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Selco – Yet another year of expansion on the cards

Selco Builders Warehouse in Wimbledon. Credit: Professional Images

With 2015 having seen Selco further expand its store portfolio by five stores, the company is already gearing up for a year of even more significant expansion.

“During 2015 we opened Redhill in Surrey in January, which was followed by Coventry in June, New Southgate in September, Weybridge and Southampton in November, with Southampton being our first venture onto the south coast,” explains Chris Cunliffe, CEO. “We’re pleased with each of our five most recent openings and the progress they’re making, although it’s still obviously early days. The initial sales have been very good and I’m confident that will continue. As for how we’ve been able to hit the ground running with these sites, as with anything – and you’ll hear me say this a lot – it’s all about getting the right people. The quality of your people is so important to the success of any company. We know that our branch concept works and it has been well received by our target audience but to actually deliver the service that we want to provide having the right employees is absolutely crucial. It’s all very well us going into a new area saying that we’re going to give the customer this and give the customer that but if we haven’t got the people in the branches on the ground to deliver that then we won’t have a business. People are the key to delivering success.”

This people-driven approach has been the rock on which Selco has been built since its creation over 100 years ago. “What sets us apart from our competitors fundamentally is our people and the investment we put into developing them to their full potential,” adds Mr Cunliffe. “A great business is delivered by great people and great people will deliver a great business, although there’s always room for improvement. We’re forever striving to improve ourselves further and not let complacency slip in. We don’t rest on our laurels and this unrelenting mindset starts with myself and the Executive and permeates throughout the wider business. We have to take that approach to keep things moving forward and look for ways to make it even better.”

It is clear that having the right people in place is a key requisite for Selco and the solid foundation on which the business has grown, but finding the right location for each branch rollout is also vitally important. This is reflected in the tremendously thorough preparation that takes place before any new opening.

“We carry out a substantial amount of work on the analytical side looking at all the demographic profiling of the areas that we’re targeting. There’s a whole host of criteria that we look for: we need to make sure there’s a high number of owner-occupiers in the area, that the road network is good and that there’s a strong volume of work available, amongst others. Gathering as much analytical data as we can plays a huge role but we also send out local management to get a real operational feel and check the actual physical delivery aspect of a site because that is equally essential.”

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With such a rapidly expanding branch portfolio, Selco has been able to take the lessons learnt from previous openings and apply that knowledge and expertise to ongoing site developments. “This learning is priceless, and regardless of how successful a branch opening is, you always need to stand back and review what could have been done better. With every new opening we are getting better each time and given that the initial concept was of a high standard to begin with, the offering that we now have is of an extremely strong quality.”

In combination with the tremendous experience it can draw upon, Selco has also been ably assisted along its expansion journey by ever-strengthening relationships with its supply chain. “We have spent a lot of time talking to our suppliers as it’s vital that they’re able to continue supporting our growth. A major part of our success is the fact that we stick to our availability guarantee, which gives the customer confidence that the product is there in the quantity that they want to purchase at any time. Whether it’s first thing on a Monday morning, the last thing on a Friday night or mid-day on a Sunday, we will have the product readily available for them to purchase. We simply wouldn’t be able to offer this comprehensive level of service without the full support of our suppliers and their continued commitment to our expansion.”

With the strength of its offering, Selco’s service provision is broad enough to cater for virtually every need and flexible enough to cope with the vagaries of a shifting marketplace. “The improvement side of the market is continuing to grow but there’s still plenty of scope for it to continue to improve even more,” says Mr Cunliffe. “Even with the recovery within the wider marketplace it remains a very aggressive environment to conduct business and everybody’s still out there fighting for their slice of the cake in order to maximise their market share. In terms of my view on the economy at the minute, I’m confident that it will continue to improve but possibly not as fast as some people anticipated.

