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28. 06. 2013

Building a digital future at Travis Perkins Group

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In today’s increasingly digital world it is easy to forget that there remain major business sectors that have not fully laid the foundations of their digital future. To call these industries clay-footed is to misunderstand the demands of their business. JJ Van Oosten, CIO at building merchants Travis Perkins Group, is setting about pioneering the sector’s move into the digital age as its customer base becomes increasingly mobile-oriented.

Travis Perkins Group is the UK’s largest building merchants and is listed on the FTSE 250. It is a complex business that includes Wickes DIY stores as well as BSS, specialist merchants for the boiler and plumbing industry, and tool rental business Toolstation.

Other than store-based retailer Wickes, Travis Perkins and all merchants to the construction trade rely on a culture of customer relationships that is bottom-up from yard worker to C-suite.

“We have a deep deep relationship with the customer and in the 900 branches we have the managers and staff that know their customers very very well. Our culture is very different from pure retail,” says the former retail CIO.

The Travis Perkins Group consists of 17 individual businesses, where MDs are empowered with their teams at the branch or store to build personal relationships with all their customers.

In a tight sector where those same tradesmen will also have relationships with rivals Jewsons and Wolseley, the freedom to make decisions is critical. That decision-making freedom is all about pricing. Van Oosten explains that a branch will have a relationship with a roofer that will see him secure good prices on roofing materials, but should he purchase decorating materials the deal may not carry the same benefits. This ecosystem has, he says, meant the internet has not had the same impact as it has had on other trades.

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“We are the UK’s largest merchant and reseller of building materials. I have to make sure that all my businesses are not competing with each other,” he says.

“So the opportunity is huge too embrace multi-channel and to use that to improve our operational cost base. Our supply chain is already exceptional.

Multi-channel strategies have been major challenges for retail and financial services CIOs, but add in the complexity of the relationships and the irregular pricing structure of building merchants and you can see that Travis Perkins has a big project ahead of it.

Van Oosten describes his plan as addressing multi-channel through the channels, pricing and product ranges via supply chain, data, technology platform and digital marketing.

Travis Perkins Group, like many organisations, sees mobile as the channel that will have the greatest influence on their organisation due to the popularity of the devices amongst tradesmen, but the move is not without its difficulties in recreating the relationship and experience Travis Perkins customers are used to at the yard. Van Oosten also sees mobile devices as a way to revitalise the branches by reducing paperwork.

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