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Selco – An award-winning year of expansion

(L-R) Dara Ó Briain, Mark Hickingbottom, National Commercial Director of Hanson Cement who sponsored the Award for National Builders Merchant of the Year, and Chris Cunliffe, Selco Chief Executive, at the BMN Awards.

When Construction Industry News last caught up with Selco, the company was enjoying a strong period of expansion having opened five stores in 2015. Fast forward 12 months and not only has it been named National Builders Merchant of the Year 2016 at the BMN Awards, it has also been growing at an even faster rate, as Chris Cunliffe, Selco Chief Executive recently explained to our Chief Editor, Nigel Martin.

“It’s all systems go for Selco,” outlines Mr Cunliffe. “We finished 2015 off by opening five new stores and in 2016 we have opened another seven. We also have even more new store openings scheduled all over the UK for 2017, and these will be confirmed as we start our fit-outs. We will break though the 50-store barrier at some point within the next six months, so we’re still well on course to double the size of the business and our number of stores as part of our overall five-year strategic plan.”

In terms of its latest openings, Selco has recently added to its portfolio with new sites in Watford, Chessington, Wolverhampton and Portsmouth, as well as three London-based locations Mitcham, South Croydon and Wembley. With such a fast-moving expansion programme the company is capitalising on its extensive experience to pave the way for each new opening.

“The benefit of adding to our portfolio so regularly is that we get better at the process each time we open a new branch,” adds Mr Cunliffe. “This is borne out by the fact that the sites we’ve opened in 2016 have firmly hit the ground running and are already performing well ahead of expectations.”

The experience that Selco has amassed on the back of such a strong site roll-out programme is also reflected in the wealth of knowledge it can draw upon when identifying possible locations for development. “Our site identification process is a mixture of two approaches. We’ve got some scientific analysis we use that is based on the demographics of a particular area and the travel times, etc. This is supported by field management and local management input ‘on the ground’.

“We feel it’s vital to get a blend of both approaches because whilst you can produce anything on a spreadsheet, it’s actually the individuals that are going to be onsite physically delivering the offering that are the most important element. We therefore need to get them fully engaged because they are the ones that will be making the site work. Without them being truly on-board we can’t develop a successful branch, regardless of how good the location and the demographics actually are.”

With this in mind, Selco has a proactive recruitment policy and well-developed training programmes in place for new starters, again underlining its strong customer service-driven approach.

“Recruitment is a challenge for any business. It’s not so much getting the number of people; it’s getting the quality right that can be tricky. That is the key to successful, good recruitment, so we have a dedicated and extremely well-focused HR department. They not only look after new recruits but also our long-term colleagues that have been with us for many years. It’s crucial that the requirements of all our employees, both new and old, are met.

“I’m a very strong advocate of staff development and believe you get an excellent return on investment from training. It’s not about paying people loads of money, it’s about investing in the development of their skills and offering them career progression with clear promotion prospects. As a consequence, we’re firmly committed to having a strong HR and training provision within Selco to help achieve the best results for our people.”

Given its service-orientated ethos, it has been no surprise that Selco has looked to refine and tailor its offering to meet the varied needs of its customers. Part of this approach has culminated in the creation of its City store concept, which is gradually being rolled out including into the new Mitcham and Chessington stores.

“Selco as a business is 90 per cent concept but that leaves 10 per cent additional capacity for entrepreneurial flair, whether it’s at a regional level, city level or even branch level. It’s vital that people within Selco from the top down feel that they can actually have some influence and show entrepreneurial spirit to add something to the business that contributes to our overall success.”

Chris Cunliffe, Selco Chief Executive

“The City concept is still in its relative infancy but has definitely added another string to our bow. Despite the huge amount of experience we have as a company, whenever we open a new store, we start from scratch and build the business up, and coming up with a solution that is designed to meet the needs of the local area.

