electronics and even better customer service. Staying true to its roots, you can find this electrical store on the same corner where it originally opened – four generations later! Offering a unique, family-run experience, their dedication shows, with staff happy to go the extra mile for customers.
Founded by T.H. Colebourn in 1924, Colebourn Home Entertainment Centre has built a golden reputation on the Isle of Man over the years and is family-owned to this day.
We were lucky enough to speak to MD Tony Lyth, the founder’s grandson-in-law, about the history of Colebourn’s and their vision for the future. So how does the store’s long history factor in today?
“We hope our history informs customers that we are very experienced! Managing a modern electrical retail business is very demanding and requires a comprehensive knowledge of the industry.”
Set up in 1924
Since opening, Colebourn’s has led the way as an early adopter of new technology. In the 1950s there were no transmitters on the IOM, despite rapid expansion throughout the UK. Colebourn’s came to the rescue in 1952, operating the IOM’s first television booster to provide coverage for the BBC’s Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
“It seemed the IOM was being left out, and as far as Colebourn’s was concerned, that would not do! We were told to switch it off by various authorities but firmly refused, as doing so would deny people the opportunity to see the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.”
Eventually, the IOM received official permission, and the BBC later delivered their first temporary station. Colebourn’s even provided instructions and assistance to get the station running without delay. Impressive, right? We wanted to know how these milestones have helped shape the business:
“Being first to provide radio and television on the IOM, and having a long background in evolving technologies, has given TH Colebourn Ltd. a trusted heritage that customers respect.”
The company founder, TH himself, also had an interesting background in technology. A qualified radio engineer in the 1920s, and an Associate of the Institute of Wireless Technology in 1933, TH’s love of new electronics has set the tone for the company today.
In 2017, wireless technology is more popular than ever, with Wi-Fi in more and more homes around the country. With this in mind, we asked Tony about the impact of internet shopping on the business:
“It has affected all brick and mortar retailers, but we have an impressive website to advertise our in-store products and services.
“A survey showed that a large percentage of electronics being bought by Isle of Man residents came from the internet. However, fewer appliances are bought on the internet due to carriage charges. As a result, we’ve grown this part of the business substantially in the last five years.
“We have to offer services that cannot be found online. Generally, if someone wants a large appliance, it’s because their old one has failed and they want it delivered and installed quickly.”
Life on the Island
Based off the UK mainland, Colebourn’s IOM location poses some unique challenges for the business.
“Operating on the IOM often means logistical challenges for our suppliers. This is especially true with large, heavy appliances – they have to be shipped by sea, which can be disrupted by weather or technical problems. In the winter, boats may not sail for a couple of days due to gales.
“Stock can take considerably longer to get to the Island than to other places, so we probably carry more stock than other stores of a similar size. However, it’s part of life on an island – there are even days when there are no newspapers and food in shops!”
Luckily, this store’s location does have its upsides. While it can be hard to reach, the IOM’s low-tax economy attracts a number of high-profile residents, who provide big business for Colebourn’s.
“We have more than our fair share of high-worth residents who are looking for top-quality products and professional installation. Some of our installations have involved fitting tens of thousands of pounds of AV equipment!”
At The Races
When we think of the IOM, we think of the TT Races. Not only do Tony’s team provide equipment for commentaries and coverage of the race, they even sell goods to some of the racers!
“Many racers have been into the shop. Some of the racers are locals, who are customers. A lot of celebrities have lived here over the years too, including Nigel Mansell and Jeremy Clarkson, both of whom were valued customers.
“On race days we sell small radios so that spectators can listen to the race commentary. We also supply quite a lot of equipment on a short-term rental basis to beer tents, campsites and so on.”
On top of the world-renowned TT Races, the Isle of Man also hosts two weeks of racing for the Manx Classic in August and a week of racing in July. While the races bring trade to Colebourn’s, we wondered if so much wheel-to-wheel action poses an issue for deliveries.
“Road racing and closed roads are something we have to work around. We continue to offer deliveries and installations during these periods. However, it can become impossible during the TT, as roads that aren’t closed are gridlocked!
“We have to plan our delivery schedule around road closures on non-race days. Sometimes, the races take place on non-race days due to bad weather, which can be frustrating. But everybody that lives here accepts it.”
At the Centre of the Community
From the beginning, Colebourn’s has been keenly involved in the local community. Always looking for ways to give back, we asked Tony for more detail on how Colebourn’s have played their part.
We involve ourselves in the community in various ways, from sponsoring a local rugby team to providing timing equipment and screens at the finishing line of the IOM Parish walk. This is one of the biggest community events, an 85-mile walk throughout the villages of the IOM.
“We are often approached by IOM charities and always try to assist where we can, whether donating raffle prizes or lending equipment and staff to setup.”
In recent years, they’ve been involved in a number of high-profile projects, adding to their already impressive portfolio:
“Three years ago, we supplied and installed 270 ceiling-mounted televisions in a working hospital. It was a very high-profile project, and we felt privileged to be the preferred company.”
Colebourn’s care for the community, and it’s clear the feeling is mutual. Of the 17 members of staff, seven have worked at the company for over 30 years – including Office Manager Diane Magee, who has put in an impressive 52 years to date! While Colebourn’s have no problem retaining staff, they’re also extending opportunities for young people to work with them.
“We have taken on new, younger members of staff in the sales department and as sales installation engineers. All our installation engineers are trained in-house.”
Better for Being Independent
Colebourn’s has certainly made a name for itself across the island and in the local community, despite competition from big-name retailers. As independent stores increasingly find themselves going toe-to-toe with national chains and online sellers, we wanted to know how Colebourn Home Entertainment Centre continues to stand its ground.
“There are still lots of opportunities for the independent retailer moving forward. The independent can quickly adapt to new technologies and customers’ needs for an overall better service. We have increased our team to cope with the increasing complexity of today’s products.
“We remain competitive by offering services that the multiples do not. Custom install is a large part of our business, and with the help of a sub-contractor, we can complete complex fixtures.
“There’s still competition from the multiples and the internet. However, we have a limited population, so we make sure we look after our customers and give top level service.”
As a member of the Euronics group, Colebourn’s enjoy some of the benefits of larger chain stores, while still keeping their independence. Tony told us about the advantages of being a Euronics member.
“Being a member of Euronics has been a big benefit. Having access to the right products at the right price is so important to be competitive. The size and scale of the buying group has certainly helped us to be competitive in a very different retail environment. Having the ability to negotiate agency products has been a real help.”
As technology evolves, Tony expects to see Colebourn’s success continue to grow:
“Technology will always continue to develop faster, which will create opportunities to provide expertise that can’t be purchased online or by the multiples. The Smart Home is very nearly here, and we must be in a position to take advantage.”
We’re sure that Tony’s forward-looking attitude and dedicated staff will continue to make Colebourn’s a success well into the future! With their experienced team and personal approach to customer care, we’re proud to have Colebourn Home Entertainment Centre as a member of the Euronics group.
Colebourn Home Entertainment Centre has served the IOM for nearly a century, and we look forward to celebrating their 100th birthday! Offering great product knowledge and customer care, you can explore Colebourn’s products here. If you prefer to shop online, check out our selection of the Euronics range on our website.