First things first, tell us about being ‘distribution supervisor’. What does that actually entail?
“Basically, I man between 40–60 guys to make sure they’re paired up correctly – we always have a two-person team per delivery and there always has to be one who can basically act as a mentor to the other – that they’re on the right van, that they’re going where they should be, and that they do us proud. Every customer has to have nothing but the best experience we can give them. And me, along with our fantastic team like Jackie, Robyn, Michael and all the rest of them, are here to try and do our bit to know that’s happening all over the country.”
When you say ‘experienced’, does that mean there’s also always someone new to the role on each delivery?
“Not necessarily. Just like with any part of the business, you’ve got some people who’ve been doing it longer or are more of an expert in doing one thing over another. I’m very aware of that and like to use it as an opportunity to always grow the less-experienced members of the team. It’s about striking the balance between helping people to improve and promising the expertise the customer expects. When I used to be on the road, I’d always make sure we had our brochures in the van and if my mate [driver’s mate is the term the team use for the second person in the van] picked one up and started looking through, I’d think, good, this one’s taking an interest and wants to learn. If they didn’t, that’d be my first sign that they might not be invested enough. We like to see proper care and commitment. It’s something I encourage all of our team to do too. You can often tell within ten minutes if somebody is going to be Neptune enough for us.”
Let’s go back a few steps. How and when did you start working at Neptune?
“It feels about a hundred years ago now. If I’m honest, I’d never heard of Neptune and I was rubbish at anything to do with DIY. But I was working with a local agency and they introduced me to Neptune and I took to it like a duck to water. Nobody expected me to, least of all me. I really surprised myself actually. [At this point, Ian was shuffling his feet, bashfully.] I can remember my turning point. I was on a delivery for one of the Neptune team. It was the furniture for his little girl’s bedroom, and there was a problem with the bed. I just couldn’t disappoint her, so I stepped back and thought how can I sort this. It wasn’t a huge problem or anything, but I figured it out and left with a job I was proud of and a very happy family, and I thought, I could be good at this.”
What happened next?
“I was a driver’s mate for Mark [who we profiled in Stories volume six]. We got on well from the start and when you’re being trained by someone as interested in Neptune as Mark is, it’s hard not to be pulled in. The man knows what he’s on about, and I learnt a hell of a lot from him. I think I must have done okay, because Mark recommended me. I remember him telling me that I was a keeper. I think it was a bonus that I had a lorry license too!”
Over the years as a driver & fitter [the Neptune delivery team is trained to not just deliver but to assemble any furniture too], what were the main things that you learnt that you felt made the Neptune service special?
“It’s all about doing the right thing, bending the ‘rules’ when you know that you can do the job properly and make the customer happy, and going the extra mile. It’s not about delivering furniture at all really, it’s a people-focussed job and about appreciating how much everybody’s homes mean to them. Etiquette is a big thing for us too. You’re being invited into their home so be gracious and protect it like it’s your own.”
What’s the most challenging thing facing you and your team?
“Being better. Hands down.”
Is there anything you miss now your role has changed?
“I miss being on the road. I still am sometimes, but not often. I miss the people, I miss pulling up on the driveway, I miss that first hello and making a good impression. I’ve struggled a bit with the new job I’ve got to say. I’ve never been in a supervisory role before; I feel like an imposter. But I’m happy and I’m grateful and it’s the right thing for me because my mind never stops. I’m someone who always wants to learn and improve things and I can really do that in a bigger way now. It’s just taken some getting used to.”
What are you most excited about?
“There’s an idea that our driver trainer Terry came up with that we’re properly developing now, and I’m really involved in that. Basically, it’s a technician programme to give our drivers a big goal to work towards if they want to. It’s the next level. I’m not going to give too much away just yet but it boils down to us wanting to go even grittier with our knowledge of every product so our drivers can become serious experts in the DNA of our designs. The big picture is every delivery will have a technician there. I think that sort of thing is something to get excited about, because everyone’s a winner. The customer experience moves up a level and so do our drivers.”
Is detailed product knowledge something you’re instilling in your team right now?
“The technician programme will be a big jump for the guys, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have fantastic product knowledge as it is. When I started, I wanted to know the why behind every nut, every joint, every material. It’s not good enough to not know the answer. Within reason, we should be able to respond to what the customers are asking us about what they’ve ordered. But that takes time, and so long as our team want to learn and are tracking down those answers, then I’m happy. I remember when I found out that our smallest Suffolk dresser takes 21.5 hours to make. I was so impressed. I watched them make a bespoke version in the workshop and it blew my mind how they turned planks of wood into this thing of beauty before my eyes. I think it’s important that, as the team taking that product to its owner, we have proper respect and appreciation for the journey it’s been on.”
You say that you’re fitters, what does that part of the service involve exactly?
“We want our customers to barely lift a finger. As soon as we turn up, they tell us where it’s going and we do the rest. That means assembling it and taking away the packaging for recycling so they haven’t got to deal with the faff. But it also means we can sort any little snags like levelling. We’re there to help the customer understand their furniture too. Take a 6ft dresser as an example. It has feet that can be adjusted to act as a leveller so they can tweak it as they need to because, over time, the wood will move about (as it’s a natural product) and so will their house. We want to show them how to grow old with their product and give them the confidence to understand it properly.”
Do you have any favourite memories from your time on the road when you’ve turned a problem around?
“You could say that… Our team will put their necks on the line rather than disappoint our customers. There was a delivery I did in Whitstable, ironically by a pub called The Old Neptune. We got there and the access was terrible. Long story short, there was no way that Olivia sofa was getting up the stairs to their upstairs sitting room. But then I spied a balcony. Up we went, covered it with blankets, took the cushions off the sofa, made sure the sofa was wrapped up and protected, and let’s just say there was a crowd of people watching in the end but it ended up where it needed to be. Every time I say, don’t worry, we’ve had worse. If there’s a way to make something work, we’ll find it somehow because nobody wants to hear ‘we need to come back I’m afraid’ or ‘no sorry, it’s not happening’. I love it when you look around and they’re chuffed. We’re chuffed because we’ve helped to make that picture they’ve had in their head come to life.”
And what about any customers who you knew were over the moon?
“Easy. There’s a couple from Norfolk who built a property on the coast and they have Neptune everything. It’s basically another showroom for us. Anyway, after a few times of going, we were getting to know them more and more and she told us the story of what brought them there and how they were going to knock down the house, build another to let out as a guest house, and then build a little villa next door for them to live in. Back and back we went and we got to see the whole thing come together. It was pretty special. We call it the Buckingham Palace of Norfolk. Sometimes you see homes that you’d never get to see in your lifetime, and when you’re welcomed into them as though you’re family you feel very touched and privileged. And actually, their story is ongoing. We’ve done their villa, their daughter’s house, their son’s, and now the nursery of their first grandkid.”
Finally, tell us what the one thing is that you’re most proud of at your time at Neptune?
“Can I pick two? Because my first thought was my team, 100 per cent, but then I thought, I’m really proud of where I am at Neptune. I’ve worked really hard; nothing was given to me on a plate. Yeah, I think I’ve done really well for myself.”