As the leading retailer in the Netherlands specialising in household supplies and home accessories, Blokker is a quintessentially Dutch retail chain offering items ‘for the whole house, every day’. The store always has an up-to-date supply of items in the Household, Cookware and Dining categories, alongside a wide range of garden supplies, multimedia items and toys.
This was a financially difficult year for Blokker on account of the ongoing economic crisis and consistently low consumer confidence. At the same time, 2014 was also a key year of transition for the retailer, which took important steps to improve its sales revenues and safeguard future growth by launching an all-new Blokker format. A total of six new-style Blokker stores have been opened since August 2014. These stores immediately showed a strong growth in sales revenues and higher rates of customer satisfaction. In addition to this investment in the formats – and, by extension, in revenue growth – the company took measures to further reduce costs related to accommodation, logistics and personnel. Wage costs already fell slightly in 2014, with the largest savings expected for 2015 and 2016. Online sales increased once again in 2014, by 42%.
CLOSE TO THE CUSTOMER WITH CONTEMPORARY FORMATS
Blokker presented the new format in August, in the first pilot store on Amsterdam’s Jodenbreestraat. Several weeks later, five new pilot stores were opened in Eindhoven, Alkmaar, Nijmegen, Alphen aan den Rijn and Amsterdam’s Maasstraat. The new format is based in part on extensive consumer research and various tests conducted at Blokker stores around the country. The format is adapted to suit the shifting composition and habits of today’s Dutch families.
The products are divided into eight ‘worlds’, making it easy for consumers to navigate the store and find the product they are looking for within no time at all. These worlds include:
• Cleaning & Household
• Washing & Ironing
• Cooking & Baking
• Eating & Dining
• Storing & Organising
• Living & Home Decoration
• Play & Surprise
The stores have become easier to navigate thanks to lower shelves, bright lighting and inspiring in-store communications. Staffs in the pilot stores have also received intensive product and service training.
Blokker has introduced an innovative service point in its pilot stores, known as ‘B-point’. Customers can use the in store B-point to order items online and have them delivered to their home. The sales staffs also operate their own tablets, which they can use to quickly find relevant and additional product information for customers.
NEW PRODUCT RANGES AND PARTNERSHIPS
A key element of the new format is the introduction of a select range of 24Kitchen items. Blokker teamed up with the chefs of 24Kitchen, the largest food platform in the Netherlands. Together they created a range of cooking items and accessories. Under the name ‘Rudolph’s Bakery’, 24Kitchen chef Rudolph van Veen and Blokker jointly created a range of baking supplies to make baking even more fun, easier and tastier. The 24Kitchen range is currently available at all Blokker and Cook&Co stores nationwide. The new product ranges from the pilot stores have also been available in the other Blokker stores since the end of 2014, along with an all-new range of household tools marketed under the name Vitility and an extensive range of kitchen towels.
PARTNERSHIPS WITH PREMIUM BRANDS
Partnerships with manufacturers of premium brands remain a key focus of the Blokker format. A good recent example is the partnership with coffee manufacturer Douwe Egberts. In September, Blokker and Douwe Egberts signed a partnership agreement under which Blokker takes over the management of the reward programme and the sale of the popular range of Douwe Egberts gift items. The six pilot stores were the first to start selling this range in 2014. The range will also become available on the shelves of around 300 other Blokker stores in the course of 2015. Consumers will then also be able to redeem their Douwe Egberts reward points in these stores.
EXPANDED CUSTOMER SERVICE
Blokker expanded its customer service department and web care team to approximately 30 employees during the year under review, thereby further improving its services both online and offline.
OPERATIONAL EXCELLENCE WITH OPEN AND COMMITTED TEAMS
During 2014, Blokker switched over to a new warehouse management system at its Geldermalsen distribution centre. Although the introduction was initially costly and time-consuming, Blokker now has access to real-time information on the flow of goods and stocks. This makes it possible for the company to further reduce its stock expenses. Blokker eliminated its manual ordering system during 2014; automatic re-ordering was introduced through an ordering advice system at the stores. Orders at the stores are based on sales; this way, a lower limit is set automatically for the stocks. Blokker is now better able to manage the availability of items and stocks. In order to facilitate automatic re-orders, a space matrix has been created for all stores and special shelf plans have been prepared. This links purchasing and sales directly together at a central level.
Blokker conducted an Employee Engagement Survey in the year under review. The results of the survey were discussed with the various departments, based on which a number of improvements were implemented. For one, internal communications were improved and special cafeteria sessions were held at the head office at regular intervals, in which the management explains the current status and progress of the various ongoing projects.
The renovation of Blokker’s Amsterdam head office began at the end of 2014, which has resulted in a fresher, more open and contemporary work environment.
OUTLOOK AND ACTIVITIES FOR 2015
During the year under review, Blokker researched the most efficient staffing arrangements for its stores in order to bring wage costs more in line with trends in revenue growth and to adapt the services more to store traffic. This is in preparation for the measures announced in February 2015, involving substantial investments and operational efforts of approximately EUR 25 million for e-commerce, IT, logistics and the roll-out of the new retail format in several dozen new stores.
The company also decided to adapt the staffing in half of the 500 company-owned stores. This has resulted in the redundancy of approximately 400 employees. An agreement has since been reached with the trade unions regarding the Redundancy Plan and the reorganisation is currently underway. Blokker is working on making the working hours more flexible. The retailer expects that the measures implemented in 2014 will help generate stronger returns in 2015.
At the time of publication of this annual report, Blokker launched its new Fijn dat we er zijn! (It’s good that we’re here) advertising campaign.
New interior of the store on Amsterdam’s Jodenbreestraat.