Darren Walker has had an intensive few months introducing himself to the textile care industry.

His previous career has included senior roles in publishing, covering production, distribution and procurement. More recently he has worked in the telecoms sector where he was involved in the UK roll out of the infrastructure for the 3G market.

With this experience and an approach to business that is both hands-on and practical, he was able to take a fresh view of the company.

“Alex Reid has a longstanding name in the industry,” says Walker. “It is the market leader and has a responsibility to act like a leader.”

Clear leadership

Walker intends that the leadership role should be more clearly defined than it may have been in the past. He believes that the company may have underplayed its many talents and that its range of skills and experience is much broader than some drycleaners have realised.

Coming into the industry he saw that “there are a number of companies that offer parts of what we do – such as supplying consumables or selling machines – but we’re the only one to offer an integrated turnkey service. “

He felt that the drycleaning industry had mixed opinions of the company. It was respected but there was also a feeling that the company had lost some of its focus and direction.

Walker’s aim therefore is to highlight its turnkey abilities and to modernise Alex Reid’s public image.

When Walker arrived at the company the basis for that modernisation was already mostly in place as, under the leadership of interim managing director Helen Cooper, it had undergone a restructuring which was completed in the Autumn of 2010.

Until last year, the business had been centred on Croydon, which was the main base for telesales, finance and commercial activities.

Some of these functions were also taking place at the Leicester offices, so establishing Leicester as the HQ not only gave the company a more central location but also removed duplication and streamlined costs allowing the company to work more efficiently.

Changed role

The Croydon operation is still in business but has changed its role to become the distribution centre for the South of England while the Leicester base covers distribution for the rest of the UK.

In working to modernise and redefine the Alex Reid brand, Walker can draw on the company’s many strengths.

Talented team

“We have a lot of talented people but we haven’t let the market know about them,” Walker says.

He explains that Alex Reid is not just a consumables supplier. Its services can span the full extent of a drycleaner’s business from machine purchase and installation to supplying the chemicals and solvents needed to run the equipment and the technical and servicing support that help businesses to run efficiently.

“We have a strong technical team, led by Steve Tolley who has been with the company for several years and is also responsible for training and for related aspects such as COSSH assessments.”

Sales and service is led by operations director Andy Lambert who has been in the textile care business for 20 years.

Lambert’s area of the business is certainly one that Walker feels needs more explanation.

Lambert is strongly associated with the Firbimatic brand, having worked for Firbimatic UK, which was acquired by Alex Reid a couple of years ago.

The market may have been receiving mixed messages about the two brands.

After the acquisition they were seen as separate entities, which was an advantage at the time but the situation has changed.

The consumables and the machine side have been integrated and now work as two sides of the same operation.

Clear sales message

Walker feels that in a more active leadership role Alex Reid needs to make its sales offering clearer.

Obviously there is a strong link with the Firbimatic brand but machine expertise does not end there. The company can also supply finishing equipment and has recently signed a deal that allows it to sell Primus laundry machines to the drycleaning sector.

This will be its main laundry machine brand but it has also supplied machines from Electrolux and from Miele on a niche basis.

Walker says the company should offer a “laundry solution” to its drycleaner customers and it has both the right technical expertise and the equipment to do so.

On the servicing side, the Alex Reid team can also support a customer’s machines from brands other than those it sells.

The need to convey these messages about the company’s redefined role was one of the reasons why it took a stand at the Guild/TSA conference in March.

In redefining the brand, Walker looks beyond the product and service offering to the way the company approaches sales and communicates with customers.

The sales channel has been very much telesales and office based and Walker says that this has been limiting and giving the customer wider and sometimes more convenient access is essential.

Walker’s previous business experience will make a substantial contribution. “My background is in restructuring, outsourcing and service delivery in very time-sensitive B2B and business to consumer operations.”

A re-designed company website is scheduled to become live during April and customers will be given full information about the improved service.

The new website is a fully functional E-platform for selling goods and services online and customers will be able to order at a time that suits them. Before its launch, sales were only available Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm. Now customers will benefit from a much better ordering service.

As well as being able to place orders round the clock, customers can now log into their own account and obtain goods on those individual terms.

On the old site, all orders were charged at a standard rate and payment methods were inflexible.

The new site will also contain much clearer information about the company and its range of services – details that were not on the old site.

The company’s brochure has also been redesigned and will provide an ideal complement to the website. Many of the images appear in both media and both the website and brochure carry the message: “Alex Reid – It’s the business for garment care”.

Given Darren Walker’s background, LCN asked if he had any plans to extend the sales platform to mobile telecoms.

“It’s an aspiration for the future,“ said Walker.

Multi-skilled business

However, for the first year with the company his aim is more immediate. He wants to make sure that he establishes Alex Reid as an industry leader with a clear vision for the business that comes from several areas and that the company is recognised for its excellence in providing products and services.

He understands that this is easy to say, harder to deliver but during his first months as managing director, the foundation has been laid and he believes that customers are already beginning to recognise the company’s strengths.

Longer term, there are exciting developments which will bring fresh opportunities for the company.

As Kreussler’s exclusive UK distributor, the company finds the introduction of the K4 drycleaning system “ very exciting” and Alex Reid plans to have a UK trial site up and running in the near future.

In addition to the UK business, the company has an export side, which again represents a further opportunity for development.