The recent rapid growth of JRP Distribution in Lancing is down to a lot of legwork and having key people on the ground. Not just in Sussex, or the rest of the UK, but in China.
Getting supply from Asia is obviously nothing new, but JRP seems to have developed quite a knack with it. The business was formed in 1984 by Richard Page who was joined by his son Ollie in 2006. From the early days of selling batteries and chamois leathers from the boot of a car, the company now prides itself on its rapid flexibility in meeting direct-to-branch demands from the likes of Andrew Page, GSF and Camberley Auto Factors.
The first inroads into China were made in spring 2011, the first delivery was taken in early 2012 and now JRP has three permanent members of staff in China dealing with 18 factories.
“I’m going out to China every six months, but that’s going up to every three months, two weeks at a time,” says Ollie. “The way we’ve got it set up is quite unique. Most people will have a UK agent who then discusses with a Chinese agent or Chinese trading company which then goes to the factory.
“Speak to any Chinese factory and if they get approached by an agent or trading company, they’ll put their prices up ten to 15 percent straight away.
“We’ve got our own office, so there’s none of that.
“I went to some stands at the Canton fair, got some prices and then sent one of my Chinese girls there under an alias for the same products. They were 30 percent cheaper.
“I try to pick up a few words every time I go out there, but it’s a ridiculously difficult language. It’s like any country. If you can’t speak their language, you’re going to struggle in any negotiation.
“If you haven’t got a Chinese speaking person out there, you’ll get charged a lot more.”
Having the right people in the right place clearly pays dividends with a very competitive unit price for JRP. All of the quality control work is done in China, with one of the latest study running to 180 pages on a new line of wiper blades. JRP has taken four 40-foot containers of jump leads under its Simply brand, and more are coming. Space at the current warehouse is running out, so a new-build 12,000sqft warehouse over the road is joining the roster mid-2013.
“Nothing gets consolidated out there, everything comes direct,” says Ollie. “One of the other things we’ve set up with the factories as well is to give them a humongous order, they store it, and then we draw down containers at a time.
“With costs changing all the time, if we hit it at the right time, we can get a low cost and they store it for free.” It’s a far cry from the early days of what Richard calls his ‘lifestyle’ company with four employees concentrating only on the South East of England.
He says: “I was an agent prior to this and the problem at that time was there was no legislation protecting us. Once the business had been built up, they could come in, say ‘thanks very much’, and send you on your way.
“So I took on Philips batteries that I sold out of the back of the car and some chamois leathers and it kind of developed from there. For the first few years I did part agency and part the products which I had at home.”
JRP took on Pacer adhesives in 2001, just as the Dollar exchange rate bit, but it bought the company a big customer list and suddenly they were a national player. Could Richard imagine back then where JRP would be today? “Definitely not, no. Years ago I imported from Italy and Germany. America was a big deal for me. Ollie’s got a different take on it and has managed to find lots of niches. Put those niches together you have a very attractive package.”
Ollie adds: “It also means that we’re not attacking one competitor at any one time, which would be suicidal. I don’t think many people could keep up with our range development.” By the end of next year, 75 to 80 percent of JRP’s lines will be coming from China, Taiwan or elsewhere in Asia. Being a family business Ollie was brought into work as a child at weekends and in the holidays and put to work by Richard. “I did those annoying blister packs that took about ten minutes to do and he only gave me 2p a pack.”
It seems Ollie learnt an early lesson the company is now benefiting from.