Revisit your business model

By Graeme Bailey, managing director of Business Micros Group.

When Business Micros acquired The Consultancy in February last year in order to develop our Touch online sales and ordering platform, we obviously had no idea just how timely that decision would turn out to be.

In just over a year, the pandemic has triggered the kind of digital shift which would normally have taken closer to a decade.

The figures from the online retail association (IMRG) are pretty startling. In 2020, online sales grew by 36%, the biggest year on year increase in 13 years and 46% of UK consumers purchased a product online that they had previously only ever purchased in store. Most telling perhaps, 32% of consumers expect to continue with their new ecommerce habits into the future, with 57% of the most affluent households (those earning £96,000 or more per year) strongly agreeing that they will spend a higher proportion of their income online rather than in store, even after lockdown.

In this industry, the imperative has never been stronger for businesses supplying into the retail market, either directly or via the trade, to revisit their business model and make sure it is still valid in the context of the new digital marketplace. Those who think the market will go back to normal are, in my view, very much mistaken.

Both our research and our digital experience suggest that what these newly engaged online customers want is a simple, human-centred interaction that works across different devices and gives them a buying experience they actually enjoy. Even when they are visiting a physical showroom, they are still looking for something that is experience led and which is digitally connected to an e-commerce channel.

The investments we are making in our Touch platform, and which we are rolling out to the market shortly, very much reflect these changes that have taken place.

In January, we launched the stand-alone Vendor lead generation and quoting tool for installers, and the response to that has been great, with customers loving the intuitive interface and the user-friendly features.

However, it is the next phase of Touch, branded Portal, which will really transform what this industry is capable of in terms of digital engagement. Designed for use by fabricators, and with a linked Vendor option for their customers, it will provide the market with a product that serves the needs of the entire supply chain, from the homeowner making the initial enquiry all the way through the surveyor, the installer, the fabricator and the glass, profile and hardware suppliers.

Crucially, it will be powered by a library of new master datasets, which we have spent many months creating for virtually every product in the UK market, from profile suites and glass and panel ranges, to door slabs and hardware components.

Effectively, it will mean that every single Touch user will be able to populate their system with accurate data for every product they actually manufacture or sell and to do so quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively. When a homeowner creates their window and door design via an installer’s Touch Vendor online lead generation system, that design will be based not only on a product that can physically be fabricated and installed, but also a product that is manufactured and available to order via Touch Portal from their chosen supplier.

What it also means is that, in time, we will easily be able to add products like garden rooms, garage doors, decking, fencing and other home improvement products to the Touch platform and provide even more value to users.

We will be rolling out Touch Portal to the first group of fabricators from next month.