How Blakemore transformed its business with data insight

Blakemore Group Marketing Director Sarah Ellis explains how the wholesaler has transformed its business by embracing data insight – with a little help from IRI SalesOut

Blakemore has adopted a more data-driven approach to everything you do. How did this come about?

We started off in the same way as most wholesalers do from an IRI SalesOut perspective. We had the initial conversation and have been working with them for several years to get that straightforward supply of data into our supplier base.

When the business started to use data more strategically, we realised there was more of an alignment with IRI [SalesOut’s parent company] and the data they had that could feed into our business. On a basic level, we did a lot of work on clusters, which was all about customer shopping missions and how they escalated.

IRI and SalesOut were able to take that data and overlay the SalesOut data into those clusters, which allowed us to develop product and category strategies, so we know, for example, that a certain type of water bottle is more important in an on-the-go store than in a traditional convenience store. It helped  with the development of both the macro and micro space on a cluster level, then fed into our pricing strategy, which changes depending on the product role in each cluster.

And this soon developed into other areas of the business too…

A couple of years ago, we decided to embark on promotional analysis, which was to help us achieve the best promotion strategy for our sales team and our retailers. The teams at IRI and SalesOut were able to take massive volumes of data, churn it and use data scientists to deliver insights. Off the back of that, they did a lot of category work and told us how we benchmarked price elasticity at SKU level and what the better promotional mechanic was. The insight also told us if the promotional mechanic was price cut and how deep it would need to be in order to make sure the promotional activity was driving incrementality, as opposed to cannibalising and giving low margin.

As well as using that insight to form the basis of our promotional strategy, we’ve also been working with them on inflation and the impact it will have, how we’re comparing price per unit to our competitor set and then where there’s variation, what’s driving that – price, range or mix. In all, we’ve got a good feel for our performance and what we need to be thinking about as we move forward.

How important has this been to the business?

The most valuable part is the insight we get. Anybody can churn a load of data and send you back an Excel spreadsheet, but what you need is somebody who says, ‘as a result of that, this is what you need to do’. If you take the work they did for us on promotional strategy, they came back with a clear ‘stop, start, continue’, which was a red, yellow, green list we could take to the business and handout. Just having access to that breadth and range of knowledge and being able to pick up the phone and say, ‘this is the challenge, how can you help me off the back of that?’ is really useful for all wholesalers.

One of our pillars at Blakemore is database feedback and having accurate, precise data – even if that’s on a HR level right the way through to taking those analytics. If you look at price-marked packs in the current market, for example, we might say, ‘we need a whole load of price-marked packs’, but actually we need price-marked packs in the right place, otherwise you’re just eroding margin and further exacerbating the situation. A little bit of data can be a dangerous thing and having that piece of insight saying, ‘yes, you need to do that, but these are the ways you’re able to use it’ is much more impactful than a little bit of data used incorrectly.

Is it like having an extension of your team?

Yes, absolutely. We don’t have data scientists within our business because we don’t churn enough data on a regular basis to be able to justify it, but when we do have big chunks of data, we can use IRI SalesOut as an
external resource as and when required.

Data is becoming more and more valuable to us, but you almost don’t know what you need to know, so being able to give it to the specialists who say, ‘you’ve got this, but you need it in this format to be able to x, y or z’ is really valuable. Data analysis and analytics is almost the same as using a marketing or PR agency in terms of an external resource. One of the reasons some wholesalers are reticent to use data is a lack of expertise in-house.

How have you found it?

Coming from somebody who took three goes to pass their maths GCSE, I’d say that if I can understand it, anybody can. The benefit of IRI is that you have that conversation with them and you’re not surrounded by lots of intelligent data people who aren’t able to translate that into a working person’s language. There have been a few charts that have come over that have blown our mind, but IRI are quick at bringing it back to a lay explanation. Once they present something to us, it’s just as easy for us to take it and share within our business, rather than needing them to explain it every time.

What would your message be to wholesalers yet to start their data journey?

Data is an asset and is something you need to utilise, especially at the moment when there are so many market dynamics. You need that insight to know how your business is going to move forward, how to spot the opportunities, understand where the challenges are, what the consumer is doing, and where you are and aren’t making money that’s driving your bottom line. Data becomes an empowering conversation when you have it at your fingertips and everyone is aligned with same point – it takes away the ‘I think’ element behind every conversation.

A.F Blakemore data SalesOut Sarah Ellis