It was in 1860 when Charles Bentley sold his first broomstick, marking the beginning of a successful wooden brushes and brooms family business. The next 159 years saw the brand heritage diversifying its portfolio to include other cleaning-related equipment which are now used by Britain’s leading retail chain stores. Today, the brand celebrates more than a century-long presence in the housekeeping, garden, and homeware industry with a launch of its new website.
“As a business, we changed beyond recognition,” says Andrew Steel, ecommerce director of Charles Bentley in conversation with Tamebay. The transition saw the small business swell up into a global brand.
Charles Bentley on selling on eBay and Amazon
Andrew takes the brand’s story to the year 2005 when he first joined the company. It was the time when retail was transitioning online. The advent of ecommerce demanded the future success of businesses to jump on the omnichannel bandwagon. Consumers wanted the convenience of choice, customer-centric brands aimed to fulfil this wish.
The same year, the fifth-generation managing director, Charles Bentley saw trading on eBay as a financial opportunity. The timely move created a direct sales business under the name BuyDirect4U.
The BuyDirect4U grew to become an increasingly important sales channel for Charles, using the parent company’s expertise in manufacturing and logistics to source and distribute a range of home, garden and leisure products direct to customers homes.
Financial rewards justified the risk of selling on eBay. The first trading month saw Charles Bentley selling £3,000 worth of goods. The victory triggered other triumphs. We won the brush and cleaning business at Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda as a white-label supplier, says Andrew. The move saw the business spike up to around £18 million within about 18 months.
In 2009, the brand signed its first Channel Advisor contract to onboard Amazon and automate manual processes. Within a year, the business increased in sales on eBay and Amazon to more than 1 million. However, the brand’s rapid expansion demanded operational changes.
The expanded business included additional product categories such as garden living, homewares and leisure but also the space in which they were housed. “We had one 25,000 sq ft warehouse for online retail, then had to rent the warehouse next door at 25,000 sg ft and then traded those in for a 202,000 sq ft one.”
While Andrew says the introduction of the warehouses “made a difference,” it also saw the brand losing £150k in sales. It saw the brand relocating stock from two warehouses to a larger one, creating a difficulty to find the right stock for incoming orders. As a result, the brand was suspended on Amazon for four days for failing to keep up with orders. Andrew now describes the financial loss as a “learning experience.” But in hindsight, he says, they should have turned off the feed for a week.
When asked about the importance of social media, Andrew says the brand previously underutilised social media. However, this soon changed when an Instagram influencer showed-off the brand’s garden umbrella to their followers. The social influence saw the of sales on eBay UK soar up.
The future of marketplaces
Andrew says the future will see the Chinese players and strong brands swallowing up stagnant sellers. The evolving consumer habits, needs and wants will require sellers to offer more than merchandise. It will see shoppers demand for a brand that reflects their values, aspirations and vision.
Businesses who want to succeed tomorrow, need to act today. Charles Bentley is moving in such a manner to accelerate its brand story. “We recently employed an Ex Coca Cola, Nestle & Unilever marketing manager to help us create and drive our brand.”