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Direct 4×4: An off-road adventure

Founded by Harvey Pugh in the early 90s, Direct 4×4 is home to accessories for all makes and models of 4×4 vehicles. We caught up with General Manager, Mark Kerry about how the business has evolved its warehousing and operations over the years…

Tell us the story of the business
Direct 4×4 started life around 25 years ago. Back then Harvey was running the business from home in his shed selling covers for the wheels that sit on the back of 4×4 doors. Prior to this, Harvey was working alongside his brother-in-law at a company that manufactured wheel covers, so I guess that’s where it all began. Once he’d gained enough experience, he decided to set up on his own.

Harvey started buying products from UK companies and selling to garages, as well as selling at 4×4 fairs on the weekends. In 1996, we set up our website and eBay channel. From there, the business went from strength to strength, but it wasn’t until Harvey decided to import products from China that profits rose sharply. Finding our supplier, Wimbo, was lucky as it just so happened that they produced accessories like side steps, bars and the best stainless steel in the world. This meant we could not only expand our offering, but had the edge over the competition in terms of quality.

By this point, the business had outgrown the shed and numerous storage units. Today, everything is stored in one big warehouse – we enjoy 26,000 sq. ft. on the ground floor and 20,000 sq. ft. of mezzanine space.

Can you share any moments that transformed the success of the business?
I think without importing products from China, the business wouldn’t be the business it is today. For years our stock was housed in multiple locations – it was a logistical nightmare, with lots of man hours spent travelling to different storage units trying to track everything. Moving everything to one location has vastly improved efficiency and picking. Another thing that has made our processes more streamlined is automating consignments. Now we can take payments over the phone, send the order automatically straight to the warehouse and generate a consignment note for the courier. It’s great that we’re getting things out quicker and that we have the ability to track all orders in transit.

What’s the biggest challenge the business has faced?
It has to be remaining competitive. It’s only getting harder – there used to be a formula that would tell us what would sell but keeping up with the competition is a job in itself. The market has changed so much over the years; when the business first began there were very few people importing from China but now everyone is doing it. It’s so straightforward – these days you can do it from your bedroom and not have the big overheads that we have. Also, keeping pace with expansion has been tricky. In the past, being able to keep track of all our warehouses, what stock we’ve got, where it is, and what we’re selling has been a big hurdle. Today we’re starting to get on top of our stock control thanks to Volo’s centralised stock system, but there’s still a lot of work we need to do.

How has your warehousing and operations changed over the years?
It has massively evolved over the years. When we first started out, Harvey was working 70-90 hour weeks. He was doing everything from ordering stock, picking items and answering the phone – the inventory was very much in his head. We used to list items by location when we had numerous warehouses, but this threw up issues when products were moved. As you can imagine, we’d easily lose track of their whereabouts.

We’ve gone from having one warehouse Harvey managed solely, to two warehouses where he roughly knew where everything was, but now we’re back to one large space that our 16-strong team is in charge of. Nothing used to be barcoded, but now every single item is barcoded, scanned and imported into the Volo system. I’d say we feel a lot more in control of the warehouse today. Volo has saved us a tremendous amount of time in automating so many jobs we used to manually do, which has freed us up to focus on the competition.

I think the team has felt a massive sense of relief since we’ve implemented automated systems. The atmosphere has really changed – everyone used to feel under pressure, and now we’re focusing on building our social media presence and dealing with stock. It’s so nice for everyone to have more time to think.

What does success mean to Direct 4×4?
For most ecommerce businesses profit comes first, but for Direct 4×4 it’s not the driving force. We care more about keeping our heads above water so we can build a sustainable business that’s going to be very profitable in years to come. It’s a family business, so we’re investing in generational success.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Never second guess. You can look and think you know what’s best for the business, but what you really need are the facts and figures to properly investigate if you are making a smart choice. We’ve been guilty of making poor decisions in the past, but we’ve learnt to properly think things through.

What are your top tips for ecommerce success?
Start with your stock and implement a good inventory system that creates a solid audit trail. We were always looking at Google and eBay ads, which is important, but you have to look at your stock first – unless you have that under control you can’t grow and evolve. Without doing this, you’ll soon run into problems. Also use every relevant channel and keep translation front-of-mind, for example after the UK, Germany, Italy and France are our biggest markets. Track where your website visitors are from and ask yourself if your site works for those countries – you can’t just be thinking of the UK.

How do you think the world of ecommerce will transform in years to come?

I think we’ll see more people uptake the click and collect service, and same day delivery service will grow – although I think this is only something the bigger retailers can offer at the moment. You can’t ignore the rising use of mobile and the high volume of sales coming from these devices – soon I think they will overtake desktop orders.

What does the future hold for Direct 4×4?
Getting totally in control of our stock by reducing our dead stock down to around 5% is our immediate focus. The leaner Direct 4×4 can be with stock, the better. We’ve also just partnered with another Chinese company that manufactures the only steel canopies in the world, so we’re working on getting them into dealerships and the fleet market by doing a lot more road shows where we can meet the buyers.