“It is still a tough climate out there but from a Selco point of view we have always outperformed the market. If we can continue to be focused on being the best that we possibly can and don’t let complacency creep in, we will always outperform the market. That is certainly the focus that is driving the company forward at the moment. As we’re a maturing business, we’re still a fresh proposition that offers a different style of trading to our competitors. It’s about being there for the customer’s convenience, not them being there for our convenience, which is why we open seven days a week and have extended opening hours. It’s all about making life easier for the customer and keeping them as number one in our list of priorities.”

“We are continually investing in training to get the best out of our people by improving their knowledge, skills and experience. It’s far easier for us to develop and train our own employees than it is to attract people from others and then attempt to ‘Selco-ise’ them when they may already be used to one particular company’s culture. We’d much rather ‘grow our own’ than have to remould people in-line with our ethos.”

Even with the rapid growth that Selco is seeing, the business has still found the time to contribute on a charitable and community level, something that has always been at the heart of what the company is about. With its broadening horizons stretching ever further away from its Midlands-base, it has looked to make an impact in each new branch area from a community point of view.

It’s all very well us going into a new area saying that we’re going to give the customer this and give the customer that but if we haven’t got the people in the branches on the ground to deliver that then we won’t have a business. People are the key to delivering success.”

Chris Cunliffe, CEO

“The main charity for the company as a whole is Macmillan and we’ve already broken through the £250,000-barrier,” says Mr Cunliffe. “Our target is to exceed the £300,000-mark so we’re still focused and committed to achieving that goal, but we’re also supporting local initiatives as well. In Redhill we’ve undertaken some work with the local school and we worked with Warwickshire County Cricket Club, utilising the Edgbaston Classroom project, in conjunction with five local schools.  In the past year we’ve marked 25th and 20th anniversary celebrations at our Swansea and Bristol sites respectively. As part of the celebrations we donated £2,500 to local charities in both cities.

“We’re strong believers in the idea that everybody should put something back into local communities. You can’t just grow your business in a bubble; you need community buy-in to be a lasting success. This is another factor behind the longevity we’ve seen as a company. When you’re putting a package together you’ve got to cover all key components and the more you get right the better it will be for your business.”

Despite the strong momentum that Selco has been able to build, there have been various hurdles that the business has had to contend, particularly in ensuring that it doesn’t become a victim of its own success. “We have got ambitious expansion plans and there will be an even greater number of new store openings in 2016, greater even than what we achieved in 2015. The challenge is managing that expansion and making sure that we’ve got the right people in the right place at the right time to provide customers with the level of service that we consistently aim for.

New Selco store opening in Brunswick Park Industrial Estate, Southgate, Greater London. Photograph by Sam Stephenson, 07880 703135, www.samstephenson.co.uk.

“As I’ve already mentioned, maintaining our customer first approach and delivering our offer to support that approach is absolutely essential. We’re forever looking to improve and keep the offer fresh by moving with the times and ensuring that we not only meet but exceed customer expectations. As I’ve already said, people are the key to achieving all these objectives as we strive to hit our current five-year plan, which is to almost double the business by expanding our workforce from 2,100 employees to 4,000. Each of those employees will come with their own training requirements and we’ve got to support them every step of the way so that they progress to the point where their true potential is brought out.”

As its five-year plan demonstrates, Selco is a company that has one eye on the long-term picture but in the more immediate future, as 2016 gets into full swing, it is keen to continue opening new branches. “In the next 12 months our target is to hit the 50-mark, several of which will be our new City concept, which we opened our first branch of in New Southgate in September. It’s already trading really well and whilst it’s within a smaller unit to our normal branches, there’s no difference to the customer in terms of the service they receive. All the usual products are available regardless of whether the customer requires a collection service or wants to arrange a delivery. The City concept also gives us the opportunity to go into areas where we wouldn’t be able to place a full-size Selco unit, which typically requires a two-acre site. In contrast the City concept requires just 20,000 sq ft with parking for around 16 to 20 vans. This has been a really significant step for us and has opened up new doors for us, enabling us to look at locations that were previously not viable due to their size.

