The retail industry is constantly being told how convenience is key to success in a multichannel, data-driven, mobile world. But for Screwfix, with the majority of its customers consisting of tradespeople, convenience is of the utmost importance.

"For our trade customers, time is money," Screwfix chief executive, Andrew Livingston tells Essential Retail. "There is nothing worse than a tradesperson leaving a job site, going to a store and being left disappointed – it costs them time and money."

Up to 75% of Screwfix customers are from the trade industry, while the remainder is made up of "serious DIY-ers" who feel they have "got in on a secret".

Catalogues to mobile

The retailer began as a catalogue business in 1979 and still sends out four catalogues a year. In an age where digital eradicated the Littlewoods catalogue only last year, it may be surprising to hear Livingston say its catalogue and monthly flyer distribution is continuing to increase.

"Tradespeople still use catalogues, they're incredibly important – it sits in their van and they can pull it out while on site."

But for Screwfix it isn’t a case of paper or digital, Livingston says after the online launch in 1999, its web and mobile channels are also growing significantly and the retailer's most valuable customers are the ones which shop across all channels – catalogue, store, online, and the call centre which is available 24-hours a day.  

"Our customers still call up with orders, sometimes it's easier when you're driving as you don't have to stop and pull over to use a mobile device," he explains, noting his customers tend to still have the latest technology which they use to run their business.

"They use mobile to place orders, invoice and we also send digital receipts directly to customers. We have an app and the entire store is [available offline] in their pocket."

Screwfix also recently launched a dedicated Quick Shop application, pulling together a customer's order via a QR code which is then presented to the staff at a Screwfix store, speeding up the process and negating the need for laborious paper forms.

Bricks & mortar

The first store opened in 2005 and the retailer now has 458 stores up and down the country, ensuring 90% of the UK is a 30-minute drive away from a Screwfix.

Owned by Kingfisher, in the last set of financial results Screwfix reported a 23.4% increase in sales (13.3% like-for-like) for the third quarter of 2015, compared to sister company, B&Q, which only reported a 1% increase in sales (2.4% like-for-like) and is the middle of a transformation leading to a significant amount of store closures.

But Screwfix has opened one store every week for the last five years and has 60 within the M25, which have been trialled to open later to help those traders under pressure from traffic in the busy London region. Some stores have also experimented with large touchscreen devices at the trade counter to help customers work their way around the catalogue format.  

"We've gone in an opposite direction to most retailers, we had a direct business, went online and then opened stores," he adds, saying Screwfix plans to bring its total number of stores up to 600.

The retailer has even segmented its stores especially for its highest value customers – plumbers and electricians. "We sliced off a part of the store and gave it a different door entrance, almost a bit like the airlines have done," explains Livingston. "Plumbers and electricians are higher spenders and we wanted to make them feel a bit more special, like a separate elite club which you have to qualify to join, with helpful products, tea and coffee and a special catalogue which prioritises their products."

Click & Collect

Click & Collect is the retailer's fast growing service, and arguably one of retail's most efficient, thanks to its live inventory system which means items are picked within five minutes of ordering from any store across the UK. It helps that customers cannot touch the majority of stock; therefore Screwfix employees know exactly where items are behind the counter – in a similar way to the Argos warehouse model.

Screwfix has two distribution centres in England – one for parcel picking and the other to replenish stores, while its web-based Oracle EPG system supports inventory and sales activities across all channels. "We made this development six years ago and it was a big business change for us as previously we were running on legacy systems we'd built ourselves."

Convenience and consistency

"Convenience is a big word for us, getting customers in and out and turned around as quickly as possible," he says. "Some may stop for a tea or coffee and like to chat to staff, but the majority want to get back on the road to maximise earning time."

Livingston says some customers start a day's trade the night before by making an online order ready to Click & Collect on the way to the building site in the morning, while others going to a house visit do not know what they might face. "They can pull out their mobile phone and order it online, the tradesperson then goes and picks it up from store and it will already be picked before they leave their customer's house," he says.

"Our customers need certainty. If they're leaving their site, they don't want to be gone for an hour and left disappointed, it's a waste of time," he says. "We're here to help customers get their jobs done quickly, affordably and right the first time."

And Livingston doesn’t think this will change much over the next five years. "It will be about improving convenience, product leadership and our values. That is crucial. And keeping our customer focus as our business gets bigger."

Livingston took to the stage at RBTE in London on Wednesday 9 March. His keynote presentation looked at how Screwfix provides conveince to its customers using mulitchannel.