As they head into their 250th year, Bradfords is proving they are very much the modern merchant business. We ask George Adams, Chairman, & David Young, CEO, about their future plans.
DY: We will be celebrating an incredible 250 years in business next year and we remain a family owned independent merchant that really cares about creating a very special working environment for the wonderful people we have in the business. Our staff are key to our success and have been integral to our expansion into 43 sites across the West of England, incorporating 23 Plumbing & Heating, 23 Tool Hire and 7 Kitchen & Bathroom businesses. Having been in business for so long means we also enjoy fabulous support from our customers, including a few who have been dealing with us for over 100 years!
GA: I agree, it’s our people that make the difference together with our openness to change and adapt early to changes in the marketplace. We are focused on the customer’s needs and are happy to try new things which makes a big difference. For example, we now have our Big Yellow Book which contains product pricing and we are also using e-commerce for both the consumer and the trade. We have a really special connection with the local community as both staff and customers value the input of a family business in the West Country. When you consider that over a thousand people attended our recent customer evening to meet key suppliers and learn more about our products, you can understand why we value these special relationships.
What are your plans to celebrate 250 years during 2020?
DY: I can share a little bit about what will be a massive year of fun events. We already have our own branded beer and of course a cider but we will add a gin as well. We are refurbishing one of Bradfords original horse drawn delivery carts which will visit the local agricultural shows and be seen around our branches. Work has also begun on a very special, bespoke vehicle which will be making a big impact at the customer events we have planned. And naturally we will be running 250 promotions throughout the year with lots of fanfare and noise as we celebrate along with customers and staff.
Will this milestone mark the launch of new branches or diversification?
DY: We take a long term view and because we have a wonderful estate our short term goal is to maximise what we’ve currently got as I believe we can generate 50% more turnover from our existing branches. Medium term, I would love to see us grow to 60 branches before we look further afield geographically, so we want to maintain our current strength as a South West focused merchant. Of course, in the longer term, after a period of consolidation we can look at extending our reach into other regions.
Quite recently you started trading with IG Lintels and Keylite Roof Windows, how has that gone?
DY: Changing suppliers is often challenging because customers can be very loyal to the old brand and may create a lot of noise, so historically, we don’t change suppliers very often. However, we experienced the opposite when we changed our lintel supplier to IG Lintels with zero noise or complaints from customers, and I think that speaks volumes. IG’s product quality is exceptional, and their service is beyond our expectations. We have a fantastic sales team and it has been encouraging to see the ways proactive relationships and support have grown with the IG team in the field.
DY: Starting with Keylite as an additional roof window brand has been interesting because we have always been very Velux orientated, but I think the Keylite product is superbly built with added value and benefits to offer to our customer base. We’re doing some good numbers and I’ve got every confidence that these will grow, so we’re thoroughly looking forward to a great ongoing trading relationship with both IG and Keylite.
What are the key things in your relationships with suppliers?
DY: Openness, honesty and accountability which I believe leads to the type of long-term relationships we value. We want our customers to make money, we want to make money and we also want our suppliers to make money, so we need to work closely together. I think our supplier relationships should rank equally with our customer relationships.
GA: Obviously the basics are quality and availability, after that, we want to see that suppliers have a sound plan with us, because we want to work closely with key suppliers. That sounds really simple but I know that we can still improve on it and a number of our suppliers also need to become more proactive. This is vital, so David and myself are blocking out time to meet key suppliers, to start working on joint plans, driven from the top.
What way has technology changed your business in the last five years? What are your plans in this area in the next five years?
DY: We launched our e-commerce retail website five years ago and then late last year we launched it on a trade basis for our core customer base. There is a lot to learn in this digital field to do it effectively, but I think the whole exercise has really improved all of our business processes. We have developed a click and collect service and boosted our local delivery service on the back of the website. So I see more of a move into digital and online work in the coming years which will boost our impact in the local market considerably.
How important is marketing to Bradfords and what do you think a successful builders’ merchant will look like in 2030?
DY: We are advertising currently on Sky TV with some amusing and risky campaigns, so we see marketing and advertising as key to awareness for driving footfall into our stores. 5 years ago we had a £100k marketing budget and that is now £1.5m and includes our sponsorship of Exeter Rugby Club. I think the scene in 2030 is going to look physically very similar to today but merchants may need to improve on speed of service. This is one of our mantras, we want to be the easiest merchant to do business with and we’re using technology to help us do that.