This is the 3rd in our Blog series which focuses on how a variety of industries are adjusting their marketing activity through lockdown easing – we have picked the brains of 3 business owners in each sector to find out what is happening.
This week, we are focusing on Building & Office Services, and our contributors are Russell Stoner – Founder of Safe Within the Box; John Kelly – Owner at Restormate, Restoration & Cleaning Supplies (pictured) and Adam Huttly – Owner of Red Inc.
This group were particularly generous with their responses (thank-you guys!), so I hope you find the insights they share interesting and informative.
1) Please describe your business in under 15 words
RS : Safe Within the Box : Securing Items Safe Within The Box
JK : Restormate : We supply specialist cleaning products to a niche market.
AH : Red Inc : UK’s leading sustainable office supplies company, one that considers people and planet over profit
2) What problems do you solve for your customers?
RS : I aim to solve the majority of problems by identifying the customer needs, long before the customer knows what he/she wants. We use selective questions to gain information of what they are protecting, and where the product has to be installed within their particular property.
JK : Due to vast experience in our field, we are able to sort out most problems our customers encounter. These usually involve Mould, Bio
Hazards or just Problem Stains.
AH : Discovering how we could overcome convention by focusing on more than just profit. We’re challengers to the industry, with new and ambitious ways of thinking that support our net-zero journey. By remaining true to our vision of creating a truly sustainable office supplies company we have attracted loyal clients, who put a value on protecting society and the environment.
3) Why do people buy from you rather than your competition?
RS : Knowledge, and making customers feel warrantied for calling my business, and having a genuine interest in them, what they are looking
for and protecting and solving their needs. In some cases, it’s the quickest and most convenient time. In some cases the cheapest, some cases wanting the very best product. All in all, its the human interaction that wins the sale.
JK : Due to our exemplary customer service. Things don’t often go wrong, but when they do they are rectified as soon as physically possible.
AH : Our business was created to break the mould of traditional supplier models and reverse outmoded and wasteful industry practices.
4) Focusing primarily on Marketing, What’s the main difference between your business now and your business pre-Covid?
RS : Pre covid, we were selling more safes and services because more people were in work and spending other people’s money. When you work from home, the requirements lessen and the monetary aspect hits hard so their personal goals shift. Homies want things cheaper, yet still want you to delivery in the fastest time and with the same knowledge and customer attention.
JK : Not a lot really. We are well known in the industry so most people know of us. We are also active on social media. We actually spend less
than 1% of turnover on marketing. (Probably not what you like to hear!)
The majority of our customer base is made up of Carpet Cleaners. These are usually one man bands although there are a few larger outfits
including franchises. We find a lot of the smaller guys struggle to find customers. Feedback lately is that there returns from Facebook
advertising have plummeted due to the Apple situation.
AH : Covid-19 is the most wide-reaching public health crisis our world has faced in a long time. It took the world by surprise and has significantly impacted nearly every aspect of business operations globally. Since the first lockdown in March 2020, businesses have had to adapt rapidly to survive and Red-Inc is no different.
Our business is reliant on people being in the office, using the stationery and products we supply. When offices closed and people were advised to work from home, purchasing patterns of office supplies changed.
As a small and agile business, Red-Inc were quickly able to embrace those changes to support the new home working community.
While we have seen some clients spending less; we’re running at similar levels to last year. Unfortunately, like so many companies, we sadly won’t see the growth we’d forecast for 20/21.
The pandemic has highlighted vulnerabilities across so many industries. One of the key vulnerabilities that has been brought to the front, in the world of office supplies, is the focus on price above anything else. This narrow focus means the slightest change in market conditions can have catastrophic results. As it did for a significant wholesaler who collapsed just a few weeks into the first lockdown.
And let’s not forget that whilst Covid-19 was bedding in, the impact of Brexit was also being felt, leading to product shortages and delayed deliveries.
NMcK : On a positive note, Adam, what were the pleasant surprises for your business during lockdown?
AH : Whilst sales of office stationery were down, we saw improved sales from other product lines including PPE, janitorial, furniture such as office chairs and technology solutions like monitors and keyboards.
This is reflective of the attitude of the great companies we work with, who looked after their staff by allocating budget to help set up their home offices.
2020 was a year of awakening, that not enough is being done to protect our planet and future generations from the climate crisis. Companies have been forced to think about long-term sustainability over short-term profits.
We’ve seen a significant increase in new clients looking for an office supplies company that didn’t just sell ‘green’ products but one that offers a truly sustainable alternative.
5) Are you planning to trial any new marketing techniques, or bring back
any old favourites, as we start to come out of lockdown easing?
RS : Marketing: Yes, I’m trialling Facebook advertising. It is a cheaper way to advertise, E.G: Just spent £40.66 with a return of 23,000
impressions and doubling site visits, and, Yes, a couple of sales. Its early days, but, I can see it raising our profile as I trial ads.
NMcK : That’s a really good response rate, great news Russell!
JK : The pandemic has had no financial effect on our business in fact sales were up 30% last year. A lot of our customers are people who do
sanitation work, trauma scene clean-ups etc and they were picking up additional work cleaning and fogging workplaces and medical facilities.
