Habitat to shake up its customer service model

New Habitat head of UK trading Mark Hislop is testing a string of initiatives, including a team of 'super sellers', at its latest store in the West Midlands.

The 19,500 sq ft (1,810 sq m) shop at Solihull, which opened on Wednesday, is the first glimpse of Hislop's strategy since he succeeded Richard Millar in November.

'We will use Solihull as a step-change store,' said Hislop. 'It is an evolution of our thinking, and successful elements may roll out to the rest of the estate.'

The former Tesco head of non-food is keen to improve customer service, and the 35-strong Solihull staff will include eight so-called super or 'active sellers'.

'It's not about the hard sell, but initiating customer contact, imparting product information and closing the sale in a positive way,' said Hislop. 'The look is different and staff behaviour will be different. We will see how the elements wrap together and what is unlocked.'

The Ikano-owned chain will also test free home delivery for items costing more than£200, an interior design facility and carry-to-car service.

Habitat has enjoyed a free publicity piggyback from comparisons to M&S Lifestore. 'Thank you Lifestore,' said Hislop. 'We have a business that is trading well and whatever we do we will not throw the baby out with the bathwater.'

Hislop intends to concentrate on selling furniture rather than accessories, and is targeting out- and edge-of-town locations. A further three stores will open this year, with four more in the pipeline. Overseas openings include Monaco and Athens.