Over the last nine years CEF’s data team has grown from just two people to 38 people, with a further 200 people in their new Biggleswade customer service and logistics centre. Those figures tell you something about the increasing importance of ecommerce for CEF. The brains and energy behind the drive to create a multi-channel digital operation that is fully integrated into their wholesale business, is Jeremy Saunders, Director of Operations.
“I’ve worked in electrical wholesaling for 29 years and when I was asked by CEF to set up its ecommerce operation about nine years ago I can safely say that I knew very little about the subject,” explains Jeremy. “It has been a massive learning curve for me personally and for the business. Reflecting on the journey we’re on, the biggest challenge has not been the website, creating new departments or the logistics operation – because you can hire in experts or outsource services – it has been “product data”. Data is the engine you need to power your business.
“We decided early on that we would take responsibility for generating product data ourselves, because back then we couldn’t get it from anywhere else. We bought a PIM system and set about building our own product library, enriching that data, and doing all the product photography inhouse.
“Every order placed on www.cef.co.uk comes into our Biggleswade hub to be fulfilled, and we have 200 people, and growing, dedicated to customer services, picking and packing and making sure that 2,500 orders are despatched every day.”
Over the next 12 months, the Bedfordshire facility will double in size “This was always the plan” explains Jeremy, “we have ambitious growth targets, and when the expanded site is up and running, our aim is to fulfil up to 15,000 orders a day. That’s a respectable target, and with some increased automation, it is achievable. It’s more than that, though, it’s about having a vision, developing a strategy and executing it”
What’s the message for the UK’s wholesale sector? “Whether you are a big or small business, we all have a responsibility to protect our business sector for the future. What we’ve done here at CEF is by no means the finished article. There’s so much more to achieve and you never get to the end of the challenge, but one thing is for sure, it doesn’t matter whether it is product data or transactional data, it is all about the data.”