“The development of such a concept is something that we’ve considered for a number of years. The important aspect for each City site is that we need a branch structure around them to support them on the delivery side and to feed some stock in overnight, particularly bulkier items. We’ve got that coverage in London so it made sense to have the first branch in the capital and following 18 months of development it came to fruition. Following this initial success I anticipate more City concepts opening in the near future.

“In terms of geographical sites for potential new openings, we’re considering every major city and town and we’ll analyse and research each opportunity as they arise. The South-East is still a tremendous area of growth, and we do see a huge amount of potential there for us, but there’s also lots of towns and cities in other parts of the UK where Selco should be and will be eventually.”

“We’re strong believers in the idea that everybody should put something back into local communities. You can’t just grow your business in a bubble; you need community buy-in to be a lasting success. This is another factor behind the longevity we’ve seen as a company. When you’re putting a package together you’ve got to cover all key components and the more you get right the better it will be for your business.”

Chris Cunliffe, CEO

The development of the City concept is not the only major new development for Selco as it has also successfully rolled out its Hire initiative throughout London. “Our plan is to have the Hire service in every branch nationwide by the end of the first quarter of 2016. This will see us offering more of a complete service to customers. We have flexibility within our operation surrounding Hire in order to provide a strong level of service to meet the standards we have set.”

Selco is getting ever closer to providing a complete one-stop-shop offer and as part of this strategy it has strengthened its online proposition, which Mr Cunliffe believes will be integral to the future of the company. “We’ve done a lot of great work developing the website and getting the full product offer on there over the previous couple of years. In the past 12 months we’ve focused on making the website transactional. At the end of June we launched Selco Direct, which is a click, pay and courier next working day service where we now offer over 5,000 products. We see that as an opportunity for people to start experiencing the Selco offering in areas where we’re not currently represented and where we haven’t got branches. It therefore gives them a flavour of what Selco has to offer and what they will get eventually when we get the right opportunity to open up in their locality.

“Developing our online capabilities also helps us cater for the builders of the future as the next generation will be much more internet savvy when it comes to online purchasing. We need to make sure we have the multi-channel trading platforms that will allow us to fulfil all of our customer’s purchasing requirements now, tomorrow and in the future. As a consequence there’s a great deal of work being put into the online transactional offer and in September we launched a Click and Collect offer that is available through every single one of our stores. When browsing products customers can now easily identify which products are available in branch, through click and collect and through Selco Direct. Our click and collect offer is easy to use, allowing customers to select products they wish to purchase by adding them to their basket, paying for them and the store having their order ready in one hour.

“Once again the investment that we’ve been making in IT has been underpinned by training for our staff, although any IT development does come at a high cost. As a business we’ve got to keep our systems up-to-date and further develop our systems to give us the multi-channel trading platform that we’re striving for. That is our ambition. We’re definitely moving with the times but at the same time we won’t neglect more traditional builders who are perhaps more comfortable coming into our bricks and mortar stores. It’s all about catering for every need of every builder, young and old.

“There’s a lot going on for us as a business and we certainly could never be accused of resting on our laurels. We’re constantly looking to evolve the offer and make it fresh. It’s not a case of just delivering a click and collect service and then sitting back; we have to continually improve it to make it even better. That’s the Selco way. We’re constantly looking at how we can improve, whether it’s by increasing our range, adding new merchandise, altering the way the stores are laid out, or extending the offer into areas like we have with kitchen design and hire. It’s essentially about looking at every aspect of the business and identifying how we can improve.

“We’ve already spoken about how important the people are to our business and the importance of maintaining our training programmes because it produces a far stronger business when you can develop your own people. You can set the standards from Day One, as it’s not like bringing people in from outside the business where you have to change their standards.

“With the people we have in place and the experience we have amassed, we’re now in a good position to accelerate our expansion programme. I’m confident that we will achieve our five-year target of doubling the size of the business.”

Given the progress it has made in the past 12 months and it’s commitment to continual improvement, Mr Cunliffe has every right to be optimistic about Selco’s prospects in 2016 and beyond.