AH : Our business model isn’t typical in our industry. We put planet over profit every time and how we approach marketing isn’t any different.
We’re a small business and don’t have the resources to put behind big and often wasteful marketing campaigns. We’ve never adopted marketing strategies that aim to capture any client that needs office supplies. Our goal is to attract customers who have an ethical and environmental conscience.
Red-Inc has always had a clear sense of who we are, what we stand for and what we want to achieve. We’ve then worked to project this identity consistently to the point where clients come to us as they have noticed what we stand for.
Over the last 18months we’ve recertified as a B-Corp proving our commitment to our sustainable journey, we’ve joined in sustainability panels to share our expertise and written blogs sharing our story to inspire others. Most recently we became signatories of ‘Race to Zero’, which is a UN-backed global campaign rallying non-state actors, like us, to take rigorous and immediate action to halve global emissions by 2030.
If I had to identify a particular ‘marketing strategy’ that we’ve focused on it would be client relationship development. Without clients who support and understand the value of what we do, we wouldn’t be able to operate. Whether that involves offering exceptional customer service or personal communications, we at Red-Inc know that without client buy-in and engagement we wouldn’t be able to offer the unique services that we do.
NMcK : Congratulations on keeping up your B-Corp, it’s great to see the growing recognition of this important certification. Just thinking on, as we come out of lockdown, which Marketing strategies will you continue to use more than you did in 2019?
AH : As we come out of lockdown it will be more of the same for Red-Inc. Whilst we will reflect on what we have done in previous years we want to keep the momentum and interest growing around our uniquely sustainable business model.
We will be looking at improving brand awareness and growing our online reputation. Attracting clients through our points of difference. These include;
- 100% order fulfilment – eliminating wasteful second deliveries
- Industry leading paper offset scheme
- Zero waste deliveries
- Providing a purpose led business, helping to boost transparency in our clients supply chain
For us it’s less about marketing and more about having the right conversations with customers and stakeholders, who care about supporting a green recovery and who want to hear how we can help them improve their sustainability credentials.
NMcK : Ultimately, every business needs a variety of ways of encouraging target customers to find them, so thinking about the next 12 months Adam, will you be spending more or less on marketing than in 2019?
AH : In the next 12months we’re going to be focusing on raising awareness of what we do and why we do it! We operate a lean budget for marketing as we believe we can achieve far more if we focus our spending on sustainable innovations. This year will be no different in terms of our allocation of spending on marketing.
As sustainability becomes a critical issue for businesses both big and small we want to show we’re pioneers who’ve broken the mould and moved away from a traditional way of operating to one that is bold and innovative, in our industry at least. Who knows, we might help inspire other SMEs to make a decisive move away from the old ways of doing business to one the embraces the opportunities of being a business for good and not one that is just for profit!
Our focus will remain on finding new and better ways of adapting our business to minimise our impact and maximise our benefit to people and the planet.
We’re in the early stages of an exciting new project, working in conjunction with our clients. We want to see how we can bring the stationery world into the circular economy. This involves looking at the overall, cradle-to-grave, impact of our products. The focus for us will be looking at how we can collect and reuse stationery products at the end of their life to avoid valuable resources ending up in landfill.
For us it isn’t just about marketing and selling ‘green products’ it’s about how we do business across the board.
6) Personal question: What things are you more likely to buy online than
you did a year ago?
RS : Interesting question, being a tight Yorkshire man, I’m not in the habit of spending money on stuff, unless its broken, I need it or just
want it. I recently ordered some summer shirts, online, but… I also hiked to this particular brand store and spent money because. 1: I
could try it on, 2: Like the brand for longevity, 3: Preferred the human interaction, much to the chagrin, nay annoyance, of my better
NMcK : Love it Russell!
JK : Still personally prefer physical shopping rather than online but it is getting very hard to do either at the moment. As with some of our
products there are huge shortages worldwide. I was looking for a garden shed and garden furniture. Out of stock everywhere but did
manage to find boxed unopened items just what I was looking for and local, on Facebook Market Place.
NMcK : Yes, the combination of Pandemic restrictions, Brexit and the challenges in forecasting demand through lockdowns have been pretty devastating to so many retailers. We agree that people will return to physical shopping, but maybe less frequently than before, and almost certainly having done more online research beforehand.
NMcK : and Adam, how are your team reacting to lockdown ending?
AH : Like everyone they’re desperate to return to normal and continue on our mission to be the UK’s most respected and sustainable office supplies company.
Our team is very sociable and we all look forward getting back to having team meetings in cafes by the beach. Top of the list will be celebrating with team members who have become parents and achieved other major milestones over lockdown.
Most of all we can’t wait to get back to growing our business, welcoming new team members as growth continues, sharing our ideas with future clients and getting stuck into new ventures.
Thank-you to Russell, John and Adam for sharing their insights – here are links to their websites if you’d like to find out more about their businesses :
Russell Stoner : https://safewithinthebox.co.uk/
John Kelly : https://www.restormate.co.uk/
Adam Huttly : https://www.red-inc.com/