Tell me a bit about UK Flooring Direct’s story.
I founded the company in 2005 with £500. We had our first website built for £299 – it was a little website, on a little computer and we started everything from a drop shipping operation.
We grew rapidly. By the first full year we turned over £750,000 and by year five we reached £9 million in sales. We have been growing rapidly ever since.
Much of what we did was built on Google organic rankings which delivered extremely cost-effective marketing and when it changed its algorithms, we had to remodel the business around Google PPC which increased marketing spend with our cost per session going up from £0.05 to £0.60.
With this huge increase in marketing spend I recognised we needed to increase our margins to cover the additional costs. At the time we were still purchasing a lot of our products from importers or distributors so I placed direct orders of $6 million for similar products which would deliver significant margin improvements.
This was the start of the new vertically integrated business model and we have continued to expand at an extremely fast pace over the past decade.
What gap in the UK retail market does UK Flooring Direct strive to address?
We try to give the consumer – our customers – what they want. Digital has brought convenience which means the consumer can find the information they want and need, when they want and wherever they are in the world. Consumers are self-informing which means they will make their own decisions on products, so we are providing them with all of the information they need for them to do this. The biggest questions I ask of the marketing team is: what does the customer want, what do they demand and how do we meet those demands?
How is UK Flooring Direct’s business model different to its main competitors?
We recognised very early how digital was going to change the way people shopped and how they would interact online. Our three main strengths as a business is that we are digitally native and everything we think is digital first, which is what the customer is demanding. We have a vertically integrated supply chain which enables us to have total control of the product proposition. Finally, we are data driven which allows to analyse and understand customer behaviour and then tailor our proposition to their demands.
“We recognised very early how digital was going to change the way people shopped”
What’s in store for UK Flooring Direct for the rest of 2020?
Loads. We continue to expand which means investing heavily in both technology and our people. And, as we have a significant market share for wooden flooring, we are adding additional product categories which will run through our current successful channels.
How is UK Flooring Direct addressing some of the challenges facing the retail industry?
The digital model that we have is the way forward. The consumer wants to increasingly interact with retail in digital way and that is exactly where our roots lie and we continue to invest to ensure we meet their ever-changing demands.
What would you say is the biggest risk for retail at the moment?
Brexit has certainly affected consumer confidence but we feel that in the area we operate – digital – retail is in good shape and the channel shift that has taken place over recent years has been positive for us. You have to keep up with the technology and the demands of the customer.
If you take Brexit out of it, the biggest issue for retail is understanding the changing patterns of the consumer. Retail will always be there but habits have changed and you have to adapt.
Describe your role and responsibilities.
A bit of everything.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background before UK Flooring Direct.
I started off as a flooring installer as a 16-year-old apprentice. By the age of 21 I knew we could earn more money if I had more people working for us so I had a team of five operating for me up and down the country.
I opened my first retail store at 28, just as the internet was beginning to take hold. It was successful for a year or two but I recognised the importance of digital and 15 years ago we moved online which is where we started with £500.
There were two big trends coming – the rise of digital and the changing shopping habits on top of a real shift towards wood flooring. We spotted that early and that has been a big part of our success so far.
“The biggest issue for retail is understanding the changing patterns of the consumer”
What got you into retail in the first place?
I love it. I love business. I love communicating with the customer, understanding what they want and then delivering that. When I was an installer my favourite part of the job was giving the floor a hoover after everything was fitted and seeing how satisfied the customer was. This is a big ticket item for people. They buy things to make themselves happy and our job is to give them a great service and leave them satisfied.
How has your previous experience aided your current job?
It all comes down to keeping the customer happy and changing to their needs.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
We have a fantastic team in the business, who I am very proud of. I am demanding but also fair and rewarding at the same time. The challenge is continuing to find the best people and building the organisation to meet the growth plans we have. The market is there for us to grow much, much bigger and the channels are there so we have to ensure that we have the team in place to deliver that.
And the most rewarding?
We could break a revenue record one day and my instant reaction would be: What next? Where’s the next one? I very rarely sit down and look at success, I’m looking forward to how we can reach the next level. Knowing that we make customers happy is rewarding but it is also rewarding seeing the people we have in the business who have come through with us and have been part of our success.
What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking on a career in retail?
Always put the customer first. Keep asking the question: what does the customer want from this business? Make sure you are delivering on that. It doesn’t matter what role you are playing, if you do that, this is an incredibly rewarding industry. If people are buying clothes, it’s to make themselves feel good. If they are improving their home, it’s so they can feel happy and better about life.
In our case, people are putting down floors that will be there for 15 to 20 years and it’s a reminder to them about what they’ve achieved and what they have worked towards. So we are helping to make people happy when we work in retail and that should always be at the forefront of your mind if you work in this sector.