Meet the Member: R&I Jones
Aled Roberts, owner of R&I Jones, is incredibly proud of the company’s Welsh heritage and Wholesale News caught up with him to hear how the company is embracing the future as it hits its 100th year
Photography: Roy Kilcullen
Celebrating its centenary this year, it’s safe to say that wholesaler R&I Jones has come a long way since its inception. It’s a family-owned business, although the family that runs it today is not the same family that put their name to it all those years ago.
“It was originally owned by an uncle and nephew,” says Aled.
“They were the original R&I Jones. They were wholesaling to local shops, and one of the shops that they supplied was in my hometown, back in the 1950s. As a teenager, my father used to work for the shop, delivering milk and other groceries to the village on a bicycle. The man who owned the shop eventually took over R&I Jones, and as my father grew older they became very good friends, and eventually business partners. When the gentleman retired, my father took over the business. When I left college, I joined the business, and I’ve never left! So, yes, it’s a family business, but spanning two separate families.”
Fast forward to now and digital innovation and technology is a huge priority for R&I Jones. The company was inspired to adapt by a savvy customer two decades ago.
“Twenty years ago we had a wholesale customer who we noticed was buying a lot of classic sweets from us, lines like sherbet lemons and midget gems,” says Aled. “It was strange as the lines he was buying were products that were in decline for us despite having been popular several decades before. We got in touch with him, and he let us know that he was selling them all online via websites like eBay and Amazon.”
This revelation planted a seed of inspiration for Aled, who recognised that if the customer was having such success selling online, then why couldn’t they… so they did.
“In fact, that part of the business grew and grew, and before we knew it, we were shipping globally,” he says. “It was a huge learning curve – the fact that you could list a product online and within minutes be selling it across the world.
“It was immediately obvious that this was the way forward, which was cemented further by Sugro developing an online ordering portal.
Then b2b.store created an app, bespoke to each wholesaler, that allowed customers to order on their phones or tablets and we evolved again. Our customers love that our app is so easy to use and allows them to place orders at a time that suits them.”
Today, 75% of the company’s orders are placed online. Not only has the company’s digital innovation provided a great customer service for retailers, but it’s revolutionised how the team works in depot.
“Before we turned to online ordering, the team in the warehouse would get in on a Monday morning and be waiting for the phone to ring before they could start picking orders. These days, they can come in in the morning and already have 40 orders waiting for them to start loading. It also means the team working in the office aren’t tied up on the phone and can can be cracking on with other jobs such as invoices, which has cost-saving benefits for the company too.”
There have been challenges along the way, of course. “Taking the time to get every SKU listed online with a picture was a hurdle at first, but once we had those on, then the orders started flying in.”
The second hurdle was communicating the changes to customers. There’s no point in having a fantastic digital tool if no-one knows about it. “We visited our retailers in person and walked them through the process, which was hugely helpful in transitioning them to using the online portal. From logging on to placing orders – we helped them get to grips with it all.”
PART OF SOMETHING BIGGER
R&I Jones is a member of the Sugro UK retail distribution group, which provides a national delivery network to its customers. As part of the group, the wholesaler is able to participate in major national food distribution contracts working in partnership with other group members.
“It’s a fantastic group to be part of,” explains Aled. “We have access to suppliers at a national level. As we all know, there have been significant issues with delivery over the past 18 months, and Sugro communicates these issues to us, which we in turn communicate to our customers. The group really benefits from economy of scale, which trickles down and directly benefits our customers. The bigger the group, the better the promotions.
“Sugro has also really helped us to implement the digital side of our business just at the right time. Investing the time in getting it set up was a major benefit to us.”
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
For R&I Jones, it’s important for wholesalers, big or small, to move with the times and embrace future trends. “We’re constantly evolving,” says Aled. “We’re always in the process of looking at our product range, evaluating it and trying new things. In the past, we’ve tried groceries, alcohol and disposable vapes. We know that in order to keep one foot in the future, we have to be flexible and dynamic in what we offer and how we do business. This is crucial when it comes to gaining sales.
“It’s also important to be realistic about trends, and not be afraid to pull the plug if something isn’t working. In the past, we used to sell phone cards and Kodak films – we wouldn’t be doing very well if we still sold things like that! It’s all about moving with the times and looking for the latest trends, and latest products to sell.”
While the company has one eye on the road ahead, the team know it’s important to stay true to its roots. As a 100-year-old company, Aled recognises that its values are a key part of staying grounded: “We’re hugely proud of being a Welsh company, and that Welsh is the first language here. Of course, we never discriminate against our English-speaking employees, but our recognising and celebrating our Welsh heritage is something that’s truly important to us.
“Another aspect of our company values that hasn’t and will never change is customer service. We keep our customers at the heart of our offer, and everything we do each day. It’s about making sure that we never let them down, and that we go out of our way to help them in any way we can.
“Being based in Caenarfon, we are naturally a quiet area during some parts of the year. However, we get a big influx of tourists during the summer months and our customers often
the summer months and our customers often need a helping hand so we try and be more flexible and help our retailers out with out-of-hours deliveries, which we can do up to three times a week. It’s the small things like that that make all the difference. Our three key words are price, availability, and service. That’s what we hope keeps our customers coming back.”
As R&I Jones gears up to celebrate its milestone birthday this year, it will be offering special promotions. “We’re doing a one-week trade special, which we’re very excited about. Sugro have been very supportive and have contacted suppliers who are very eager to support us. We look forward to sharing more information with our customers in due course!”Aled Roberts meet the member R&I Jones