Analysis

Interview: Whistl CEO targets fast-growing retailers in the “exploding” ecommerce space

Whistl

Whistl is best known as a downstream access mail provider, but it is looking to make waves in the ecommerce fulfilment space.

“We like this sector,” CEO Nick Wells (pictured, right) explains to eDelivery in an exclusive interview. “It gives you more control over the total supply chain.”

Wells says that the reasons for moving into ecommerce fulfilment are “probably self-evident” – it is, Well says, an “exploding” space delivering double digit compound annual growth. Just as crucially, it is complementary to Whistl’s existing lines of business.

The company has a very specific goal: to be the “partner of choice for those etailers and brands that don’t want to insource their fulfilment and are looking for a quality provider that can take away the hassle of the supply chain.”

Whistl collects parcels from the retailer, stores them in depots alongside orders for other retailers, then hands them over to a courier for the final mile. It announced it was dropping its final mile services in 2015 after a potential funder decided against investing in it.

This “multi-site, multi-user service” is an increasingly important market. Wells explains the opportunity – he wants to work with retailers that may not have the size or scale to either build their own fulfilment operation or benefit from very attractive rates due to higher volume.

The sweet spot for Whistl, then, is retailers with annual revenues of £1 million to £100 million. These retailers are growing and offer the opportunity for Whistl to grow with them.

“We don’t want to be a big provider in the logistics space that a DHL or Wincanton is.”

Establishing a presence in the space has meant acquiring companies. In December 2018, Whistl acquired Spark Ecommerce, which offers contact centre services.

“Obviously  if you are to offer a contact centre as part of the overall product offering, generally what consumers are looking for is greater transparency and high quality service.”

In June of the same year it acquired Parcelhub and Mail Workshop. Previously, in July 2017, Whistl had acquired Prism DM, an established player in ecommerce fulfilment, which it later rebranded “Whistl Fulfilment”.

Wells thinks the market is “still pretty fragmented” but the attractiveness of the space is driving a lot of investment and hence consolidation. 2016 saw Yodel acquire click and collect provider CollectPlus.

As well as buying companies, Whistl is also investing in sites and technology. It has invested £6 million over the last year in automation, for example, and in 2017 opened a major new hub in Bolton.

It is a competitive space – but Wells claims that Whistl’s “resource, capability and people” will differentiate it from competitors.