We've been supplying the care home sector for over 25 years. From a single truck to a high-tech warehouse, chairman & founder Tim Lockett explains how far we've come
How did you become involved in the care home market?
My family has been involved in care since I was a young. My parents started a Nursing home in the seventies and it has been in my blood ever since. I’ve witnessed at first hand the amazing work that Care Homes do and the positive impact it can have on those most vulnerable in enhancing their quality of life. At the time we were actually a customer of a company that was a competitor, their service did not meet our needs satisfactorily and we felt they took us somewhat for granted. I wanted to run as a company that understood and empathised with the care market. I felt that I would instinctively understand the standard of service required and the quality of products that we needed to provide.
What did the business look like when you first started?
Deliver Net is the second distribution business that I have started from scratch, having sold another distribution business in the 90’s. Ironically it was a former customer and a supplier that persuaded me to have another go. Deliver Net had just 4 employees in 2000 operating a single HGV vehicle. We had a Manager, Driver, Warehouse Operative and a Customer Care Supervisor, serving one major group customer client, they operated sites across the UK and we still trade with them today. We used this platform to build product ranges and customers from there.
Was there a specific turning point to success?
When I analysed the industry in 2000 it was going through great change. In the 90’s we considered a group of homes of around 5 as being quite large, today it can be more than 500. As well as some of the more recognisable groups many others were emerging. In addition to an acceleration of new builds and conversions, there was a great deal of acquisition activity which ensured some groups were going to grow at phenomenal rates. I felt that if I understood this and utilised other commercial changes, such as the growth of business internet activity and the desire for greater efficiencies and controls to be put in place as customers grew I could successfully grow the business. The internet changed everything. At the same time there was a B-2-B business explosion and we launched the industry’s first cloud based online ordering portal in 2003 which started to help customers in managing and monitoring their expenditure more effectively. Today 95% of all our orders are keyed in by our customers who truly have control at their fingertips.
What has been the toughest challenges for the business so far?
The greatest challenge has been ensuring the founding principles of the business have been maintained and continued as we have grown. As we approach 100 employees it is vital that the whole team engage positively with the core objective of keeping the customer at the forefront of everything we do. We are, quite rightly, only as strong as our weakest link.
It has also been a challenge to deal with the increasing trend to outsource procurement functions, particularly when it comes to contract renewal. This can remove or at the very least diminish the effect of years of excellence in customer service if price is the key or in some cases only driver. What you pay for the product is of course very important, and we have been successful in the majority of tender awards, but providing product quality, offering supplier support and managing product consumption efficiently, with the agreement and support of customers, will always deliver a better cost-in-use result.
What have been the three most-important milestones for the business?
- Free Supply. When the government introduced the free supply of incontinence products to care homes over 10 years ago, this product category accounted for over 60% of our turnover. We knew it would be vital to add to our product portfolio quickly before the impact took hold. With the help of key suppliers and the whole team working on a new focus, we launched a compelling janitorial offer and landed a major client within a few weeks. This has formed the corner stone of our business since and this product category is now our largest and arguably the most important.
- The launch of PICS. The traditional method of telephone ordering had been the norm for decades. When Deliver Net first started we encouraged customers to fax rather than telephone orders through because this achieved a number of positive outcomes. Greater accuracy of product type and quantity, a clearer audit trail and a greater control of products ordered for the customer. We built and maintained individual templated order forms that the customer approved and adjusted according to their needs. This formed the basis of PICS, the online ordering system that we manage so effectively today across thousands of customers. This ensures Deliver Net has a differentiating factor, which we truly embrace, ensuring our customers get the greatest value from our service.
- Becoming number one. Following a particularly busy year in 2011 we passed £20m in revenues for the first time. With my market knowledge it was clear that we were then the UK’s largest supplier of consumables to the Care Home sector. We achieved this successful expansion, by focusing on the largest care providers in the UK and other expanding groups, word of mouth recommendations and a contacts network developed over many years. Through this we were able to minimise our marketing expenditure, focus on product quality, supplier relationships and at the heart of everything, customer service and care.
When you think about the business, what are you most proud of?
Seeing the people develop and grow with the business and hear customers feedback that we are making a tangible difference to the quality of care that they provide. The positives feedback and reviews we receive from both business customers and private consumers has been inspiring. It has also been truly humbling to witness the extra mile that so many of the staff are prepared to go to in order to deliver or service.
My mind goes back to a particularly severe Winter during which we did not miss a single delivery, although a few were delayed as drivers waded through snow drifts to deliver products. We are privileged to provide a service to customers that care for our most treasured and vulnerable members of our society. We are not quite the fifth emergency service, but we all understand the importance of the products we supply.