Rifina Co Ltd – An interview with Managing Director, Richard Batlam

April 19, 2016

Rifina Co Ltd is a family-owned electrical wholesaler started in June 1977 by Frank Bartlam and his wife Dorothy. The current MD, Richard, is Frank’s son. Frank Bartlam was on the board of the EWF, the forerunner of the EDA, for many years, and president in 1983.

Could you describe how the company has grown?

The company started business in June 1977 in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. It still has a branch in the same premises today. Several years ago, the head office moved to a larger site in Tewkesbury, close to the M5. A third branch in Cirencester, Gloucestershire was opened later, extending the company’s coverage across the Cotswolds.

The company has always sought to grow and at a pace that is consistent with maintaining good service to existing as well as new customers. Our conservative, step-by-step approach to growth has ensured stability for the business through good times and bad over the past 40 years.

Do you have ambitions to expand outside Gloucestershire?

Rifina’s three premises are well placed to serve Worcestershire, Avon, Wiltshire and West Oxfordshire, and the company already has a significant presence in each of these counties. Expansion will be carefully managed – and properly resourced – to ensure new customers are served just as well as customers who have been with the company for over 30 years.

Rifina is a member of the Anew distributors buying group. When did you join the group, and why?

Rifina was a member of the earlier EMMA buying consortium for many years. After CREW and NEDA amalgamated to create ANEW in 1993, all the EMMA members joined in 2001. ANEW members represent more than 20 per cent of the market in the UK.

What marks the company out among its competitors?

Rifina’s ethos is based on customer service. For example, calling a single number puts the customer in contact with the first available salesperson through a hunt system, minimising the customer’s waiting time.

The company’s investment in delivery vehicles ensures same-day delivery for stock items where the order is placed before 9am. Customers’ urgent needs can be catered for without disrupting scheduled deliveries.

Rifina has long prided itself on the expertise of its staff – not just their technical product knowledge but also their ability to source hard-to-find or obscure products on the customer’s behalf. This helps hard-pressed customers seeking to keep plant running with the minimum of downtime, and also customers working to short deadlines.

Rifina works with many manufacturers – we are not tied to a single brand for any particular product. Our sales philosophy is to consistently offer the customer brands that are the best for their needs, rather than brands promoted simply because the wholesaler may have excess stock at a particular time.

How many staff do you have?

Twenty-six, from first year apprentices to people who have worked for the company for 40 years.

Describe the company’s commitment to staff training.

First class support for customers can only come from staff who have the skills and knowledge to offer not only the right products, but the best solutions for customer needs.

That’s why Rifina has consistently invested in staff training from full-blown apprenticeships to EDA-driven MOL courses based around a series of technical modules. Our staff development programme is further enhanced by local peer-to-peer in-house training together with training from manufacturers to fill any knowledge gaps that may arise.

How have these efforts helped the business succeed?

Properly trained staff are invariably better able to meet customers’ needs. Consistently meeting customer needs tends to foster a strong working relationship based on trust and confidence between customers and staff. In turn, the positive comments of customers have a helpful impact on the self-worth and confidence of staff members, and growth in business.

What does Rifina have planned for the future?

Rifina believes that the key to success is customer service. The company is already present in most key markets across the Cotswolds, and its expansion stems primarily from steady geographical expansion controlled in a way that ensures customer service will never be compromised. Rifina invests continually in staff development and training as well as its infrastructure. New staff are recruited as and when the need arises in line with the company’s commitment to service.

Rifina clearly sees the evolution of customers’ buying habits towards greater use of the web. Rifina’s e-trading website was launched a few years ago and is being developed to take account of changing customer needs.

PICTURE (RIGHT) – Rifina’s operations director Bill Ennis collects an award for investment in training at the EDA annual dinner earlier this year. Ennis says: “Training is crucial if we are to prepare our staff for the future of our business, I feel that knowledge is a key element in enabling us to provide total customer satisfaction.”



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