The opening of a huge distribution centre in the Netherlands signals a shift in gear for the UK-based retailer, according to CEO Andy Torrance. The plan? To be first choice for consumers across Europe.
Andy Torrance (below) confesses that his timing in becoming CEO of Angling Direct could have been better. Five weeks after he stepped into the role, the UK – already mired with the complexities of Brexit – went into its first lockdown. And yet two years later the company is on the cusp of its biggest step since becoming the second UK tackle retailer behind Fishing Republic to go public in 2017 – the opening of a large new distribution centre in the heart of Europe.
The facility, in Venlo, Netherlands, close to the German border, will serve mainland Europe, with dedicated online shops in German, French and Dutch languages. The aim is to be dispatching products ahead of this Spring season, and everything is on track for that to happen.
Racks have been fitted and filled with close to 18,000 SKUs, recruitment is almost complete, logistics are in place and IT systems tested. The hugely experienced André Akkermans is already in place as European Commercial Manager, while European Marketing Manager Katja Parkinson has been with the company for four years. The centre will be staffed predominantly by European ‘natives’, including designers, marketeers, videographers and finance managers.
Establishing the facility in Holland is central to Angling Direct’s over-arching ambition to become Europe’s first choice omni-channel fishing tackle destination for all anglers.
“This is a really big deal, a big step for us,” says Torrance. “We can’t achieve our goals without it. The new facility is bigger than the one we have in Norwich, which currently serves our entire business, so there is plenty of capacity.
“We see a number of big opportunities. One is to expand and tailor our range for customers on the continent by working with new suppliers in Europe. Already, around a third of our SKUs in Venlo are from new suppliers. We are delighted with the support we are getting.
“Another is that it means we can offer next day delivery, something we couldn’t do before. Venlo is ideally located from a logistics point of view. Delivery is big factor given the current supply chain problems in the industry. Also, having a facility in Venlo allows us to effectively supply Eastern Europe, which we have not be able to do previously.”
As Angling Direct has grown it has redefined its purpose to ‘Getting Everyone Fishing.’ The fact that it has the largest social following of any fishing tackle retailer in Europe, with almost 150k followers on Facebook alone, is a huge asset in achieving that.
“We need to act responsibly in everything we do and to work in the interests of angling,” says Torrance. “Our online presence is key to that, allowing us to communicate lots of advice and tips to anglers and to post lots of videos. We play a vital part in the future of fishing.”
Angling Direct has already established a good position in Europe through its three native language e-commerce sites in Germany, France and Netherlands, but Torrance sees the distribution centre as a quantum leap. Establishing stores across Europe is also under consideration.
Angling Direct’s ambition for Europe doesn’t mean it will be taking its eye off the UK, where it has made significant progress in recent years. It opened its 42nd store there only recently and Torrance believes there is still enough available share to double that number.
“We still see plenty of opportunity in the UK. We have come through COVID and Brexit really quite well, despite having to close all our stores at one point and having to navigate somewhat complex export regulations.”
Back in 2017 when the company was first floated on the Stock Exchange, it targeted a turnover of £50 million in five years. Speaking before the end-of-year results were announced, Torrance suggested that figure would be closer to £72 million – and he wasn’t far out. The company last week reported revenues of £72.5 million for the year ended January 31st, 2022.
And with all the Venlo costs in that year, a strong cash balance, the pandemic regulations easing and the market continuing to expand, future prospects look very attractive for shareholders. “Everything suggests that we will continue to exceed our own expectations,” says Torrance, who identifies four strategic pillars on which the company’s success has been built:
1. Product range “We have the best range available when it comes to choice, quality, value and pricing.”
2. Customer service When he helped found the company 26 years ago, current chairman Martyn Page said he was determined it would be abusiness everyone was comfortable with. “Our store colleagues are some of the best anglers in the UK. Everything we do is about making it easier to go fishing.”
3. Inspiration and advice “Everything from information about tackle and species, to how-to videos on the ADTV Youtube channel, is geared to people getting more from their fishing.”
4. Acting responsibly “We consider ourselves accountable for the future of fishing and as such we invest time and money in a number of projects. These include the elimination of single-use plastics in our packaging and other processes, and working with Anglia Ruskin University on wellbeing. We also work closely with Tackling Minds and the Angling Trust to promote the significant benefits of fishing to the wider community. We want to work with suppliers who share our values and we encourage them to invest in products and the environment.”
With such a successful track record thus far, what obstacles stand in the way of Angling Direct achieving its ambition to be the biggest retailer in Europe? “We are of course conscious that supply chain issues will be tough for the foreseeable future, but we continue to look ahead and be ambitious,” says Torrance.
“We were in a position to commit to stock before the lockdown and we quickly took the decision to commit to suppliers, so we go into 2022 in our best stock situation ever.
“We have come a long way very quickly. Now we are investing in Europe to make sure we continue that momentum. We are the biggest genuine omni-channel retailer in Europe and customers can interact with us however they wish.
“I am very confident the model we have will be welcomed by European anglers. Customers clearly enjoy the uniqueness we offer.”