As the rent-to-own sector faces an All-Party Parliamentary Group inquiry, retailers should remember the importance of welcoming scrutiny.
Perhaps more than most business sectors, we retailers often feature in the public eye. Our stores are located in towns, villages and retail parks throughout Britain. Every day we transact with millions of consumers. So, it is right we should come under scrutiny and, from time to time, be asked difficult questions.
In recent weeks, the sub-sector of retail within which we at BrightHouse operate has been under a spotlight, with the announcement of an inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Debt and Personal Finance.
There are hundreds of these groups, covering the alphabet from aviation to zoo management. These informal gatherings of MPs do not have official status within Parliament, nor powers to make legislation. However, they do provide a forum for MPs to discuss issues, and can offer advice and insight.
It is important to engage with those who wish to comment on, or to understand better, our business. I often tailor my programme of store visits on a Thursday or a Friday to meet with such individuals or groups. For any retailer, engaging with potential enquirers or critics should be of value.
One misunderstanding about the rent-to-own sector is that its consumers have no choice. In fact, they have a range of options. Our competition includes not only other rent-to-own retailers, but credit-based retail models such as Shop Direct’s Littlewoods. Customers can also explore alternative sources of finance such as credit unions, or lenders such as Provident Financial.
As in any form of retailing, the customer relationship is key. Customers have more information than ever before. When they walk into our stores or look on our website they can see our service proposition, and they like it.
They also can see the total cost of every product, the APR and the weekly payments. We believe these represent excellent value. Ultimately, as in all forms of retail, the customer is judge.
In any consumer-facing business reputation is vital. In the rent-to-own model, providing a consistent quality of service and supporting our customers if they encounter difficulties is central to what we do.
It is also commercially sensible.
Our customers return for future agreements and are happy to recommend us to friends and family.
Of course, sometimes the proposition is misunderstood, or a commentator will have a different point of view. For less well-off people, a rent-to-own agreement on a washing machine is similar to how others might regard a lease for a car.
We are happy to respond to questions or listen to ideas. We do not resist scrutiny, but welcome it.
- Leo McKee, chief executive, BrightHouse