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The Team Behind Wilki: Alex Wilkinson – Director

We caught up with Alex, six years on from her original “Meet the Team” interview to find out what’s changed and what she’s been up to in that time.

You’ve been a key part of the Wilkinson Cameras team for more than 6 years now and you’ve formally become a director – congratulations! How has that journey evolved – talk us through the wins, the highs & lows and inevitable challenges?

Yep, over six years now! It’s been an interesting journey – with a few obstacles along the way, but a lot of positives.

My position at Wilkinson Cameras has evolved considerably over the years – as the business has changed. A lot of the roles at Head Office have evolved and I feel we now have a really strong team – with all the right people in the right places – we’re so lucky to have such a range of talented and knowledgeable people.

I now cover pretty much all things digital and online; from overall day-to-day management of the website, future planning and eCommerce requirements, I still support and oversee the online sales team, social media, digital marketing, even down to creation and design of a lot of our advertising assets.

Being totally honest, at times it’s been very intense – especially with the rapid growth of our Digital Splash photography show and exhibition, which I don’t mind admitting nearly broke me! We were all doing a full-time job on top of our full-time jobs, which meant a lot of late nights. Some work-life balance definitely had to be reinstated!

I’m now very strict about my working hours, not taking work home with me (OK… I do literally work from home right now (COVID), but I close my office door at the end of the working day and don’t go back until the following work day!)

There have obviously been a lot of positives too. I can see great results from things I’ve implemented, and we’ve had many laughs along the way. I’ve also had the opportunity to meet really interesting people – from photographers I get to work with, staff members and of course customers too.

The list of successes includes our new website, achieving thousands of positive customer reviews (team effort obviously!), implementing ‘Live Help’ via the website, creating our very own YouTube channel and really upping our game on social media and boosting our online sales and B2B offering.
Actually when you look at it like that, I’m quite proud!

Obviously I don’t do all of this on my own – I’m fortunate enough to have Hannah and Andrew in my team, with Graham and Lily (and Liz and Joe currently as we deal with the increased demand in online sales during the pandemic) skillfully managing online and business sales, but, as we are still a relatively small company, I do oversee a number of different areas and I’m usually spinning lots of plates at once.

Looking back to when we spoke in 2015, your key priorities included Click & Collect, social media, Liverpool Learning Suite courses & training to name just a few topics. Are all of those initiatives now in place?

The words ‘click and collect’ have given me sleepless nights for years. It’s not as easy to implement as you might imagine. The photographic retail trade (and world) is now moving at such a fast pace, on-going website development is a continuous consideration, with click and collect very high on the list or priorities.

Our general online presence from the website to social media was something I wanted to improve though – and we’ve certainly done that. Goalposts are continually moving and there are always improvements to be made, but that’s the modern world of ecommerce and high street retail! No standing still, always moving and evolving to meet customer needs.

The Learning Suite and Liverpool Studio has been going really well – right up until COVID hit of course – which has obviously halted group activities in the short term.

The learning space is amazing and we have lots of brands wanting to work with us, as well as private tutors, professional photographers and associations who we partner with. We also hire the space to relevant companies wanting to run their own photo workshops from the space too, which works well and adds to the range of interesting content and learning we can offer.

COVID-19 and workshops will probably be an interesting challenge for the future. I envision some digital workshops going forward – we already have lots of free live webinars and workshops on at the moment, which are super-popular. But I think face-to-face is still important and better overall, so regular events will be back as soon as it’s safe and possible.

 

You’ve supported and enhanced the Wilki customer experience tremendously, adding Live Help working hard as a team to achieve excellent online customer service reviews. These days, people rely heavily on these reviews to help inform purchase decisions – this must be a major win for the business?

We’ve been building the reviews over several platforms including reviews.co.uk, TrustPilot & Google Business for a few years now. We’re up to over 3500 reviews across the various sites and we’re very highly rated. I know as both a marketer and an online shopper myself, how important it is to be able to find real reviews about a company. So yes, we’re really chuffed with this.

I’m well aware that lots of people haven’t heard of Wilkinson Cameras, but with Google Shopping, Google Ads, social media, etc. we’re getting the name out to a much wider audience.

But as we reach new people, many of whom aren’t aware of our history and credentials, we must work hard to prove that we’re genuine. Sadly, with so many unscrupulous online companies, the genuine ones have to work extra hard to reassure customers!

During lockdown, it was amazing to see how many people had found us online for the first time and had used online reviews to check we were legitimate. It’s really great when the stores get reviews too. We include these on the ‘Daily News’ updates we send out to staff – it’s a great morale booster for staff to see how appreciated they are.

Of course in order to generate great reviews, we have to offer excellent service. So reviews not only help to convert sales, but it ensures that we keep our standards high at all times.

I’m known for my ‘no nonsense’ replies to certain reviews online. I’ll always hold my hands up if we’ve done something wrong, or could improve and the relevant changes will be made. But I’m a bit like a tigress protecting her cubs if people are rude or dismissive towards staff members and I will defend the team if I feel that a review is unfair. Sadly there’s a tendency online to forget that there’s a human being on the other end of that comment or review, email, etc.

