Interview: Ken Daly, CEO of JML Direct
In this position he has contributed to JML’s meteoric rise as one of the UK’s biggest ‘as seen on TV’ retailers and most recognisable high street brands.
A pioneer in retail screen promotions, in-store and TV shopping, JML (John Mills Limited) was set up in 1986 by chairman John Mills from his basement. The business was initially all about selling innovative products that required a demonstration but then rapidly morphed into one that used video to demonstrate products in store instead of people.
Focusing on products that are used in everyday tasks like household cleaning, cooking, motor care and beauty, the business then moved from selling in just one store to having a presence in multiple retailers such as Asda, Boots, Homebase and Wilkinson. Now it also has a big TV advertising presence and its own shopping channels.
In the early days, Daly says the range of products was quite ad hoc but now the company is increasingly developing its own products under the JML umbrella.
With over 15 million products sold globally every year, JML now sells to over 70 countries with offices in Germany, Singapore, Holland, Thailand, the US and Slovakia.
Daly attributes much of the company’s success to its focus on selling a small number of mass appeal products in large volumes via promotional video and its ability to get products into quality retailers with high footfall stores.
He said: “What retailers really like about JML is the first-class videos we produce for all of our products. Not only are the videos used to demonstrate products in-store but they also give retailers ready-made content to put on their websites. Our shopping channel also gives them promotion.”
Daly says retailers benefit from JML verbalising their names in the videos which he says makes a “massive” difference in terms of sales. The adverts are also tagged with retailers’ store names.
Although, JML’s business model appears simple, Daly says in reality it is quite complicated especially as each video requires a huge amount of investment. While JML launches around 50 products a year, only a handful get rolled out permanently.
Despite the growth in online and TV shopping, Daly says retail distribution in bricks and mortar stores is still JML’s biggest channel. He added: “Our consumers have relationships with the retailers and this gives us kudos and credibility.” However, the company is planning a major focus on e-commerce “just because the area is changing so rapidly,” said Daly.
The company is not particularly looking to increase the number of retailers it sells through. Instead, it is targeting growth through its existing retailers, especially the large multiples, by persuading their category buyers to stock its most successful products permanently within their ranges.
Daly says there is no typical JML customer as the company has such a broad range of products. However, he did reveal that JML advertises more heavily outside of London and that its biggest-selling product of all time is an ironing board cover with sales of over 25 million.
Like many retailers, JML is targeting international growth. Daly said: “No one else in the UK doing is doing what we do but there are competitors in other countries so we tend to avoid the countries where others are established.” The company’s biggest overseas market is the Benelux region.
Daly revealed that one of JML’s main growth challenges is finding the right employees. He said: “All of the other obstacles melt away if you have good people. At the moment, we have the best team ever in the UK but internationally it can be more difficult.”
Looking to the future, Daly is confident that JML will become ever more successful. He said: “We stick doggedly to our formula, do not get distracted and do not go beyond our area of expertise.”
JML will break through the £100 million sales barrier this year which Daly says will be a real milestone for the business. It sounds like he made exactly the right move all those years ago.
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