As the number of merchants investing in their online presence continues to grow, no longer is it seen as a potential threat to the trade coming in to the counter, but rather as a successful extension of the business. Based in Rowley Regis in the West Midlands, Plumbing World has not missed the potential in developing such an operation. PBM visited to find out more.
Starting as a small trade counter in Blackheath in 1996, Plumbing World has expanded to new premises and developed a thriving online presence in recent years. Its new location, just around the corner from the first, has allowed the company to develop an impressive bathroom showroom while also offering much needed space for point of sale materials and warehouse stock.
Greater numbers of the trade are now coming in on a daily basis, resulting in the operation now consisting of around 20 people, compared to eight previously. This has all contributed to an increase in turnover from £2.9m in 2016 to be on track to reach £5m this year.
A key reason for this growth is Plumbing World’s vibrant and ever-growing online offering. Now Operations and Warehouse Manager, but previously based within the website team, Danny Welch has seen consistent growth over the last few years — rising from 16% of the firm’s total sales in 2016 to 34% today.
“The website was started around 10 years ago, but it is now our biggest sector of growth in the business,” notes Danny. “Even since I started, nearly three years ago, sales have been increasing, and the click and collect process is particularly popular.”
Herein lies a key point to Plumbing World’s success. By pushing a vibrant and welcoming site — supported by Google advertising and social media activity — the business has witnessed growth in store from click and collect trade customers, who previously may not have visited the independent.
In addition to this, there appears to be a significant difference between the customer segments who buy online and those buying in store. Danny believes that the core of its in-store customers is mostly trade, while online, DIY enthusiasts are the more dominant force. It’s a development that has, again, been key to increased sales.
Alongside the ‘external’ online offering, the internal IT logistics Plumbing World has integrated into its processes has also allowed the merchant to develop. For example, the company has recently employed the latest cloud-based multi drop routing and scheduling solution from Maxoptra to help expand its delivery operation.
Prior to the software’s implementation, Plumbing World manually planned deliveries within the local vicinity and used outside couriers for other consignments. “At the start of our journey with Maxoptra we operated a small fleet, mainly delivering within a 40-mile radius of the warehouse,” added Danny. “The streamlined workflow that Maxoptra provides has significantly reduced the planning task, allowing us to reinvest this resource in other areas of the business.”
A cloud-based scheduling solution, it integrates with the company’s software to automate the transfer of order, delivery and invoice data. Once produced, delivery manifests can be shared throughout the business, increasing the transparency of the mobile operation. Ultimately, the system has made planning delivery routes and their logistics a much easier procedure for the team — a factor that has enabled the business to focus on its customer service both in store, and for deliveries.
Showing the way
With the expanded space at the new premises, Plumbing World has also opened up a bathroom showroom — designed by existing members of staff. Again, this has brought in a new customer base, says Danny. “The showroom has certainly been a factor in attracting more of the general public, as it’s enabled them to get a better idea of what it is they are looking for, and how it might fit in with their plans. It also provides installers with the chance to show customers examples of their designs.
“The showroom pretty much paid for itself within three months — and we are now looking to expand our offering further with a kitchen showroom, too.”
The company employs an experienced team, working hard to provide their customers with excellent service. All counter staff have had previous experience in the merchant industry, resulting in a knowledgeable foundation from which to begin discussions with trade customers. Whether via the phone or in store, the company asserts that its staff will be well trained, and well experienced, when answering any queries, reflecting its stated goal and mission to “give outstanding service to all customers.”
Indeed, Managing Director Mark Serrell, commented: “We are very proud that the growth in our business is a testament to the quality of our staff, their extensive product knowledge and their commitment to offering an exceptional experience.”
Using Plumbing World’s growth as a template, it is clear to see the potential an outlay in IT infrastructure can offer merchants. An engaging website has attracted a plethora of new business, allowing the business to expand both internally, and externally. While many stockists have enjoyed a growth in online sales over recent years, a thorough investment in their online presence could well be the missing link to the next step in the chain.