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Innovative business process allows WoodBlocX to meet surging demand

Published 12/01/2021 by Gillian Galloway 4 min read

Henry Blake from Woodblocx

In the latest instalment of our Virtual Cup of Coffee series, Gillian Galloway, Head of Innovation at HIE, sits down with Henry Blake, managing director of WoodBlocX.

This Dingwall based business produces a unique, patented product which can be used to create almost any structure you might want in a garden. The sustainably sourced wood is light and durable and requires no power tools or specialist skills to put together. Where some businesses may have found 2020 to have been a quieter year, WoodBlocX bucked the trend and worked harder than ever to meet the demand from people looking to update their gardens.

Here, Henry talks to Gillian about how the business became busier than ever during COVID-19 and how taking an innovative approach to business process helped them successfully fulfil orders with support from HIE. 

What’s your elevator pitch?

WoodBlocX is a system which is similar to Lego for your garden. It is incredibly versatile and can be used to build or landscape any part of your garden, from raised flower beds, planters, retaining walls, ponds, edging, seating and even stairs. It is an invention so simple that anyone can use it.

What support have you received from the innovation team at HIE?

The innovation team helped us to create a vision-learning machine which we started using in 2020. Every order we supply to a customer has a unique set of components; many of these are cut specifically. When orders surged, our resources were stretched and we were unable to double-check each order. As a result, the percentage of incorrect or missing parts would rise. Rectifying this created a lot of extra work for the admin team, warehouse team and, worst of all, led to real frustration for our customers who were unable to finish their build. Imagine completing a jigsaw but the last piece is missing...

The smart camera system we developed enables us to scan all components live as we are packing them and this technology is almost 100% accurate. This has led to a drop in missing parts by at least 10% which in turn has saved over 20 hours of admin time a week and far less frustrated customers! This technology was invaluable from spring 2020 onwards when we experienced our busiest trading period to date.

COVID-19 has presented many challenges, did you innovate or diversify to overcome these challenges and turn these into an advantage for your business?

During the first week of the first lockdown in March we realised that we would need to create new systems and methods for processing orders to meet demand. With everyone stuck at home and warmer, brighter months on the horizon, people turned to their gardens, wanting to tend to their outdoor spaces.

We had to change the way our staff operated: we put in place effective social distancing measures at our warehouse and ensured systems were in place for our office-based team to work from home. The best way for the team to work effectively and meet the demand we faced was to migrate everything online as it enabled us to further automate many of our processes. This in turn saved us time to respond to the surge in enquiries we were receiving.

The huge increase in orders combined with our warehouse social distancing rules meant that, like a lot of businesses, we had to extend our delivery lead-times. Our usual quick turnaround from order to delivery was extended, we ensured this was clearly communicated at all stages of the ordering process to avoid disappointment and this worked well.

Did the time and space afforded by lockdown bring any new business ideas to explore?

Through analysis of the search terms people were using we noticed that there were some strong garden trends, which we needed to focus on more. One of which was ‘firepits’ something which has become more and more popular over the last couple of years. Noticing the demand, we created a new collection of firepit kits on our website which have proved very popular.

What’s next on the horizon for WoodBlocX?

We have plans to further expand throughout Europe and increase our market share. We already have a strong presence in France, Germany and the Czech Republic and we are launching new websites which will allow us to sell directly in the Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden. Closer to home, we have doubled our production capacity at our headquarters in Dingwall to meet the growth we are forecasting.

Gillian. 

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