Green Retail World was in Newark in September for a tour of the Currys-GXO Newark campus, which comprises 1.5 million sq ft of storage and distribution space – and the Currys repair centre.
The latter, which resides in building 1 of the site alongside Currys’ home fulfilment, home delivery depot, and reverse logistics operation, is viewed by the business as an increasingly important part of its proposition.
Not only is the Currys repair centre central to the retailer’s plans to develop a more circular economy and therefore its sustainability credentials, but it is a key component supporting its burgeoning services division which is now driving 13% of annual sales. The site is the hub for technology repairs, tech refurbishment, and where decisions are made about whether items can be resold or recycled.
During a day in the east midlands, this publication heard from Currys’ operations, supply chain, services, and finance leaders. We also got the opportunity to see Currys’ circular economy plans in action, with a behind-the-scenes look at the repair centre which is viewed by the organisation as its key differentiator from the wider sector.
Lindsay Haselhurst, Currys’ chief operating officer, who joined the business in 2020 after running Screwfix’s logistics operations and serving as group supply chain director at Kingfisher, describes the repair centre as one of Currys’ “greatest assets” and a key part of the organisation’s efforts to become a more sustainable retailer.
“The first time I saw this operation I was wowed by it, and I come back on a regular basis and I’m wowed every time I come back,” she explained.
“It’s one of the greatest assets we have as a business. Why? It is vertically integrated. We are the only retailer who has this capability within their own control.”
Of course it is all very well having a sizeable asset of this nature but it’s what a retailer does with it that counts. And over the last three years, Currys has optimised the facility in multiple ways.
The Newark site as a whole is home to 2,600 workers, with a growing number of them deployed in the Currys repair centre fixing consumers’ tech and involved in parts recovery. There are also staff talking customers through self-serve repairs via the Currys ‘Repair Live’ online video service, and many employees tasked with quality testing.
Some members of the repair team are now 3D printing generic tech device parts such as handheld vacuum triggers and touchpad buttons. The thought process, here, is Currys will have a better chance of repairing and preserving the life of certain products even when the manufacturer has discontinued these items.
Haselhurst calls chamber one of building 1 at Newark “Europe’s largest repair centre”, and says Currys has “the capability and the scale that goes with that”.
“It’s not just about repairs. We have taken the repairs capability and we are leveraging that to transform our returns – [and] make a problem an opportunity.”
In terms of turning a problem into an opportunity, Haselhurst means all incoming products, whether from customer returns or customer repairs, now go through a thorough diagnostics and arbitrage process so that each individual product is assessed in detail before being sent into the most optimal channel for repair, resale, or recycling.
Prior to the implentation of the new system (illustrated in the below image), which was led by services operations director David Rosenberg, the lion’s share of attention was focused on the process of the repair or return itself. By taking a step back and thinking about what could happen prior to and post repair, it has opened up new revenue streams through resale and the harvesting of tech parts as well as improving the customer experience in terms of speed and transparency of the repair service.
“We can now offer a solution that works for the business and works for the customer,” explained Rosenberg.
“Diagnostics is the most important [part of the process] but the most challenging. [There is] no off-the-shelf system – so we have designed it.”
As with much of the innovation we spotted as we toured the Newark site, Currys’ on-the-ground staff have inputted into the system. Haselhurst talked up the “colleague entrepreneurs” within the business, who are encouraged to speak up when they think a process does not work as efficiently as it should do and who are allowed to generate their own ideas and solutions for improving operations.
Customer returns at Currys due to product faults, damaged in-stock transit or consumers changing their minds total 1.9 million a year. There are 100,000 under-warranty repairs a year, 800,000 service plan repairs, and 100,000 items traded in as part of the retailer’s promise to reward customers for bringing in technology for recycling rather than sending it to landfill.
Steve Pendleton, services director at Currys, says there is a “big opportunity” to develop the repairs side of the business, and that involves promoting the proposition more prominently.
“The market for repairs is big and only expected to grow with consumers’ financial restraints and sustainability,” he noted.
“It’s a £400 million market at the moment and we’re incredibly well positioned to take advantage of that because we have the capabilities and the credibility with customers. What we haven’t got quite right is how we attract customers to that and how they can access it.”
That is set to change in the months ahead, and Haselhurst added: “We are definitely seeing the cost of living and [the focus on] sustainability driving more and more customers to explore repair.”
Parts recovery at Currys is one example of how being more efficient in existing operations can benefit the environment and the business’s bottom line alike.
Currys estimates that leveraging used parts in its repair operations is saving the business £6 million on the cost of procuring new spare parts.
Every tech item or unit, ranging from washing machines to laptops and smartphones, that is returned by customers or sent for repair is now screened thoroughly by the team either at store level or in Newark. Previously, the capacity did not exist to do this and items would be palleted and sent back to suppliers or elsewhere. By thinking more circularly, Currys acknowledges its customer service has improved, while it has also identified ways to generate more value from its refurbished goods when placed on the resale market via partners such as eBay.
Indeed, Currys said it generated circa £12.5 million in sales of its refurbished goods or seconds via its official eBay page last year.
Currys’ has developed its own circular economy hierarchy; first and foremost, it aims to repair products for customers. That is deemed the most sustainable route by Haselhurst and the wider team.
If that cannot be achieved, the aim is to refurbish, resell or reuse the goods. Failing that, the next priority is to repurpose parts from end-of-life products. The last resort is to recycle the goods, but with e-waste such a significant social issue in the UK and worldwide Currys talks up the fact it has recycled one million tonnes of electricals since 2010, working with an array of partners.
In nearby building 2 on the Newark campus, as illustrated in the images above and below, Currys runs its recycling and waste operations. The core purpose of our tour of the Newark site was to see the Currys repair centre, but Green Retail World is clearly also interested in how retailers are dealing with packaging and e-waste.
We were told that there is “no value” in the packaging materials such as plastic and cardboard unless it is “bundled and baled” so the ‘NERF’ centre is a dedicated space Currys has created for processing recycling from the site and from stores to ensure the retailer can extract as much value form the waste as possible.
Currys said there are circa 52 bales of card handled a day for recycling, most of which is directed towards paper mills. There are also 800 tonnes of polythene processed each year, representing approximately a trailer a week, and this material is diverted from landfill and goes towards making Currys-branded carrier bags which are distributed in stores.
The e-waste from stores, which is collected through customer schemes such as ‘Cash for Trash’, comes back to Newark on lorries that are already destined for the location in order to avoid additional journeys.
Haselhurst says: “Our responsibility as we see it is to raise awareness and make it easy for all our customers to recycle, repair or to reuse their old tech.”
But, increasingly, Currys is realising the commercial benefit of dealing in waste and would-be waste, particuarly because it has build such a dedicated facility in which to manage it.
“With packaging, the best thing you can do [for sustainability reasons] is elimate it in the first place – minimising packaging at the point of design which also means working with the supplier,” Haselhurst notes.
“[But] it does exist and we are actively involved in the collection and process of packaging. We’ll take ownership of that. Even packaging has its own inherent value if we treat it properly.”
And reflecting on the job towards building a more circular economy for electricals so far, she adds: “We’ve made a difference over three or four years but we still have more to do.”
Look out for a full interview with Lindsay Haselhurst on Green Retail World later this week, as part of our Seeds of Change series
[Main image credit: Green Retail World]