The Preowned market has really taken off – and we see that Wilki has launched ‘Preowned. Perfected.’ This has been a key project for you – how is it going?

Good quality pre-owned kit has been a massive part of the stores for a long time now. Most stores have their regulars coming in and scouring the pre-owned displays. Online it always took a bit of a back seat because stock comes and goes so quickly and you need accurate information about it to properly advertise it online, as every piece is unique.

With new computer systems in the stores, the ability to automate things and include more detailed information about each item, meant getting it on the website became easier, with major improvements to the look and information in each listing.

This then grew into a much bigger project – focussing on how good our pre-owned items are, describing them more accurately, presenting them better in store too. We want customers to have just the same experience as they would if buying new.

Our aim is to totally remove any risk from buying pre-owned equipment – and against news prices there are some real bargains to be had for customers. Not only is pre-owned kit excellent value for money, there’s a huge benefit in terms of ‘recycling’ by choosing used, over new. Second hand definitely doesn’t mean second best!

We’ve updated each step of the process, making the process simpler, safer and removing any risk associated with buying pre owned kit:

• Comprehensive technical checks on every piece of pre-owned kit prior to listing
• 14 day no quibble returns policy*
• 12 months warranty on all kit*
• Finance available on any item, or order value totaling over £200*
• As part of an ongoing business-wide plan to use only recyclable packaging – all pre-owned kit will be shipped in boxes made from recycled cardboard, and packed only with recycled/recyclable materials

*For full details see the website https://www.wilkinson.co.uk/preowned

 

We mentioned the dreaded C-word earlier. COVID. Talk to us about the impact the pandemic has had & how you and the team have risen to the huge challenge this has presented.

No one could ever have imagined such a pandemic occurring, or the impact it would have on pretty much every aspect of our lives. As we write this, stores are finally re-opening after months of closure, and staff are returning from furlough.

2020 is already over half way through and it’s been a real rollercoaster. I don’t think anyone realised how serious COVID-19 was to begin with. One week I was changing my welcome pack for our weekend landscape workshop in the Lake District to say ‘bring along some hand sanitizer’, the next week I was making the call on whether to reschedule and the following week all our stores were closed down and I was working from home.

We’re really great at adapting as a business – it’s why we’re still here when a lot of others have gone – but it was definitely an ‘action stations!’ moment for us as a company. Obviously a lot of our business is store based and then of course there’s the question, ‘will anyone want to buy a camera in this chaos’?

We put all our energy into online marketing, social media engagement, digital communication and really shouting to say, ‘Hey! We’re still here!’ But, also the approach I took with online communication was to include things to inspire people. It wasn’t just about selling equipment; it was about giving people ideas to do at home, giving them something to focus on, a little bit of relief in all the chaos and uncertainty.

It turns out that actually, lots of people wanted to buy cameras (and all the other things we sell!) after all. Which in turn led to the next challenge – how do we serve the demand? Head Office is down to minimum staffing, stock is trapped in all our stores, but the orders are beyond Black Friday levels with no signs of stopping.

While other businesses were offering reduced service levels, we expanded ours, opening Customer Services over the weekend and bringing furloughed staff members back in an online role, working from home. We even put little free gifts in our outgoing parcels to say thank you to everyone who was supporting us during this time.

The website was doing brilliantly, but we’d still all wake up each morning checking to see if it was still doing ok each day. We definitely don’t take anything for granted – it’s always a case of looking to see what’s next and how we can keep up the momentum and service.

And of course now, the next challenge is getting customers back into stores safely – and restoring consumer confidence – especially with unpredicted localised lockdowns. Did I mention rollercoaster?!

At the time of writing, where I live has been on increased restrictions for a few weeks and Preston has just been brought into this too. We’re taking it very seriously and we know our stores are safe places for customers and staff – and we’ll just keep showing and reassuring people that this is the case.

What’s next – dreams aspirations, photographic adventures – you mentioned previously that you’ve learned so much about photography!

I’ve always been very honest about not being a photographer. I take pictures every single day and document my main passion in life, cycling, through photography. I know how all the kit works and I have a passion for great images, but I don’t class myself as a ‘photographer’.

I don’t hone my skills in this area, so my photographic adventures will be wherever I find myself on 2 wheels with my Sony RX100 in my back pocket, or a GoPro up front. Though I’ll happily take the new Sony ZV1 for a spin if Sony would like to send me one! 😁

 

And finally! Given the obvious family connections, we just have to ask – have you made your Dad proud?!

My dad is always proud of me! He’ll tell anyone who’ll listen how proud he is of my various achievements inside or outside of work. Usually preceded by ‘MY daughter’, which usually leads my mum to chip in with ‘Ahem, OUR daughter’.

 

You can follow Alex on her cycling adventures on Instagram @L3xiconic

 

Meet other members of the Wilki Team and keep checking back as we plan to introduce many more team members in the future too!

Head of Online Sales & B2B, Graham

Chester store’s Jenny Warriner

 

 

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