“We’re constantly looking at how we can evolve the offer and improve it for our customers. We therefore look at all aspects of the business, from the purchasing through to the product and to the ranging. We have also introduced a plant and tool hire offer into all of our branches that again gives our customers an added option. It’s all about keeping everything fresh by continually looking for innovation and new initiatives. We have a natural evolvement of the business as we don’t rest on our laurels. No matter how good we’re doing, we’ve got the old school report mind-set that we could always be doing better. This way of thinking is fully ingrained within the senior management team and within our branch managers. Our collective goal is for us all to be better tomorrow than we are today.

“Having a high level of buy-in from our branch management is very important as it helps to generate a tremendous amount of togetherness within the company. This is only possible if everyone feels fully on-board with what we’re trying to achieve and that we’re all pulling in the same direction. The more you engage people and the more you can make them feel as though they have a true influence in the business, the more beneficial it is for the company overall.

“We’re not looking for shopkeepers; we’re looking for business managers. Whilst our overall corporate company strategy is at the heart of everything we’re striving to achieve as a business, we really impress upon our managers that they are business unit managers within the bigger company with the capability to positively influence their sales. Selco as a business is 90 per cent concept but that leaves 10 per cent additional capacity for entrepreneurial flair, whether it’s at a regional level, city level or even branch level. It’s vital that people within Selco from the top down feel that they can actually have some influence and show entrepreneurial spirit to add something to the business that contributes to our overall success.

“There’s lots going on in recruitment and within merchandising, while improvements and efficiencies are also being made within the business. We’re striving for a better delivery service and to make the shopping environment and experience of our trade customers even better. We don’t go down the traditional retail model where the aim is to force the customers to search throughout the store to get core products. Instead we want to make the entire process as easy as possible for the customer, at the same time building trust and confidence with them. Our customers know that whichever of our stores they’re in, whether it’s in Walthamstow, Bradford or Manchester, when they walk in the door they will know where all the products are kept as the layout and the flow will be more or less the same. We feel this plays a huge role in helping ensure that our customers’ shopping experience is as good as it should be.

“We strive to offer that personalised service and in order to know our customers as much as we want to, we need to engage them just as much as we need to engage our colleagues at the branches. Ultimately we want our customers, our colleagues and our suppliers all to feel part of Selco. Two out of three doesn’t work, we need all of the three to feel involved in order to achieve success. They’re like the three legs of a stool. Remove one and the whole thing starts to become unstable.”

Having outlined the importance of both Selco’s employees and its customers, Mr Cunliffe is also keen to underline the role that the third element of the tripartite plays to the company, namely its suppliers.

“As I say, you can’t have two out of three to be successful, you need three out of three. The relationship with our supply base is therefore as important as anything else within the Selco business. Without their support, their products, their experience and their knowledge we would definitely struggle. They’re a fundamental element of our entire operation so it’s important that we engage with our suppliers and make them feel part of our business. From their point of view, anybody can go into a company and sell a product once but the only time it becomes a real sale is when we start refilling our shelves and replacing their products with new orders. We therefore encourage full interaction with our suppliers to make sure that we’re giving our customer the best possible offer. What’s more, as we’ve grown as a company we’ve looked to take our suppliers along the journey with us. It’s very much a win- win relationship.”

With the strengthening of its relationships with suppliers, not to mention the ongoing investment into its store programme and the development of its staff, it is clear that Selco is being careful to keep building the foundations to support its future expansion.

“Even though we’ve got strong growth plans in place, we’ve obviously had to look at our support centre and the departments within it. As any company knows, IT is an ever-evolving field that you have to keep up-to-date with. It’s an integral part of the service we provide our customers because we need a system that delivers the Selco offer to the customer as quickly as possible. IT is becoming even more important with the ongoing rise of the e-commerce side of the business. The online transactional website that we’ve got now includes Click and Collect. We have over 7,000 product lines that we offer and a click, pay and courier the next day service and we’re looking to expand that too. All our products online are available for Click & Collect for those bigger projects too.

