B&G 50 Years of innovation

If you were to ask the B&G Leadership Team what they have been up to over the past 50 years, “Building a business to serve over 500 Trade Only clients, with a team of 30, across seven categories with one customer-centric focus”, might come the reply.

The year was 1973, Ireland had just joined the EEC, the Godfather won the Best Picture Oscar and as importantly to some perhaps, Slade had the Xmas number 1!

The average house price in Ireland was €9,000, the average wage was €2,000 per year (€38 per week) * and mortgage interest rates were running at 8% on average and heading north towards 16% over the coming years – compared to our 4% average today.

On paper, perhaps 1973 might not have been the ideal time to start a DIY and Homewares business – unless of course you were Robert Bell and Tom Glancy the original founders of B&G Limited.

50 years is a long time in business, for context neither Apple, nor Microsoft nor our own Ryanair have earned that honour as yet!

So how does a business keep its’s doors open for 50 years or more?

Alas, there isn’t an instruction manual but there is a set of guiding pillars that are worth exploring in relation to the B&G story.

In Arie De Geus’s book, The Living Company, he tries to make sense of why most businesses had a life span of less than five years, while the oldest dated back 800 years or more. His conclusion was a list of traits the longest-living businesses shared:

  • Valuing people, not assets – The team and the customers.
  • Financial Prudence – offering value over the long term.
  • Sensitivity to the world around them – what got us here, won’t get us there – sustainability.
  • Innovation – encouraging of new ideas, in fact embracing them as the lifeblood of the business.
  • Learning Culture – continual encouragement to embrace and share new ideas.
  • Scenario Planning – taking the time to constantly plan ahead, through all scenarios, good and bad.

In B&G these traits or principles take on an everyday appearance.

Valuing people: The core team are working in B&G a long time, which is a key indicator of a strong supportive culture. Mary Mitten, head of client services describes it as “People who work here like what they do. There is still a human touch and, while we have totally embraced digital, it’s not at the expense of the personal service, so yes you can still call us and we answer, and we probably know your account number by heart”, she says smiling, “so of course does our system!”

Financial Prudence: “Not always spoken about as a core success factor in the top selling business books, but it underpins everything we do,” says CFO Patrick Maher. “It is really about offering long-term value to our customers, so if you work with B&G your business will prosper. For us that means buying smart, running a lean operation and finding value price points that work for our customers and their customers – that as we know is ‘the secret sauce’ “.

Sensitivity To the World Around Us – “We remain a profitable growing business because we remain relevant to our customers” – says Hugh Healy Sales Manager. “The largest trend happening around us all at the moment is our impact on the climate. In B&G we have set up a sustainability working group, which can be a resource challenge for a smaller business.”

Tom Cleary CEO – “We are reviewing everything from packaging, product design, transport and logistics, energy consumption, waste management, the whole lot – it’s both challenging and exciting and we believe the decisions we are making now will ensure the relevance of the business for the next 50 years”.

Innovation – What have we got that’s new? – “That’s the question I get asked, as does all our frontline sales team, by our customers daily, so it’s in our culture to innovate, we hardly think about it as innovation,” says Michael Maher, Marketing Manager.

Simon Malone, Digital Lead, agrees, “With the way the internet has sped up communication and changed the way consumers interact with brands across all channels, there is an expectation that just to survive you have to innovate.’

And that’s not only the product, but the service delivery,” adds Matt McCormack, Head of Logistics. Will B&G be one of the first vendors in Ireland to introduce drone deliveries? “Maybe, we will leave that step to the bigger guys and keep a watching brief for now”, Matt continues, “but our logistical systems are continuing to evolve and the innovation in this space keeps it all interesting.”

Learning Culture – Adrian Carolan, Operations Director – “The reach of what we do has been truly international from the day I joined B&G – the different cultures, the different markets, the different approaches force a more open mind on a business like ours. We may be based in Walkinstown, but our products are made all over the world, we search for trends, and we build invaluable trading partnerships with highly innovative manufacturers. All that demands an open and inquisitive mind and underpins the baked-in learning that is required just to survive. No resting on any laurels around here!”

Scenario Planning – This learning and the 50 years of innovation hasn’t happened by accident. Led by Tom Cleary CEO, the company works on rolling 5-year cycles of strategic planning. Tom says “We are in the middle of a total root and branch review of what we do, where the trends are leading us and where our customers need us to be in five years’ time. With the everyday demands of operations, it can be hard to make time for the ‘working on the business’ bit, but for us it is essential.

We like to learn, we like the challenge, and we like to compete, and now we have our strongest ever management team designing the way forward, that’s a great feeling.” Tom continues, “It’s a reason to get up in the morning for sure and maybe for the next 50 years of mornings as we drive onwards”.

What will the business look like in the year 2073?

Rolling the crystal ball forward another 50 years, what will the business look like? Tom says “Well, we will have mastered the sustainability challenge, if we are around in 50 years! And we will have remained relevant for our customers and our team, so that is the win/win goal worth working towards, and everything else is part of the adventure.” We are sure the industry will still be buzzing, with or without drones!”

For more information visit www.bghome.ie.