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Stuart Hill: Delivering Direct

Can you give us your elevator pitch for wnDirect please?

wnDirect enables retailers to realise their international growth potential by providing managed solutions which overcome the challenges of global expansion. Essentially we make it, or rather, it is our business to understand what it means to enter new territories and know exactly what requirements each of those individual countries have. By that I mean everything from the customs procedures through to the social and cultural elements. We don’t just deliver for our retailers; we also help them develop their global strategies.

Which retailers can you boast about that fill your portfolio? 

wnDirect works with a broad range of retailers. Our solutions have been developed to work for the largest of retail brands through to smaller operators. For example our work with ASOS is well documented. We also work with a number of other well-known global brands. We are particularly proud of the relationship we have with eBay and their SME merchants. In the past it has been difficult for smaller eBay sellers to compete with their larger rivals as they have only been able to offer their customers limited delivery solutions; either consumer mail services which can be slow and unreliable or express delivery services which are predominantly aimed at a B2B market and, therefore, come with a cost prohibitive price tag. Realising that this represented a significant growth barrier for these smaller retailers eBay has brokered a deal with us which means they can now access a premium delivery service – without the hefty price tag! As a comparison a 2kg express parcel going from the USA to the UK would typically take around two days and cost £50. We could send that same parcel for £12 and would have it there within four days. This is pretty significant for smaller retailers. The world really has become their oyster.

What does your role at WN Direct entail specifically? 

To be honest with you two days are rarely the same. wnDirect has grown exponentially and a large part of that growth can be directly contributed to the ‘can-do’ attitude of the people within it. We work hard to not only respond to queries but also actually go out and pro-actively identify opportunities. Very often conversations start with retailers because we bring something to the table they didn’t even know they needed to be aware of! I spend a great deal of time travelling, which means I get the opportunity to witness many different cultures. Whilst this can be an exhausting element of my job I always try to visit new places with my eyes wide open and embrace what I see. Understanding the diversity of our world is what has helped differentiate wnDirect.

Can you tell us what you learned what to and what not to do from your previous experiences at John Lewis and ASOS?

Both ASOS and John Lewis are incredibly positive examples of ‘how to get it right’. Both retailers, whilst very different in their focus, have each managed to carve distinctive brands which resonate which their target audiences. They have achieved this by putting the customers first. So I guess one of the most important learnings is never forgetting what your customer wants and needs. From our perspective that is not only the retailers we work for but their customers as well because ultimately we are fulfilling the retailer’s promise to that end consumer.

What is the future for international e-commerce? 

I think international ecommerce will continue to grow. In fact there is still significant growth potential, as a relatively small proportion of global brands have offered their wares to foreign audiences. Once billed as the answer to the British high street’s woes I think there has been a settling down period, which is positive for the retail industry. Retailers now recognise that whilst global expansion can offer significant advances it also comes with a number of hurdles that need to be overcome. The retailers who succeed are those that take a slow and steady attitude to their global expansion.

There is also still significant growth opportunity. In terms of a global market ecommerce is still relatively new. The UK has been at the forefront of this revolution; quick to embrace the opportunities international expansion can bring. However, many other global regions such as the US, China and Germany are just waking up to the opportunities and we are well placed to help them realise the benefits international ecommerce can bring.

Can you tell us what the last thing you personally bought online was? 

My most recent online purchase was an iPhone 5S and I wouldn’t be without it when travelling. It is a compact ‘office’ as it enables me to stay in touch, edit documents and all the other things I need to do on a daily basis. It is also a personal retreat as when I need to escape I can pop my headphones in and drift off somewhere less hectic!

What has it meant to you to be involved in the National Business Awards this year? 

It is an incredible honour to be recognised by the National Business Awards. To be identified by such an institution when we are still such a young company is something we are all very proud of. It makes all that hard work worthwhile to be recognised by such a respected organisation within our first 18 months of trading.

How did you prepare for the event? 

The team who attended the event, quite literally, live and breathe wnDirect so studying wasn’t the challenge! The challenge was to describe our business in 10 minutes in a succinct manner that resonated without all talking at once. Our business is, on the one hand, incredibly simple. We deliver parcels for retailers internationally. However, once you start to look in detail our business is incredibly complex. The nuances of what can and can’t be delivered into what countries, what duty those items demand and what checks have to be gone through can become incredibly confusing for people not in the business. Fortunately for us, but sometimes unfortunately for others, we can all get a bit passionate about the business and fail to recognise not everyone knows what we mean when we start spouting export acronyms!

With Christmas just around the corner, how are you planning to get the business ready to meet orders?

As any retailer knows planning for Christmas starts far ahead of the actual season. Planning for peak periods is something we help manage with retailers as they really do represent important business periods with Christmas being the most exciting time in a retailer’s calendar. Our planning is more than complete and we have started to move into the Christmas plan execution period!

Can you name some of the pitfalls businesses can fall into by not preparing for the Christmas period in time? 

In the most basic of terms not adequately planning = failure and failure at such a vital time can have a significant impact on business for the rest of the year. If we fail in our ability to support retailers at such a vital time both in terms of revenue and brand management then I would expect not to be included on the Christmas card list the following year! Christmas really is a significant part of a retailer’s calendar and it is our job to not only respect that but also do everything we can to support them so they are able to maximise the opportunities the festive season brings.

We also understand that Christmas is about flexibility and being able to work with a retailer through that period. We understand that forecasting is never totally accurate and a vital part of our role is being able to adapt accordingly to support the retailers when their orders flow differently from what they anticipated.

Personally, how will you be spending Christmas? 

For the team at wnDirect Christmas really doesn’t start on a personal level until Christmas Day. Right up to Christmas Eve we will be watching the orders turn to deliveries. It is, admittedly, a stressful time as we recognise the important role we are playing in the Christmas’ of many people around the world. However, when you see those orders turn into successful deliveries we all do take a lot of pride in knowing that we are helping to spread a bit of Christmas magic throughout the world.

Once everyone’s orders have been delivered I shall be off to Center Parcs with my wife and two little girls keeping an eye on Santa making sure he gets his deliveries done for them!

Last question then; what does leading a business mean to you? 

Leading a business is all about focus and the team around you. The team really is EVERYTHING. Of course you need drive and determination and all those other positive attributes but, I believe, most importantly you need the strength and courage to remain focused. Of course you should evolve leaping from one ‘big thing’ to the next does nothing but distract the business. Oh and recognising that you don’t have all the answers. But by surrounding yourself with brilliant people you will get a damn sight closer…

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