At the start of the pandemic, Baldock closed all 531 Carphone Warehouse stores in the UK, to simplify business, resulting in the loss of 2,900 jobs. It then severed ties with some of the major phone networks to gain flexibility on pricing. Click-and-collect services were added and live video shopping was introduced for customers stuck at home.
Currys is now focusing on credit offers and low prices in a bid to boost sales and ensure customers don’t default to rivals. It also increasingly promotes repairs, rather than the latest awesome gadget.
“We want to help buyers get started with a laptop, get the most out of it, and sell them a shiny new piece of kit,” he says.
“The way we do that is through repairs. We have the largest electrical repair center in Europe with 1,000 colleagues and 3 million products passing through it each year.
“It’s obviously good for the planet, but it’s also good for customers’ pockets, because in the midst of a cost of living crisis, fixing things is on people’s minds.”
Baldock insists repairs are profitable and a strategy to pursue. Pretax profits rose significantly in the 12 months to April, but Currys recently lowered its margin target from 4% to 3% through 2023-24.
Some industry watchers believe the retailer, which already controls a quarter of the UK market, will struggle to grow as it jostles for trade with Amazon and John Lewis. It accounted for 25.6% of sales in the UK electricity market in 2021-22, down slightly from 25.8% in 2018-19.
“There are real advantages of scale,” he says. “We matter more to customers, we matter more to our suppliers, and we have no intention of letting them down. What we said is that we will grow steadily.
Baldock is quick to admit that he had a “comfortable and privileged” upbringing.
He was born in Dorking, Surrey, but grew up in Paris. “French was my first language,” he says, without a noticeable accent.
His father came from a working-class family and joined the army before becoming a salesman for consumer giant Procter & Gamble. He rose through the ranks to eventually run Guinness and briefly chair Marks & Spencer.
Baldock’s mother, “a super bright woman”, was his father’s personal assistant.
“At the time, higher education was certainly not encouraged,” he says.
Aged 13, young Baldock was “locked up in an English boarding school” – Oundle, near Peterborough – where “he loved his sport”, especially rugby.
He then studied modern history at Worcester College, Oxford. When he graduated, he had “no particular calling beyond a vague feeling that I wanted a career in business” and got a job as a management consultant with Kalchas. He spent 12 years advising businesses, living in Japan, Singapore, the United States and Switzerland.