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Conflicting goals

St John Ambulance is the largest charity in the UK, supplying first aid volunteers to events ranging from local concerts and sports matches to the London Marathon. What is less well known is that it has its own supplies division, which provides the volunteers with everything from sticking plasters to fully equipped ambulances, but which is also tasked by Head Office with making a profit.

In 2004, St John Supplies relied mainly on its volunteers for its income, although it did have a few, small commercial and private customers. Sales were mainly done by mail order based on a catalogue, with orders taken by call-centre and fulfilment done in-house. At that time, it was struggling to make an adequate income A Bardwyck consultant was asked to undertake a comprehensive strategic review and operations review to find a solution to the problem.

Bardwyck ran a number of workshops with the management and staff of St John Supplies and interviewed representatives of the St John Ambulance head office, volunteer managers, suppliers and commercial customers. This was complemented by extensive statistical analysis, backed up by commercial market research.

The most significant finding was that there was a conflict in St John Supplies’ objective of making money to fund those very volunteers in their first aid activities. A way needed to be found to resolve this. The main recommendations were that:

  • A distinction be made in the organisation’s pricing policy between sales to the volunteer groups (which should be at cost) and commercial sales (for profit) to avoid the conflict in St John Supplies’ objectives.
  • The appointment of a field sales representative to focus on major commercial accounts.
  • Re-training of the call-centre staff to focus more on telesales than just on order taking.
  • Rationalisation of the stock and the withdrawal, redesign or replacement of non-profitable products.
  • Various marketing techniques be used to improve the relationship with the St John volunteer groups around the country, many of whom felt that they were being exploited for profit – which would no longer be the case.
  • Streamlining and rationalisation of the internal processes for purchasing supplies, handling and fulfilling orders and managing staff to eliminate waste and improve speed and efficiency.

Shortly after the project finished, St John Supplies appointed its first field sales manager. Within three months, he had brought in the first £250,000 order and profit levels quickly improved thereafter. A new SAP system was implemented to streamline the administrative procedures and the fulfilment department was moved to new, purpose-designed premises outside London.