James Hyde, Co-founder and CEO, James and James Fulfilment
“When you come to us, you get a fulfilment partner that understands your problems, has the expertise and experience to overcome them, and wants to share in your long-term success.”
Founders: James Hyde and James Strachan
Headquartered: Northampton, UK
What does your company do?
James and James provides an outsourced fulfilment service that’s optimised for small, lightweight, direct-to-consumer (D2C) products. We work with around 400 brands, holding their inventory, integrating with their online stores, picking, packing and shipping orders as they come in, and handling any returns.
We started the business in 2010, when we were working for an online honey seller and struggled to find a new fulfilment provider.
All the players were traditional logistics firms, set up for distributing pallets to shops rather than online orders to consumers. Their systems couldn’t integrate with emerging ecommerce platforms like Shopify and the end customer experience wasn’t a priority.
What is your USP and how do you work?
We came from an engineering background, so decided to solve the problem ourselves. We borrowed principles from agile development and lean manufacturing, developed our own software and processes, and created an international fulfilment service specifically for ecommerce.
Today, our USP is that combination of global reach, technology and processes. It enables our clients to scale rapidly with growing demand, manage their orders and inventory live online, and delight customers every time.
Which retailers do you work with?
We work best with D2C brand owners, who have a unique product and proven business model, and are looking to take things to the next level.
Sometimes their growth is limited because they fulfil orders in house, and don’t have the expertise or resources to scale; sometimes they’re working with another fulfilment provider, and don’t feel confident in the accuracy, reliability or scalability of the service.
We give them that expertise, resource and confidence. It means they can invest time and money in marketing or new product development, knowing their fulfilment will always scale to meet peaks in demand.
A few examples include Cards Against Humanity, Hairstory, Luckies of London, Protein Empire and Tailored Athlete, all of whom have seen triple-digit growth rates since working with us.
What have been the main points in your expansion?
Our growth early on was very much organic – we rented a corner of someone else’s warehouse in Cambridge, ran our service for the online honey seller we’d previously worked for and secured new clients through word of mouth.
In 2016, we took a bigger leap, moving to our own fulfilment centre in Northampton, and opening other locations in Auckland, New Zealand and Ohio, USA.
Since then, we’ve become one of the fastest-growing companies in the UK, with places on the FT1000 and Fast Track 100 league tables, and a second Queen’s Award for International Trade.
The key to our success has been a bootstrapping mindset. We were profitable early on and decided to reinvest those profits in the business, rather than seek VC funding. We saved money where we could (our first office was a disused toilet), but ploughed funds back into innovation and continuous improvement, which fuelled our growth further.
In March 2020, we took our first external investment – £11 million from LDC, the private equity arm of Lloyds Banking Group. This will not only fuel our future growth plans, but also bring experience into the business – LDC have funded the likes of Joules and Fever-Tree in the past, so it’s great to have that expertise on our board.
What challenges are you addressing for multichannel retailers who aim to meet peak season demands?
A great example is a haircare brand that came to us at the start of the COVID-19 crisis. They’d sold predominantly through their own salons, high-street stores and supermarkets, so their fulfilment operations were set up for that wholesale model.
When lockdown happened, all of their sales moved online and they simply didn’t have the expertise, processes or staff in place to handle the level of ecommerce demand they were seeing. We were able to address that challenge for them, handling all of the D2C volume, while they continued with the wholesale distribution in house.
How are you using emerging technology to support retail growth?
The software we’ve developed – ControlPort – is a real-time, cloud-based platform that manages the entire fulfilment process.
It integrates directly with all major ecommerce platforms, to retrieve orders as they come in. It manages the operations in all of our fulfilment centres, optimising the speed and accuracy of the pick and pack process. It gives our clients live updates on the status of every order, as well as dashboards and data on their inventory health. And it provides a portal where consumers can track their order from store to door, and initiate returns.
This end-to-end functionality enables growth in a few key ways. It means we can set up new fulfilment centres rapidly, because the technology and processes that underpin them are always the same. It means our clients can reduce the burden of customer support, and make smarter decisions about new product development or stock replenishment, supporting their growth and profitability. And it boosts customer satisfaction and loyalty, leading to higher repeat purchases and referral rates.
We also maintain strong links with the University of Cambridge, and have embarked on a few research projects with them around the impact of technologies like AI, augmented reality and automation in the fulfilment centre.
What do you see as challenges for retailers and suppliers in the near future?
The COVID-19 crisis has had a dramatic impact on ecommerce demand and shopping habits. More consumers have been buying online for the first time – and most say they intend to continue.
Many have bought products online that they wouldn’t have before – or chosen to buy from smaller, independent brands – because the high-street hasn’t been there for them. And many retailers have struggled with that rapid shift to D2C.
So the immediate challenge – and opportunity – for retailers will be fulfilling a higher number of ecommerce orders, day in, day out. They must also offer a stand-out experience, to retain their new-found customer base in a more competitive online environment.
Longer term, the economic and political impact of the crisis may prove challenging. One area in particular is international shipping. We’ve already seen price hikes due to the fall in commercial aviation and the US Postal Service’s new “termination dues”. And, of course, Brexit could impact that further still.
During lockdown, we signed a 10-year lease on a brand new UK fulfilment centre, six times the size of our current one, as well as migrating ControlPort to Amazon Web Services. We also set up additional support for UK brands that are looking to move to our Ohio fulfilment centre, due to the extra transatlantic shipping costs.
These changes will help us meet those challenges, giving us capacity to deal with heightened ecommerce demand and the foundations to expand our global network further.
What targets are you aiming to achieve in the next five years?
Our mission is to challenge the industry, create change for the better and deliver 100 million orders to happy customers. To achieve that target, we intend to double our headcount and triple turnover within the next three years.
We’re also looking at a different business model for ControlPort, built around licensees and franchisees. They may be retailers who want to use our software in their own fulfilment centres, to improve their processes and customer experience. Or overseas partners, who can set up and run fulfilment centres to expand our global network further.
CASE STUDY: Tailored Athlete grows 2,500% year-on-year with James and James
Founded in 2016, Tailored Athlete sells formal wear for athletic men.
Founder Harry Simonis initially picked and packed orders from his family home.
Having invested heavily in marketing, the US had emerged as Tailored Athlete’s biggest country for sales.
The company outsourced fulfilment to James and James due to its US fulfilment centre and international reach.
“The (ControlPort) software has also helped from a back-end point of view,” said Simonis. “It’s made things more efficient. We now work with a supply chain specialist, who uses the James and James system to watch stock on a weekly basis, and tell us what to order and when to order.”
The move to James and James helped Tailored Athlete grow sales by 2,500% in the first year, enabling it to reach new customers globally and regain time for marketing.
The new intelligence gained from ControlPort has also helped the company expand its offering, adding a full suite of muscle-fit apparel to its core shirt range.