Adapting a complicated business fast with Andrew Steel from Charles Bentley (episode 294)

Andrew Steel is the eCommerce Director at Charles Bentley, founded 160 years ago as manufacturer of chimney sweeping brushes, they now balance selling brushes and cleaning products via wholesale and dropshipping to some of the UK’s largest retailers and running their own home and garden eCommerce store. Employing over 150 people, and manufacturing over 2m brushes a year has made dealing with the challenges of the pandemic particularly interesting!

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About Andrew

Andrew started with Charles Bentley  2005 and jokes that he married into the family business. But a degree in marketing and the desire to make a big impact has helped him pioneer and grow the eCommerce sector of the business.

When he started, Charles Bently didn’t sell online or B2C. Starting with an equestrian brush set on eBay that sold quite well — Andrew has grown the eCommerce tremendously with an entire range of Charles Bently products and others sourced from other manufacturers.

Starting with eBay was a great way for Andrew to test the waters and see if their products were viable for consumers—something that he says would be harder to do with the complexity of marketplaces today. 

Working Through COVID

Charles Bentley has a contract with NHS for cleaning products — which characterizes their business as an essential one. Even though they were never expected to close shop in response to the pandemic, dealing with the crisis has been challenging.

A robust mix of wholesale, B2C and drop shipping has been a healthy dynamism that has provided some flexibility with current conditions. Like everyone — Charles Bentley has experienced strain with online ordering tripling over the course of the pandemic.

They’ve adapted the business model and shifted staff around, as well as increased hiring to deal with the eCommerce demand. Andrew says the company hit it’s 5 year eCommerce sales goals early this year and he expects that trend to continue.

Global Impacts

Much of the company’s manufacturing is in China, Vietnam and Sri Lanka where the impacts of the pandemic had massive resonances throughout the entire business.

Having those supply chains impacted with an increase in demand meant the company had to act fast. Andrew said that their first priority was making sure everyone was safe and healthy and they pivoted as quickly as possible to find manufacturing substitutes from Europe.

Interestingly, they saw a massive increase in demand for unusual products. Broom sales skyrocketed and they saw a huge surge in paint brushes. Andrew speculates that the stay at home order likely spurred a lot of DIY projects and spring cleaning type of events. 

Amping up Customer Service

Addressing the surge in demand while still delivering a great customer experience has been a challenge for the business.

Andrew is expecting to see online sales stay strong as people continue to feel more comfortable buying online, so the necessity of growing customer service internally makes sense as a long term plan.

Charles Bentley tripled its resources in customer service across all sectors of the business in order to try and keep up with the unexpected demand.

The training of so many new employees has been difficult as well, especially as they try to get everyone onboard while following health guidelines—much of it remote—but Andrew says that the entire team has hustled to make it a reality.

eCommerce Book Top Tip

eCommerce Traffic Top Tip

  • Google PPC has been the best converting marketing method with a much lower bounce rate than in the past. It’s been converting so well on their own site, the company shut down ads on Amazon. 
  • Affiliate Management company to drive traffic.

Tool Top Tip

Growth Top Tip

  • Think Big and work backwards and plan plan plan to make it happen

Interview Links

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