Some of the best business ideas are born out of frustration. For Manchester’s Big Red Group, which started life in 2007 as an online seller of outdoor products, that frustration came in the form of fulfillment services that constantly missed the mark.
xSellco talked to Martyn Stuttard, Big Red’s head of customer service, about the company’s decision to expand beyond selling and into third-party warehousing and fulfillment.
xSellco: How did Big Red Group evolve into an e-commerce service provider?
Martyn: Our story began many years ago when, as a rapidly growing retail business, we discovered that the available logistics and fulfillment options just weren’t cutting it. We realized that to get the service we wanted we would be better off doing it ourselves. Having been there, we know exactly what e-commerce businesses really want. We’re in a unique position to think like a retailer while acting like a logistics partner, so it made sense for us to expand and starting offering our services to other businesses.
xSellco: How many of your own websites do you currently operate?
Martyn: We have four. DS Telecom sells office phones and headsets, Capital Outdoors offers camping and caravanning products, Big Red Toolbox is a tooling supplier, and Platform Retail is our logistics business.
xSellco: Tell me a bit more about Platform Retail and what you offer other e-commerce sellers.
Martyn: A lot of e-commerce business owners like meeting people and marketing but don’t want to do the nitty gritty stuff, such as packing and shipping orders. Platform Retail is a one-stop shop for order fulfillment. Our range of services cover everything an e-commerce seller needs, from managing stock levels and inventory to pick and pack to returns management.
xSellco: Did you encounter any scaling issues over the years?
Martyn: In spreading our wings and finding out what works and what doesn’t work, we’ve discovered that certain products fit within our business model and others don’t. It’s opened our eyes to more volatile markets, such as computer components, which can fluctuate price-wise in a matter of minutes. We’ve had to work smarter and tighten up our due diligence on new suppliers and product ranges that we bring in.
xSellco: Big Red is still a thriving online seller. What’s your current supplier selection process like?
Martyn: There are a few things we discuss. Have we worked with a supplier like this in the past? Did it work? Did it not work? We also look at what’s actually in their product range because we have dealt with companies who say they do office supplies, but when you look into what that entails it could be office furniture—which is not as simple to ship as pens and paper.
You have to make sure you fully vet what products you’re bringing on board and try to filter them by what’s going to sell and what you can ship efficiently. You need to make sure the carriers you work with can carry those goods and you need to think about delivery times and SLAs. Some carriers can ship a notepad in a day whereas if you give them a wardrobe it can take a week.
xSellco: Did you learn any other lessons along the way?
Martyn: Selling internationally is a lot more complicated than domestic and there are several rules and regulations in place that can make it a minefield. For instance, you can’t ship batteries to Australia because they’re considered hazardous. The same goes for natural or organic products because they might affect Australia’s wildlife. We didn’t know about these restrictions until we started shipping internationally. Now we have a list of “bad words” that we’ve gathered over the years and if a product raises a red flag internally, it’s looked at manually by our team.
xSellco: What is the biggest challenge facing e-commerce today?
Martyn: Logistics and door-to-door service. Customer expectations are getting higher and higher and a move to same-day delivery can’t be far away. People want to know the day, the time, down to the hour of the day their order will be delivered and what van it will arrive in, so we can’t be far away from same-day shipping.
xSellco: What have been some highlights of Big Red Group’s journey so far?
Martyn: Moving into our 26,000-square-foot warehouse and seeing our business go from strength to strength. We’re currently the sixth biggest business on eBay across all our accounts.
xSellco: Where do you see Big Red Group in five years?
Martyn: We will continue to grow our marketplace channels, and we intend to make Platform Retail the No. 1 third-party logistics provider in North West England and then expand across the UK.
xSellco: Can you share some words of wisdom for those who want to create a successful e-commerce business?
Martyn: Focus on the customer experience. If you put this at the forefront of any business decision it helps to keep marketplace metrics high and you will attract new business while aiding your customer retention.