Kew Electrical shares some of the business secrets that have propelled it from one-man wholesaler to one of the UK’s most successful independent wholesaling companies.
In 1996, Geoff Kerly, South East Regional Director of electrical wholesaler Bennett & Fountain, found himself one of two directors for the region when his employer was purchased by wholesaling giant Edmundson Electrical.
Brighton-born Geoff spotted an opportunity and left to set up Kerly Electrical Wholesale (KEW), supplying his local contractor friends as best he could on his own, before he moved in to his first premises in the Brighton suburb of Southwick. Kew Electrical was born.
20 years later, Kew has close to 250 staff, an annual turnover of £58 million and is celebrating a hat-trick of award wins last year. The company received industry recognition throughout the UK as Best Wholesaler of the Year (with five or more branches in the group) in the Electrical Industry Awards, Best Electrical Wholesaler (with 11-25 branches in the group) in the Electrical Wholesaler Awards and Northern Ireland’s Best Wholesaler of the Year.
The company has grown organically and through acquisition during a period of consolidation in the electrical wholesale industry. Operations Director Nik Mulcahy says the wholesaling giants have left ‘a real opportunity for the independents to offer a local service’.
Kew’s first six years were ones of steady growth, as Geoff hired knowledgeable colleagues from the industry and soon opened a second branch at Rustington near Littlehampton. In 2003, with the help of, Trevor Oram, an experienced director at wholesaler OLC, cash was injected into the business and systems improved. New branches followed in Billingshurst, Chichester and Guildford.
Over the next 10 years, Kew grew from a six- to a 12-branch wholesaler; and in 2013 it bought a further seven branches from Wilts Electrical, expanding Kew’s geography across the south of England.
When it comes to pinpointing the reason for Kew’s success, Nik is clear: “The philosophy we have is not about geography, it’s about people,” he says. “The industry is relationship led; people buy from people they like and trust.
“Also, we tend to perform better in towns and small cities. Our strength’s in supplying and supporting local businesses which can be diluted in the big cities. Branch location is always important and you are less likely to get that wrong in a small town.
“A branch manager’s local knowledge is critical; not only to secure orders, but also to understand and work closely with our contractors so we can offer the required levels of credit. If a branch manager has this local knowledge, he will more often than not have backing from the Board.”
Kew’s core customers are small to medium electrical contractors, but it has set up key account sales offices in Maidstone, Brighton, Poole and Trowbridge to service larger customers. Other local businesses are also in the company’s sights. Kew’s Postcode Privilege Club offers preferential prices to businesses that share a postcode with one of Kew’s branches.
When asked to pinpoint the company’s greatest achievement over the past two decades, Nik highlights something that didn’t happen: “We have doubled in size in the past four years – in turnover, number of branches and staff – but we still have a family, community ethos.
“We do supply larger contractors but generally sell bread and butter supplies for local electrical installations. Keep it simple, I suppose, is the main philosophy in everything we do. And as it works we’ve flourished.”