The CEO of PWS Mark Stephenson shares his thoughts on the biggest challenges facing KBB businesses in 2020, including the need to engage with consumers across multiple platforms and ways to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint
When kbbreview interviewed me about Brexit at the end of 2018, I predicted a ‘fudge’. My gut feeling then was that nothing would be resolved by the original deadline and that thereafter, there would be an extension, during which everyone would work out what to do.
Amazingly, my prophecy was partly right. Only partly though, because the extension kept on extending and the fudging kept on being fudged. As I write this, there is still no resolution, and I’m rather glad I went with my gut and didn’t fill the PWS warehouses with contingency stock.
Of course, by the time this is published, it will be a new year and I am not going to attempt to predict what may already be actual.
However, the past year has not been solely dominated by Brexit and I hope that other companies in the sector have not allowed this to distract them too much from their day-to-day operations, which will have challenges and opportunities of their own.
At PWS, we have continued developing our products, our category offering, our service proposition and our go-to-market strategy in line with a changing trading environment. We need to make ourselves part of this change process, by remaining agile and attentive, relevant and interesting for the benefit of our trade and retail customers.
One of the biggest challenges and opportunities is the way consumer behaviour is shifting and, while customers clearly expect top levels of services and products, the way they choose to buy is key. In order to progress in 2020 and beyond, businesses need to find new ways of differentiating themselves and repositioning their sales strategies. Central to this is the creation of deeper and more meaningful engagement with consumers at multiple levels.
Largely, in our sector, the end consumer will still require a physical interaction, but the physical stage of the journey is preceded by a critical, digital path. The rise in omni-channel purchasing, blended with the need for physical experience, has created a ‘phygital’ market and I believe this is really important for the KBB sector.
Nowadays, we need to go everywhere the consumer goes, online and off-line, as well as in the showroom. Inspiration is critical throughout, from brochure and website imagery, to the all-important displays and the shopper experience. After the cost and effort of getting consumers to your business, it is becoming increasingly important to provide a differentiating in-store experience to keep the consumer more engaged.
We too have evolved the way we engage and sell to our trade customers, led by careful segmentation of our customer database, which ranges from individual builders and fitters, to design studios, manufacturers and, of course, retailers. We have tailored our routes to market to each of the client segments, with multiple collateral, supported by our flagship product directory and further supported by our online customer interface, which we shall be relaunching in the next couple of months.
While consumers will continue to look for better value, they also require high levels of trust and expectation, and in some ways the incorporation of their own values and interests, such as social responsibility.
Sustainability is increasingly front of mind for consumers and businesses and the industry is well placed to influence behaviour, both in how we operate as a sector and how consumers operate in their own homes. The KBB sector is a materials-, production- and distribution-heavy industry, so monitoring and progressing how we operate is crucial.
One of our biggest challenges is to reduce our carbon footprint by improving transport efficiency and cutting down on the packaging used in the distribution journey.
Sustainability is a key part of our strategy. Such initiatives as the transition from solvent-based paints to water-based finishes in our paint-to-order facility, and providing more services and categories from one location, are making us more efficient and effective. We are also promoting more effective storage and waste-management systems that encourage consumers to dispose and recycle more responsibly.
The amalgamation of social, economic and technological influences is clearly resulting in extraordinary changes in consumer behaviour and this is only going to continue. Businesses that offer relevant and interesting engagement at multiple levels, as well as delivering high standards in products and service, will be well positioned for the year ahead and beyond.