Big Interview: Top independent retailer Tom is passionate about Grantham

Tom Simmonds, of Simmonds Music, receives the Judges' Prestige Award. EMN-160415-094245001
Tom Simmonds, of Simmonds Music, receives the Judges' Prestige Award. EMN-160415-094245001
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Not only is Tom Simmonds a successful Grantham businessman, he is a passionate advocate for the town.

The 40-year-old has created a musical hub at Simmonds Music on Westgate, with its impressive retail offering earning him this year’s Journal business award for Independent Retailer. Moreover, the business provides instrumental tuition to over 200 pupils, and also has a full-time instrument repair workshop, and a state-of-the-art recording studio. Unsurprisingly, Tom also earned the Judges’ Prestige Award at our business awards, and afterwards spoke to us about Simmonds Music, as well as telling us why he has high hopes for the future of business in Grantham.

Tom Simmonds in the music studio.

Tom Simmonds in the music studio.

* How did it feel to be win the Independent Retailer Award?

It was a complete shock – I was speechless on the night and I am really thrilled to have won this award and gained recognition for Simmonds Music. It is really amazing that we have been recognised for all the hard work we do here, and I would like to dedicate the award to the staff at Simmonds Music as they make the shop what it is, and they are a brilliant team.

* At the awards you spoke about how important Grantham is to you – how do you feel about the town?

I think Grantham has had a tough few years on the High Street, as it seems that more and more shops close down to be replaced with pound stores or charity shops. I think, however, we are gradually seeing a turnaround with places like The Picture Cafe opening and the new Prezzo opening on St Peter’s Hill. We have a wealth of lovely independent retailers in town too and I think Grantham would do really well to promote and celebrate these unique businesses. I like to do my bit, as an independent retailer myself, to promote this, and I think if we tailored the town centre to promote independence and uniqueness then I can’t see any reason why Grantham shouldn’t do well. Why should we be like every other town? I think the Grantham BID is a very worthwhile project and I would encourage all Grantham business owners to get behind this so that we can invest in the town centre and make it a destination for customers and visitors from far and wide.

* How did you get into music, and what instruments do you play?

I started music from the age of five, on the recorder, and then when I reached secondary school I transferred to bassoon. I have been playing ever since and reached professional level upon graduating from the Birmingham Conservatoire. For a few years I was a professional musician, then in 2007 I switched to music retail full-time and launched the business in April of that year.

* How has Simmonds Music developed since opening?

For the first 18 months I traded from a converted outhouse in our garden, then when we moved to Grantham in 2008 I opened my first shop on Westgate in September 2009. After a couple of years the business outgrew those premises, so in August 2011 I moved into the building we occupy today at 8&9 Westgate. As well as the retail aspect, we now provide instrumental tuition to over 200 pupils, have a full-time instrument repair workshop, and a state-of-the-art recording studio. So the business has changed totally since the garden shed nine years ago!

* Tell us about your team at Simmonds Music.

The team at Simmonds Music are, in my opinion, the best bunch of people I can work with. They share the same passion and enthusiasm I have, and this has a really positive effect with our customers. I now employ four full-time and two part-time members of staff, as well as our self-employed full-time repair technician and eight self-employed instrumental teachers.

* Businesses on Westgate have been hit by changes to parking rules – how has this affected you and how have you overcome it?

The parking restrictions on Westgate had a really negative impact on the business. Our footfall declined by 75 per cent as customers were too afraid to park for fear of a parking ticket. I believe that road markings will be introduced to make it clearer where you can or cannot park, but as with anything county council-related, this seems to be moving at a snail’s pace.

* You also won the Judges’ Prestige Award – picked from all of the business awards winners. How did that feel?

The Judges’ Prestige Award was really amazing. I had no idea that this award existed and to win it over every other category winner was a really special moment for me. I feel really humble and grateful that all my hard work has been recognised.

* What advice would you give to someone thinking of starting their own business in Grantham?

I do feel really passionately about Grantham, and at Simmonds Music we do our bit to make the town a nicer place to visit. I would encourage anyone who is considering starting a business in Grantham to go for it. We have some of the most competitive rents in the area, and I believe the town is finally turning a corner, so it is the ideal time to make that dream a reality. You need to put 110 per cent into achieving success, and you need to be prepared to make sacrifices along the way, but the rewards are really, really worth it. My partner, Deborah Firmstone, has recently set up her PA and events planning business (thealternativepa.com) and she has been able to help me with various administrative tasks in the shop. I have also been able to give her some tips on running a business successfully. We also have one child, Beatrice, who is five. Hopefully, she will take an interest in the business so that I may be able to hand it over to her when the time comes!