Digital disruption transcends industry borders and the merchanting sector isn’t immune to this.

A new generation of digitally empowered customers is faced with an unlimited choice of what, when and where to buy. In response, smart merchants are looking to digital transformation as the key to innovation, growth, and the discovery and creation of new business opportunities.

In this interview, we catch up with Paul Haslam, Transformation Director at Specialist Decorators’ Merchants Leyland SDM, as he shares his experiences on the challenges of starting a digital transformation program, managing cultural aspects and discusses some key learning points.

Portions of the content from this interview have been edited for clarity.

The case for Digital Transformation

Robin Coles: Paul Haslam is currently the Transformation Director of Leyland SDM and was brought into the company to drive their transformation objectives. So, Paul, you’re part way through this process and no doubt are starting to see the benefits that you’re going to get. I wonder if you could start by telling us, why did Leyland feel it’s necessary to employ Paul Haslam at the start of this journey, what are you trying to achieve?

Paul Haslam: Well it all started two years ago when I had a brief four-hour conversation with the owner and he’d seen Screwfix’s results who achieved a 20% growth as a consequence of offering click-and-collect. And he said, ‘I want you to put click-and-collect into my business’. Little did I know that when I joined the business, there were 16 stores and there was no ERP solution. So in essence, that was my starting point. The other thing they threw in as well was, ‘By the way, were moving warehouse across London’.

Robin Coles: Ok.

The Challenge

Paul Haslam: So that really created the challenge. I had to find an ERP solution and I had to go looking for a partner. I saw the ERP solution as our key enabler. We heard earlier in the webinar that you might not want to start a transformation program with the ERP solution, but I think if you don’t have one of any description then it probably is the starting point, it is the backbone to any project. One of my favourite authors is a guy named Stephen Covey and his message is to always start with the end in mind. And that’s what I asked the business, ‘What is the end? Yes ok, click-and-collect, what else might we want?’

And one of the things is that we have 23,000 products in stores that are 4000 square feet or smaller. That’s no mean feat so one of the things we were looking at was, how can we reduce the range in store but still have the same ranks? So we said right, we’d like to have tablets, so that’s going to give us range extension, we might also go, what else can we get on the tablet? Oh, we can actually have service supply catalogues as well. So we become perhaps a point of access to heavier stuff than we normally do in the painting and decorating world. We looked at how do we improve our warehouse, how do we improve our stores, how do we do our marketing? You know it’s about customer acquisition, and more important, about customer retention.

Cultural Aspects

Robin Coles: Let me just ask one thing. Obviously, there’s a big cultural aspect in this when you’re changing systems, but actually, it’s about people, you have the same people but their jobs will be transforming – how did you align their expectations with what the company wanted as success factors and the program objective to be?

Paul Haslam: We’re very lucky at Leyland in a way that everybody’s quite keen to get involved. We have quite a diverse workforce from across Europe and everybody is just keen to try new things.  One of my team, for example, has been YouTubing AX before we even started the implementation program, so she’s been mad keen about it for a while. But we know that we can do things better and people are anxious to do things better. So in the warehouse, we’re going to be looking at handheld terminals, at the moment everything is on paper, so this will give us a revised process and it’s going to improve our productivity. In the buying office, again, we’re not used to having a buying office. We used to buy through the warehouse so we set up a buying office and we’ve got some new specialists and we’re excited about that. In the stores, they’re excited because they can give better service to our customers. The key thing that Leyland represents, it’s all about our service, we are known for our service. We’ve been trading for 30 years and we’ve got customers who are the sons and daughters of the father or even the grandfather coming through our business so they know they can rely on us, and they come for knowledge. As a simple example, we stock 150 types of different lightbulbs and a number of times we get people in who want the 151st or 152nd lightbulb and we are able to get that for them but with the tablet in store, we’re being much more efficient in being able to do this. Our store team are just so keen to be able to serve our customers. We do 48,000 transactions a week, so that’s a pretty sizeable volume.

Learning Points

Robin Coles: What would you say you have learned on the way? Are there any things that have surprised you or maybe delighted you along the way that you didn’t expect?

Paul Haslam: One of the things I learned is that you need to prepare for some snakes and ladders. From a young age, we are always told that we’ll always earn more the next year and have a better lifestyle and it doesn’t work that way. And it certainly doesn’t work that way with technology. You make mistakes, and the key thing is to fail fast and to fail forward. In other words, learn from what you did and move on but learn quickly, because there isn’t time. Somebody else will jump in your space if you don’t move quickly. That’s the word of warning.

The Future

Robin Coles: Ok, where do you think this transformation program is going to take Leyland? What are your aspirations for it beyond the sort of root and branch pieces you are doing?

Paul Haslam: We have a number of objectives, one is, our stores are about 3 miles apart for the convenience of our customers because we’ve got a lot of tradesmen that use our stores and we also see part of our digital strategy attracting people from clicks-to-bricks, so actually encouraging people to visit our stores. We also see the ability for them to be able to order online and therefore the goods are ready for them when they arrive.  About 40% of our business are tradesmen and we think that if we can come up with an app that will enable them to do their job better, then that helps our customers and that helps us. So it’s all about customer satisfaction, if we get the customer satisfaction right then we get the customer retention right.

Robin Coles: So I’ve got one final question for you. This is an observation I have, in other presentations that I’ve done, I made a point that I think that being big is no longer necessarily an advantage. Would you say, being a small to medium sized company that you can act more quickly with digital transformation because, if you like, the lack of infrastructure that you have to deal with or do you have a different view?

Paul Haslam: I think it’s an interesting question. Having spoken recently to a very large business that’s struggling with this then I would say probably the smaller you are the more nimble you are, so I would say that, well these days it evens the playing field against the bigger boys. So yes, you can be nimble, it can be a bit like guerrilla warfare in terms of taking sales from people. I think it can only give you advantages.

Robin Coles: Ok, thank you for that Paul.


This interview was conducted as part of our recent webinar ‘Demystifying Digital Transformation’.

Watch the on-demand webinar  to get a clearer understanding of:

  • The impact of digital disruption on all business
  • Why change is inevitable and cannot be ignored!
  • The benefits to your business of digital-led change
  • Recognising your starting point and where you are heading
  • Best practice approaches for change