Steve Collinge, Managing Director at Insight Retail Group & Executive Editor at Insight DIY, looks at the impact COVID-19 has had on our business.
The last four months have been a hugely challenging period for almost all retailers. Whether it was closed stores, unprecedented and un-forecasted demand, supply chain disruption, head office teams forced to work from home or the necessary implementation of social distancing measures, retailers have been at the forefront of the impact of COVID as it swept across our nation.
Whereas some businesses saw this as a deeply challenging and difficult period, others have seen the opportunity that it presented and one such business that has taken the latter approach is IronmongeryDirect, also owner of ElectricalDirect. The company positions itself simply as ‘The Trade’s most trusted partner for buying ironmongery and electrical products’. But the lockdown period had a huge impact on the construction, industrial and Home Improvement sectors, core customer base for the Ironmongery and ElectricalDirect businesses.
I took the opportunity to ask Dominick Sandford their Director and Head of Merchandising and Marketing, how the lockdown had affected their business –
“Prior to COVID-19 our main customer type was your typical tradesperson, including joiners, builders and electricians. Since the beginning of lockdown we have seen a fundamental shift in demand away from the trade, as a result of market impacts, instead seeing growing sales from DIY consumers. It’s clear from our sales that many customers are repairing their homes, particularly Bathrooms and Kitchens. Garage and shed organisation are also booming with significant increases in shelving and storage. With the good weather, consumers are also outside fixing and repairing their fencing, gates and sheds. We quickly recognised these shifts in customer purchasing behavior and made rapid changes to our marketing and messaging to take advantage of the opportunity, whilst continuing to target and service their loyal trade customers”.
However, since lockdown restrictions eased across the country, homeowners have been seizing the opportunity to look for tradespeople to tackle various jobs in and outside their homes. According to a recent press release from Checkatrade, during June there has been a huge 134% increase in searches for services since there was a let-up in lockdown measures, plus an increase of 68% in comparison to the same period last year. During w/c 15th June the online trade directory experienced its busiest week in its entire history.
The increase in demand as well as some consumer nervousness about tradespeople spending a long periods of time inside their homes, has led to normally specialised tradespeople taking on a broader range of jobs and projects for homeowners.
As identified in recent research carried out by IronmongeryDirect, various tradespeople have had to become more agile and diverse with the work they take on. As an example, electricians who would usually get work through local authorities and main contractors have noted a hard stop in projects. As a result, those that would usually avoid domestic work are finding themselves taking on more in-home emergency repair work, and those that rarely do commercial work are finding work doing joinery and fitting work on hospitals and other critical sectors.
With many trade customers now taking on a broader range of projects, their buying habits are changing and they’re also buying a much wider range of products. IronmongeryDirect saw the opportunity with this very early on and have focused on winning a larger share of the tradespersons wallet and spend.
But how have they achieved this?
Of all the areas where COVID-19 has impacted on retailers, range is without question one of them. Using the resources of their large, Paris based, European parent Manutan, the company was able to source large volumes of PPE for their customers. Their new range of back to work safety and coronavirus essentials includes antibacterial and hygiene products, social distancing signage, face masks, PPE and door and safety closures. The range is second to none and has been selling extremely well since launch.
Competing against big player generalists including the likes of Screwfix and Toolstation is not easy and as a result IronmongeryDirect are constantly looking at new ways to meet the demands of their trade customers. Whether that’s guaranteed next day delivery to their place of work, extended next day order cut-off, free delivery on all orders over £45 or Click and Collect, it’s being offered by IronmongeryDirect.
The recent launch of their Click and Collect service for both IronmongeryDirect and ElectricalDirect allows customers to order their products as usual, simply selecting the Click & Collect option at the checkout. Orders will then be delivered to a convenient network of local pick-up points, including branches of stores such as Sainsburys, Matalan, Homebase, Currys PC World, Rowlands Pharmacy as well as select local convenience shops. There is a pick-up location within a 10 minute drive of 90% of the UK population, meaning there is almost always a suitable option for customers. Other exciting delivery options are also being reviewed behind the scenes so watch this space for updates in the future.
Their initiatives are obviously working, as during June 2020 they broke their own record in-regards to the number of orders shipped in one week.
For the larger commercial accounts, IronmongeryDirect and ElectricalDirect now offer a dedicated support service, including a single point of contact account team and telephone number to ensure projects are delivered on time. For IronmongeryDirect they provide direct access to their Registered Architectural Ironmongers (RegAI) team, who have an impressive 28 years of experience from the Guild of Architectural Ironmongers. On the electrical side the team has over 50 years combined experience in the industry.
Account management is available for a range of sectors including fire safety, education, healthcare and construction. As a commercial account customer other benefits include trade accounts with flexible payment terms and integration with customers’ e-procurement systems for quick and easy ordering. Combined with a premium delivery service and easy ordering and returns, you can see the appeal for contractors.
As I got to know the business better, one thing stood out for me more than anything else and it was their devotion to brilliant customer service. Whether it was developing their product range based on customer requests, making delivery of their products as simple and easy as possible, their easy and free, no quibble return service or their customer service team that’s available seven days a week, they are 100% focused on meeting the needs of their growing number of customers.
But nothing epitomises their approach more than the secret I discovered when talking to my contacts within the industry. All new customers to IronmongeryDirect or ElectricalDirect receive a present from the company, either a chocolate bar or a bag of sweets put into one of the boxes of the new customer’s first order. Such a simple gesture, but what a great way to ensure that the company is remembered by their Trade customers.
Their focus on wowing their customers, whether new or existing, spans across the whole company. They even offer customers the chance to ‘Tell the Boss’, encouraging them to contact the managing director, Marco Verdonkschot, to provide feedback, either good or bad. This is followed up by a direct response from Marco himself.
Sometimes it’s the little things that have the greatest impact on customers.
Steve Collinge is an international speaker, influencer, retail commentator and is Managing Director of Insight Retail Group Ltd and executive editor of Insight DIY. You can follow Steve on LinkedIn here and on Twitter here.
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