“It’s also about keeping our website up-to-date and making it more reactive and easier to use. Supporting this, we obviously have to invest in the development team and add more people to it to make sure that everything is delivered to the branches on-time. We’ve increased our training department and recruited new staff to bolster support to the branches. We want the stores focused on actually serving the customer, as making sure they’re happy remains our core objective.

“With the various different elements to our service provision, we have something to meet every need and requirement of our customers, whether they prefer ordering online and having their products delivered to them or whether they are more comfortable shopping in a more traditional manner and would rather visit one of our bricks and mortar stores. We’ve got an option to suit everyone.

“I believe we’ve now got a true multi-channel operation that gives our customers the opportunity to purchase products exactly how they want to. At the end of the day we’ve put these systems in place for the convenience of our customers, not ours. This is where some companies get confused and lose focus slightly. You always have to put the customer first in everything that you do. If that requires a little bit of extra work in the background for us, then so be it. We have to make it as simple, as easy and as positive a shopping experience as we can for our customers.”

Having put in the hard yards to develop a multi-channelled model that is able to cater for the precise needs of its entire customer base, Selco is now focused on making the most of the strength of its proposition by further capitalising on the opportunities within the marketplace.

“We are continuing to build up momentum and are showing good like-for-like growth in our existing business,” outlines Mr Cunliffe. “Again one of the key messages we always put out to people is that we have to look after existing customers because it is they that allow us to go out and expand the business. We’re therefore constantly looking at our business and how we can improve it.

“Unfortunately there’s always going to be some factors that we simply can’t control and tougher economic periods are inevitable at certain points. The trick is ensuring that we’ve done everything we possibly can in-house in order to give us the best possible chance during any downturn, upping our game further. External factors will always be beyond our control, whether it’s nationally or even internationally, but we’ll never lose focus on being our best today and tomorrow making our service even better for the customer. Maintaining that positive approach keeps us moving forward as a business. The economy can be good, it can be bad, or it can be somewhere in-between but at the end of the day we just still need to focus on our business and being the best that we possibly can be. If times are a bit tough, then we’ll look to take market share in order to continue to grow.”

“With the various different elements to our service provision, we have something to meet every need and requirement of our customers, whether they prefer ordering online and having their products delivered to them or whether they are more comfortable shopping in a more traditional manner and would rather visit one of our bricks and mortar stores. We’ve got an option to suit everyone.”

Chris Cunliffe, Selco Chief Executive

It’s not just Selco that has been benefitting from the growth that the company has been enjoying, as the company is continuing to carry out a significant amount of charity and community work. “Our relationship with Macmillan’s is stronger than ever and we’re still supporting them corporately to the extent that the amount that we’ve raised for them is fast approaching the £400,000-mark, which we’re collectively extremely proud of as a company. We’ve been able to put something back into what is a very worthwhile charity and in addition to that we also take our local community responsibilities very seriously and are involved in various local charities right across the country. Whenever we develop a store in a new area we always set aside a pot of money that local organisations and communities can apply for support. We’re also heavily involved in the sponsorship of Warwickshire County Cricket Club.”

With 2017 nearly upon us, it is apparent that Selco is in no mood to get complacent, whether it’s in terms of improving its service, adding new stores to its portfolio, or finding different ways to benefit charities and community organisations.

“The main objectives for the coming 12 months are to keep the business moving forward by continuing to develop our infrastructure and invest in our people,” concludes Mr Cunliffe. “We keep looking for evolvement, for innovation and for new initiatives to keep us ahead of the pack. We need to focus on the new stores that are opening and the different concepts we’ve created because whilst we’ve developed a multi-channel offer, we have to make it even better than what it is. It’s only by constantly looking for further improvement throughout our operation, from the very top through to the individual branches that we can avoid becoming complacent and continue to keep our momentum growing as a business. The market’s never going to become any less competitive and our customers aren’t going to be lowering their expectations anytime soon, so we need to ensure we remain at the very top of our game.”

Given the growth it is continuing to see it is obvious that this is an approach that is working perfectly well for Selco and will continue to do so in 2017 and beyond.