The last time I was out of the office was a few weeks ago and after being caught in a rather frightening bomb scare at LA Guardia airport in NY and then having to endure a 9hr flight cancellation by American Airlines, I have to say, this rather peaceful, gentle train journey makes a delightful change. I’ve been to Wales for the day : the home of our warehouse, customer service and ops team.
On the way to Newport this morning I tried and successfully failed to have numerous email and telephone conversations with my team and various customers in Europe (why IS the phone signal on trains so shocking – I swear I had better reception in 2003). On the way home I’ve decided not to bother and write this instead, especially given that I’ve found myself contemplating how things have changed in Wales and in my team since I started at JoJo almost 2 years ago.
My first trip to Wales was in June 2011 and whilst a handful of good wholesale accounts had been serviced very well for a few years, the trade side of our business was understandably not the main focus. Christine was in control of processing the orders and Sandra in the warehouse would pick and pack. My first meetings with them made my head hurt as I grappled with how our order system worked and I probably irritated the hell out of them with my thousand questions and ideas.
Back then it was just me and Christine which would always horrify me when she had her first few holidays. How would I cope? She knew everything! Actually I’ve always found baptism by fire to be the best learning tool and to some degree, I coped.
We then took on my first assistant Emily who was initially given the glorious task of creating our very first photographic price lists that Laura and I would hand out to our very first customers at our very first Trade Show in New York. All exciting but goodness knows how such a thankless task managed to enthuse Emily to stay on permanently – she’s still with me today , still producing the price lists but doing so much more. We then moved to our stunning new Battersea offices last February where I went from happy days at the old office, sharing a tiny, windowless office with Harriet our Buying Director to a beautiful huge showroom space of my own with a mezzanine level above. If I ever needed motivation to take on more customers: this was it!
Emily moved in with me after a stint of being joint receptionist and has her own assistant now: Hepzi. Between the two of them, on top of many jobs, they are responsible for Trade Shows (11 this year!) wholesale samples and of course the stunning showroom.
As the list of customers and countries grew, Lauren, based in Wales, came on board and was initially responsible for processing every order – as this has grown she instead takes the brunt of the payment queries and ensuring our orders are packed and tracked. Maggie is also a real support to us and Lauren, dealing with all the hauliers and working on commercial invoices on top of an already busy job. With this side of international growing so quickly we also now have Katie and Layla trained to step in whenever needed which is brilliant.
Ursyn then joined us – previously the IT guy everyone in JoJo ran to – he jumped ship and is now at the helm of all orders and customer contact. Our latest team member Tal, joined two weeks ago to help Ursyn as the orders get bigger and more frequent. Our account list is growing by the week and the time zones we now try to work in are stretching yet the days annoyingly don’t seem to get any longer…
Obviously our job is made brilliantly easy by Design and Buying who continuously give us amazing ranges to show off to the world but throughout this entire period of growth in the London office, there is one team we who, quite simply, has been essential in getting us to the point we are now at…and that’s Wales.
I think, quite frankly, I must have driven Karen (our Ops Director) and Jo (Ops Manager) mad over the months. I have limited logistics experience so I don’t know how they’ve held back from thumping me when I’ve asked if they can deliver to countries that do not want to trade with the UK, if they can put tickets on JoJo stock that we don’t need in the UK, send urgent samples to a remote store in Virginia in 2 days or arrange for specific care labels to be sewn into garments just for America. I’m pretty sure my requests have ranged from the impossible to the laughable yet they always find a solution which is truly amazing.
We are now selling to almost 70 countries each one with its own intricate shipping and duty conundrums that seem a breeze to Jo and her team. Processes have been enhanced and solutions found to give our wholesale accounts first class service which makes it much easier for me to proudly stand in a foreign country and tell them how great JoJo is. Everything seems to get quicker and quicker – Kath and her team in the warehouse have manually picked and packed some absolutely massive orders for us this year and have done it in hours when I was expecting it to take days and days! We are now shipping orders to customers in America, from door to door, in 48hrs which is quicker than me sending a birthday card to my mum in Kent!
It’s not just the home of the warehouse of course, we have the Customer Services, IT, HR, Finance and many others, all of whom have been paramount in me selling JoJo outside of the UK.
So – quite rightly – it has recently been their turn for a new home and they are now proud owners of a fantastic 83,000sq ft. warehouse with 9 loading bays, (9…!! we didn’t have 1 before)and gorgeous new offices throughout. The site is impressive, the sale shop looks great, the canteen, internet café, training facilities and patio are great spaces to chill out and the eco-friendly sunlight pipes that fill all the offices with natural light are genius.
Everyone was so cheerful and chirpy today and so excited about how international is growing and how they might be able to help – and let’s not forget their main HUGE job of dealing with all deliveries of stock into JoJo, replenishment to our 55 stores, stocking up new stores and all mail order and internet orders!
I’ve left Wales with a warm glow and wonder what the next 18mths will bring… I’m determined to find a customer in a really difficult country just to catch Jo out…