We’ve all seen them, JML’s aisle-end concessions in Asda, Boots and Robert Dyas (to name but a few), showing looped product demos with that trademark voiceover.
Since John Mills founded the JML brand in the basement of his Camden home in 1986, it has inhabited an unconventional corner of the retail sector. Focused on selling ‘innovative consumer products that solve every-day problems’ JML has clung steadfastly to the trade show demo format evolving from live demos to TV and launching its first transactional website in 1999. It now sells everything from cat toys to copper-stone frying pans.
The formula must be working because JML now employs 250 people in UK and Ireland and works with distribution partners in more than 80 international markets. When CEO Ken Daly first clocked-on as a sales person in 1986, the brand employed just five people.
“There were four people when I started,” says Daly who was speaking at The Retail Bulletin’s Omnichannel Futures Conference 2020, “I was employee number five. The business started with live demonstrations in places like the Ideal Home exhibition. When I came in, my job was to sell products into retail, so really we‘ve been in retail 25 years.”
JML is switched on to TV advertising
Daly insists that in certain respects his company is well ahead of the curve. “You’ll notice that lots of ecommerce pureplays are starting to wake up to the sheer power of TV advertising. Amazon, in particular, invested heavily in TV ad spend this Christmas. Sure, TV advertising can be scattergun but pound for pound its very effective.”
Daly also maintains that TV advertising brings two other valuable benefits aside from cost and market penetration. They are prestige and compliance. Consumer’s perceived value of brands increases if they see them on TV and they also trust them more because claims made within TV adverts are highly regulated.
What about the competition? In Daly’s view the shine is starting to fade for Amazon. “Do people still trust Amazon?” he asks. “Sure, consumers trust them to deliver the next day, but they’re in real trouble in other areas. They’ve had some really bad press over the way they treat their employees. Their marketplace is also increasingly seen as a breeding ground for counterfeits, and quite frankly I feel guilty every time I order. Put that all together and the customer experience is pretty bad.”
JML’s use of data – transforming retail
One thing Daly and Amazon do agree on, however, is the pre-eminence of data in the transformation of retail. Daly goes so far as to draw upon philosophical work of Yuvai Noah Harari who suggested that ‘dataism’ is the next evolutionary step on from religion and humanism.
“First there were religions, then humanism and now there’s dataism. The most powerful thing a human can do is share their personal data for the good of everyone. You see this when people share their medical data to advance research and the Chinese government was applauded when it was so quick to share the code for the corona virus. As retailers we need to convince consumers that there are real benefits to sharing their data. If we can do this, we’ll be able to forge closer more personalised experiences for our customers.”
Always searching for newness
Daly’s answer to ensuring JML stays innovative is to hold annual Inventors’ Days at the Spring Fair at Birmingham’s NEC. The event provides experienced inventors with a setting to present their latest innovations and discuss the steps JML undertakes to ensure their idea is ready for retail.
“Innovation is at the heart of everything we do at JML,” says Daly, “so, we are particularly keen to hear from people who have developed innovative solutions to everyday problems that they think might be ideal for JML’s customers.”
Ken Daly, JML CEO, was speaking at The Retail Bulletin’s Omnichannel Futures Conference 2020.