To mark our 25th Anniversary in Mail Order, we've written a short presentation to explain how and why we started to offer our products this way, the challenges we've faced over the years and our thoughts for the future.
You can find it at www.robinsons-uk.com/25 and I hope you'll find it as interesting to read as we did to write.
If you're having trouble with the flash version or if you just want to read the transcript, here it is:
Believe it or not, 2009 marks a quarter of a century since Robinsons - then Robinsons Equestrian & Country Sports - first ventured into the world of Mail Order. Back when Phil Collins was in the charts, singing “Take a look at me now”, our own journey to becoming ‘The UK’s No.1 Equestrian Provider’ really was Against All Odds...
The year was 1984. The Cold War was in its final days, the world was just becoming acquainted with a singer called Madonna - and Cristiano Ronaldo was still a glint in his parents' eyes. The Terminator and Ghostbusters were the big films of the year and ‘Frankie Say Relax’ T-shirts were all the rage.
In the equestrian world, Britain won team silver medals in both Showjumping and Eventing at the Los Angeles Olympics. Ginny Leng, Lucinda Green, Ian Stark and Michael and John Whitaker were part of the medal-winning teams. Hallo Dandy won the Grand National and Nelson Pessoa won the Puissance at Wembley at the Horse of the Year Show.
It was also the year that the very first Robinsons ‘Bulletin' appeared, a two-colour A4 leaflet given away free at county shows such as the Bath & West, Great Yorkshire and Royal Highland. Visitors to these shows who were often once-a-year Robinsons customers were invited to place telephone orders and have their purchases posted to them as often as they liked.
Over the next two years, the popularity of this idea began to grow. So much so, that by October 1985, we decided not to continue to exhibit on the show circuit and to concentrate our resources into Mail Order. In 1987, we launched our first full-scale catalogue, inserting it into Horse & Pony magazine. Inexperienced as we were, we had agreed to have the catalogue stapled into the magazine, not loosely-inserted. As many readers considered it to be part of the magazine, its publishers received as many orders as we did!
Thankfully, we learned from our mistakes and our sales continued to grow. We began to produce Spring catalogues and started to do our own photography wherever possible. For many years, we were unable to handle the demand we created and if we felt we would be over-stretched, the only way to manage the situation was to print fewer catalogues! We were still operating our service from the back of our Ashton store.
By the end of the 80’s, we had already begun to develop our own products and we are proud to be one of the very first companies to offer high-visibility riding wear. We were also among the first companies to feature innovative new products, like the exciting new Rambo rug from Ireland and the Wintec saddle from Australia.
In 1992, we had outgrown the store and we moved our Mail Order operation to a much bigger warehouse in nearby Haydock. With more space for more stock, we were able to increase the size of our catalogues – although keeping on top of the orders was still harder than winning them!
In 1993, one of the many new products we introduced to the UK was an idea we’d seen in the USA - a pair of novelty antlers that attached to a bridle or headcollar. Since then, we’ve sold tens of thousands of this item, now a staple product of any horsey Christmas!
In 1995, at the first-ever Your Horse awards, we won the category for ‘Best Mail Order company’, a feat we repeated each year over the next nine years, for as long as the category was awarded. We had the biggest catalogues, the best prices and every year we invested more into our systems.
1995 also saw us create a few online pages of information which hardly anyone ever saw – before many people had even heard of the internet. Eventually, this became www.robcl.co.uk, our first website.
As the new millennium dawned, we realised that we had to move to a bigger warehouse once again and we relocated to Mill Lane in Rainford. At around twice the size of our previous Haydock home, this site also offered better facilites for our in-house catalogue design team, our call centre, our new IT department and it also allowed us to create a fully-equipped photographic studio. In less than five years, our three web pages had developed into a professional website, offering product listing, photography and order processing
While we always knew that the long-term future of Mail Order would lay on the web, it was not obvious how long the transition would take. Whatever was to happen, we knew we would keep producing catalogues for as far into the future as we could see – and that’s still the case today. In 2001, we took our millionth order, fittingly over the web, although challenges of a different nature lay around the corner…
After another 6 years of growth at Rainford, interrupted by the fire and subsequent rebuilding of our Ashton Superstore, our Mail Order requirements once again left us looking for a new home. In 2005, we moved to our current location, the 100,000 sq.ft. facility at Ashton, just a couple of miles from our Superstore. Crucially, the first department to move in to their customised area was the IT team, with all our servers and equipment.
The internet has brought us more competition from the thousands of ebay sellers to the might of Tesco. More international trade and other competitors have given much more buying choices to the equestrian consumer. As a result of that and due to our own improvements, we’re now handling orders much more easily than we are winning them, which is far more appropriate for a company that you’d be happy to use again and again. If you’re waiting for your order, we know you expect it to arrive as quickly as possible - however busy we may be.
Over the last few years, we have made great efforts to ensure that we can handle our huge Sale campaigns as easily as possible - the only times when we were unable to keep up with the demand we created. On first day of the last Winter Sale, we proved that we could even manage to do that. That day, we made more sales than our Ashton Superstore took in the whole month! Just as we had promised, every order taken by 7pm that day was sent in time to arrive by Christmas!
As we continue to grow, we now have contacts all over the world. We compare our performance against much bigger companies from other industries and we continue to aspire to their levels of service. It’s not enough for us to make our website better than any other equestrian site - we measure it against sites like amazon.co.uk. The same is true in every other area. We have for many years held the view that if we can match the standards of the biggest and the best in the world, we have no need to worry about what our direct competitors can offer.
We’ve come a long way in 25 years. We’ve learned so much about the processes involved and we’ve watched many, many companies in our industry come and go.
Of course we’ve made mistakes over the years and it’s fair to say that we’ve annoyed our fair share of people along the way. When we’ve done something wrong, we’ve always endeavoured to put it right because we’ve always appreciated that keeping the customer is more important than winning the order.
We’ve seen recessions and booms before and we’ll be around to see them all again in the years to come and we will not compromise on our ethos of fairness and honesty in our dealings with customers and suppliers
What will happen in the next 25 years? If we knew the answer to that, we’d be preparing for it today but you can be sure that we never take our eye off the future. We have made a reputation within our industry of being at the forefront of change and we will continue to adopt the pioneering spirit that has served us so well, so far. Whatever happens, we hope you’d like to continue to be part of our journey over the next quarter of a century.
We hope we’ve impressed you at some point in the past and we’d very much like the chance to do so again some time. We’ve spent a long time getting to know just what it is you’re looking for, in our product range or in the way we deal with you and we’re always here to prove our abilities to you. With apologies to Ronald Duncan’s ‘Ode to The Horse’, the verse read out at the Horse of the Year Show each year, all our history is in your industry. We are your heirs, your custom is our inheritance. Where in this world can you find anything to compare?
On behalf of everyone in the Mail Order team, Thank you!