5 Minutes With Graeme Ferguson, Managing Director, Candles Direct

Candles Direct has been around for three decades, but it's only in the last four or so years that it has really catapulted itself to new levels of success thanks to a successful investment in its online retail service. For the latest '5 Minutes With' profile, the Retail Gazette caught up with managing director Graeme Ferguson to learn more about his family business' achievements.

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Candles Direct managing director Graeme Ferguson

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background before Candles Direct. 

I’ve been involved in the retail sector all my working life. Our family business has a network of specialist candle stores, but over the past few years there’s been a huge shift of focus into our online store.

What got you into the retail sector in the first place?

My family have always been retailers and from a young age I’ve been involved in the business, working in the retail stores.

I enjoy the entrepreneurship of retail and exploring new ventures. I think when you work in retail you have to be constantly switched on to keep up.

This works especially well in a family business, because your work colleagues are your closest friends and relatives, which means we can have our board meetings around the dinner table.

Describe your role and responsibilities as managing director of Candles Direct.

At the moment, my biggest focus is on continuing to strengthen our online presence and drive expansion.

In my opinion, the biggest risk for the online retail sector is to stagnate so we have to keep innovating and improving to remain exciting to customers.

Candles Direct has been around for 30 years, but since 2013 it has grown massively. Any reflections?

In our early years we focused mainly on retail stores. Since 2013 we’ve found our niche, with candles and our main brand, Yankee Candle.

As our online presence began to grow, we chose to invest in a software system called 3EX.NET. It’s a cloud-based platform from Exact Abacus that gives us total control. It manages everything from CRM, to stock control, purchasing and finance as well as delivering simple integration into all the major marketplaces, websites and payment providers.

Since 2013 we’ve been able to trust this system completely and focus on growing the business instead of having to allocate time day-to-day on the management issues that can be part of the process with other software options.

We’ve been able to open 20 retail stores and grow the website which now has over 7000 products all of which are in stock in our warehouse.

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How has Candles Direct adapted to the challenges that faces retail at the moment?

Price cuttings has been a strategy that has been used to compete with lower quality consumer products but that approach but the industry is no longer about just competing on price, service is the real differentiator.

We strive to create a seamless experience for our customers. From the moment they place an order until it arrives at their door we want to provide a great experience. If we can exceed their expectations we will be guaranteed future orders.

Our software helps us meet these high standards to provide great customer satisfaction. It integrates seamlessly with multiple market places as well as our warehouse ensuring no orders are missed and we never over-promise due to blips in stock monitoring.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Before we joined with our software partner it was definitely the manual nature of the system. As a company we were wasting time going over things that shouldn’t have been an issue because there was more human error.

Since we invested in the software system, all we have to worry about it making sure we stay ahead of the curve.

And the most rewarding?

The most rewarding part of my job is when we contact a new supplier and choose a selection of products.

Once these have gone through our development to make sure all the details are correct, the ERP system puts all the product data and images online simultaneously.

When I see the first of a new product being picked and packed that gives me a real buzz.

Can you talk about any upcoming projects you’re working on at the moment?

We’re anticipating a major shift into personalisation over the next few years and we’re currently working on several things to make sure we can provide this.

What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking on a career in retail? 

As a smaller retailer we always punch above our weight in competing with our larger online counterparts.

We’ve found that the way to stay ahead is to pick a niche, something you have a passion for that can’t be easily copied. Focus on your niche and giving your customer a great experience and you’ll do just fine.

What would you say is the biggest risk for the retail sector, given the current climate?

Our experience so far following Brexit is that the cost of goods have gone up, due to the weakness of the pound.

Anyone walking up and down the aisles of the supermarket can tell that prices are going up – but the big question to how will consumers and retailers respond to this.

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