Alexander Francis overcomes fires and inventory control issues
to flourish as a multichannel business
Working underneath the umbrella company of Open 24 Seven, Alexander Francis sells high-end garden furniture.
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Working underneath the umbrella company of Open 24 Seven, along with the business venture of SpyCameraCCTV, Alexander Francis is a multichannel retailer selling high-end garden furniture. But, as Lee Adams, Managing Director of Alexander Francis is quick to say: “When I say high-end, I’m not talking about price, I’m talking about quality.”
After being founded in a spare bedroom, Alexander Francis has since been transformed into a flourishing £2.5 million multichannel business with the help of Brightpearl, and sells its products on Amazon, eBay and a bespoke ecommerce website.
Founded after being shocked at the price of a piece of Swedish garden furniture, Lee Adams knew that with his business experience of the far-east, he could deliver a product similar in quality for a much lower price.
So after approaching a partner in China, Lee sketched out a few designs and sent them over, only to hear back that his designs were “no problem at all” but that he’d have to order enough to fill a container. “I remember thinking it’s only going to cost me about £1000 for one set, and I’m sure I can put the other nine sets on eBay. We did, and they flew out of the door!”
“The first year, we sold 4 containers, the next we did 8, then 16, then 32… and then the next year we had a very big fire.”
In March 2013, Alexander Francis were stocking up for their busiest time of year. “We had around 14 containers come in, and more coming throughout the summer.” Before the rush of their busiest season kicked in however, disaster struck. “Sadly someone came along, broke into the warehouse, poured petrol all over our furniture and lit it. We lost all of the furniture and the building too.” Lee reflects: “We were a growing company, it was a real kick in the nuts.”
But three years on and the brand is stronger than ever, thanks to Brightpearl.
Before taking on Brightpearl, Alexander Francis used spreadsheets, Sage, Google Docs, and Platform One. “We were using multiple different systems for all of these processes, so we needed some way to integrate them all,” Lee tells us.
Lee recalls: “We used to pass notes around the office from a sales call. If we had someone call in, we wouldn’t know if we’d talked to that customer before. We had Sage but it lacked customer management capabilities, it was mainly just for creating invoices and some of the reports were a little bit limiting.”
Their main challenge though was inventory management. Expanding rapidly, Alexander Francis found it difficult to get past its growing pains: “Financing our growth was pretty tough - we just didn’t have the cash flow.” The MD remembers: “Sometimes we’d leave for the weekend, come back on Monday and realize we’d have sold more stock than we had!”
Around the same time, Amazon brought in Seller Ratings, grading companies on a variety of factors, and the business simply couldn’t adapt to it quickly enough. “Stuff was going out late, and we were waiting for stock because we were selling things that we didn’t yet have. We got ourselves into all kinds of mess dealing with managing our stock, and we ended up getting kicked off eBay and Amazon!”
Integrate numerous inadequate systems into one
Improve visibility and communication in the sales process
Improve customer relationship management
Manage a notoriously unruly inventory
Run the business on systems capable of scaling with their growth
After assessing Brightpearl, Alexander Francis were struck by how complete of a solution the cloud-based system could deliver. Remedying its pains around CRM, sales, accounts and inventory management, within a year, Alexander Francis was back up on Amazon and eBay, as well as growing their highly profitable ecommerce website too.
Acknowledging the difficulties they faced after being kicked off Amazon and eBay, Lee admits: “We had some real issues that needed solving. Brightpearl made sure we had something in place to prevent us selling stock that we didn’t have.” Eradicating double-selling and a disorganized inventory, Brightpearl enabled Alexander Francis to get back to their multichannel roots.
Crucial to their business, Amazon enables Alexander Francis to sell to the UK, Italy, France, the US, and they’ve now been invited to start selling to Amazon directly through Vendor Central - a testament to how far they’ve come. “Getting invited to Vendor Central couldn’t be better for us - and it’s something we certainly wouldn’t have been able to do without Brightpearl.”
Not only transforming their marketplace presence, the ability to manage sales and CRM within Brightpearl was a blessing for Alexander Francis. “It used to be that you’d come in on a Monday morning, pick up your keyboard and notice that there are two sales leads hiding under there, but bringing in Brightpearl meant that things were getting done a lot more efficiently.”
Since implementing Brightpearl, Alexander Francis has grown 92.3%, from a £1.3M business to a healthy £2.5M in turnover. Lee Adams attributes this largely to the fact that resource management is easier within Brightpearl.
Instead of hiring an extra two or more people “at around £50,000 a year,” Lee tells us, “I can reallocate the resources I would have spent in admin into producing more sales. I can segregate my customers, contact them more regularly, and develop a bigger marketing department, enabling me to build my business.”
Another huge benefit Brightpearl provides is the live profit and loss reporting (P&L): “I use the P&L on a daily basis, because I can see all the invoices that have come in the door, and any goods that have gone out of the door, so I’ll know in a snapshot where we are in that month.”
When asked how he saw the company developing over the next few years, Lee sees Alexander Francis settling into a comfortable position in the market. Thanks to Brightpearl, the brand now “requires very little maintenance, as it runs very smoothly.”