Go back

Direct 4×4 : An off-road adventure

Founded by Harvey Pugh in the early 90s, Direct 4×4 is home to accessories for all makes and models of 4×4 vehicles. We caught up with General Manager, Mark Kerry about how the business has evolved its warehousing and operations over the years…

Tell us the story of the business
Direct 4×4 started life around 25 years ago. Back then Harvey was running the business from home in his shed selling covers for the wheels that sit on the back of 4×4 doors. Prior to this, Harvey was working alongside his brother-in-law at a company that manufactured wheel covers, so I guess that’s where it all began. Once he’d gained enough experience, he decided to set up on his own.

Harvey started buying products from UK companies and selling to garages, as well as selling at 4×4 fairs on the weekends. In 1996, we set up our website and eBay channel. From there, the business went from strength to strength, but it wasn’t until Harvey decided to import products from China that profits rose sharply. Finding our supplier, Wimbo, was lucky as it just so happened that they produced accessories like side steps, bars and the best stainless steel in the world. This meant we could not only expand our offering, but had the edge over the competition in terms of quality.

By this point, the business had outgrown the shed and numerous storage units. Today, everything is stored in one big warehouse – we enjoy 26,000 sq. ft. on the ground floor and 20,000 sq. ft. of mezzanine space.

Can you share any moments that transformed the success of the business?
I think without importing products from China, the business wouldn’t be the business it is today. For years our stock was housed in multiple locations – it was a logistical nightmare, with lots of man hours spent travelling to different storage units trying to track everything. Moving everything to one location has vastly improved efficiency and picking. Another thing that has made our processes more streamlined is automating consignments. Now we can take payments over the phone, send the order automatically straight to the warehouse and generate a consignment note for the carrier. It’s great that we’re getting things out quicker and that we have the ability to track all orders in transit.

What’s the biggest challenge the business has faced?
It has to be remaining competitive. It’s only getting harder – there used to be a formula that would tell us what would sell but keeping up with the competition is a job in itself. The market has changed so much over the years; when the business first began there were very few people importing from China but now everyone is doing it. It’s so straightforward – these days you can do it from your bedroom and not have the big overheads that we have. Also, keeping pace with expansion has been tricky. In the past, being able to keep track of all our warehouses, what stock we’ve got, where it is, and what we’re selling has been a big hurdle. Today Direct 4×4 starting to get on top of our stock control thanks to Volo’s centralized stock system, but there’s still a lot of work we need to do.

How has your warehousing and operations changed over the years?
It has massively evolved over the years. When we first started out, Harvey was working 70-90 hour weeks. He was doing everything from ordering stock, picking items and answering the phone – the inventory was very much in his head. We used to list items by location when we had numerous warehouses, but this threw up issues when products were moved. As you can imagine, we’d easily lose track of their whereabouts.

We’ve gone from having one warehouse Harvey managed solely, to two warehouses where he roughly knew where everything was, but now we’re back to one large space that our 16-strong team is in charge of. Nothing used to be barcoded, but now every single item is barcoded, scanned and imported into the Volo system. I’d say we feel a lot more in control of the warehouse today. Volo has saved us a tremendous amount of time in automating so many jobs we used to manually do, which has freed us up to focus on the competition.

I think the team has felt a massive sense of relief since we’ve implemented automated systems. The atmosphere has really changed – everyone used to feel under pressure, and now we’re focusing on building our social media presence and dealing with stock. It’s so nice for everyone to have more time to think.

What does success mean to Direct 4×4?
For most ecommerce businesses profit comes first, but for Direct 4×4 it’s not the driving force. We care more about keeping our heads above water so we can build a sustainable business that’s going to be very profitable in years to come. It’s a family business, so we’re investing in generational success.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Never second guess. You can look and think you know what’s best for the business, but what you really need are the facts and figures to properly investigate if you are making a smart choice. We’ve been guilty of making poor decisions in the past, but we’ve learnt to properly think things through.

What are your top tips for ecommerce success?
Start with your stock and implement a good inventory system that creates a solid audit trail. We were always looking at Google and eBay ads, which is important, but you have to look at your stock first – unless you have that under control you can’t grow and evolve. Without doing this, you’ll soon run into problems. Also use every relevant channel and keep translation front-of-mind, for example after the UK, Germany, Italy and France are our biggest markets. Track where your website visitors are from and ask yourself if your site works for those countries – you can’t just be thinking of the UK.

How do you think the world of ecommerce will transform in years to come?

I think we’ll see more people uptake the click and collect service, and same day delivery service will grow – although I think this is only something the bigger retailers can offer at the moment. You can’t ignore the rising use of mobile and the high volume of sales coming from these devices – soon I think they will overtake desktop orders.

What does the future hold for Direct 4×4?
Getting totally in control of our stock by reducing our dead stock down to around 5% is our immediate focus. The leaner we can be with stock, the better. We’ve also just partnered with another Chinese company that manufactures the only steel canopies in the world, so we’re working on getting them into dealerships and the fleet market by doing a lot more roadshows where we can meet the buyers.