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Behind the scenes: PCR takes a tour around Overclockers UK's warehouse - PC Retail

Behind the scenes: PCR takes a tour around Overclockers UK's warehouse

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In its bid to offer the fastest and the best systems on the market, Overclockers UK is becoming more than an etailer – it tests components rigorously, working closely with vendors to improve their products and grow the market.

Since being bought by Caseking, OCUK has doubled its warehouse size and headcount and experimented with a retail pop-up shop. Dominic Sacco meets Steve Ling, Miodrag Relic and Steven Levitt for a tour of its Newcastle-under-Lyme facility…

After entering the Overclockers UK (OCUK) retail store, I don’t know where to look.

There are rows of shiny new PC machines, monitors and motherboards placed on either side of the room, with a football table in the middle, a counter on the right and other PC accessories scattered around – it’s a geeks heaven.

To my left there’s a £5,000 Emperor gaming chair with three monitors attached to it, beckoning me to take a seat.

Before I can decide where to start, Miodrag Relic, business development director for Caseking (the group which owns Overclockers), Steve Ling, Overclockers UK executive director, and Steven Levitt, marketing specialist, enter the room.

There are no suits here – they’re all proudly wearing OCUK-branded T-shirts. These guys clearly live and breathe the brand; they wear their heart on their sleeves, and they are about to show me the inner workings of their gaming business.

Considering it’s based in an out-of-town warehouse site, the physical store is surprisingly popular, with a few customers browsing. “One customer came all the way from Scotland to get some hardware for his system,” Levitt says.

We enter the door at the back of the room and join the hustle and bustle of Overclockers’ system building department. It’s full of workbenches, half-built PC systems and engineers putting the machines together. As we enter a room on the left, which is used for spray painting and modifying custom parts, a busy but cheery man stops what he’s doing to greet me.

It’s Craig Sheldon, senior technician – extreme systems (aka master builder to his peers), who tells me about the unique customer requests and custom jobs he works on. “First, we make sure what the customer has in mind is going to work, then we’ll go back and forth with them over email, making sure everything is going to be exactly what they want,” he says.

PACKING A PUNCH

Returning to the bustling technical build department, I notice a high-end 8Pack system being put together on the workbench in front of me. These can cost anything from around £4,500 to £12,000, and I’m told customers purchase them on a regular basis.

They take about a week to build, with most of that time spent testing the system and its various parts. OCUK’s resident overclocking expert Ian ‘8Pack’ Parry pushes the system to the max before the engineer builds it.

Miodrag Relic explains: “These guys are craftsmen, they’re not just system builders anymore. We hand deliver all 8Pack systems, including installation. It’s like buying a new Ferrari – you expect the car to come with the keys and instructions. We do the same thing with computers. You can’t just sit in a Ferrari and drive it.

“The weirdest one we sold was an 8Pack system plus an Emperor gaming chair we had to deliver to Northern Ireland. We sent it by normal parcel and when it got to the airport at Birmingham, they realised, oops, it will not fit in the plane! So we had to hire a van, go to the airport and pick it up, so we could still deliver it next-day as promised.

“Our guys drove all the way to Northern Ireland; they took the Liverpool ferry across to Belfast, and got seasick in the process, before reaching the customer’s address, which was an apartment block. The stairwell was narrow, so they had to dismantle the Emperor’s chair, take it in bits and pieces to whichever floor, and then assemble it. It took a long time.

“So we end up in such situations. But it’s a great service we offer – that’s what we do.”

Check out our image gallery of OCUK's warehouse, shop and offices here:

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It’s not just gaming or B2C PCs that OCUK builds either; the etailer launched its first range of RENDA workstations late last year for creative professionals. There’s a £3,500 system in a Phanteks chassis on the workbench beside me.

Relic adds: “Because we have so much confidence in our system builders, we are confident we can offer a watercooled workstation – it minimises the noise of the system, and no one else can do it in the UK. We’ve won several awards from the likes of 3D World, Tech Radar and more. I reckon local system builders have a place for workstations now.”

We enter the warehouse – there are boxes of hardware stacked high along the aisles. Relic tells me that the amount of stock Caseking has across its three warehouses (Budapest, Berlin and this one) is in the double digit millions of pounds.

All of Overclockers’ orders are picked and packed by hand, although Relic admits that the business could use automated picking in the near future.

“The correct item is in the box almost 100 per cent of the time,” Ling adds. “It’s extremely rare that a customer will receive something that’s incorrect. They’re more likely to get their Haribo missed out than they are the specific product they ordered. We can’t afford to run out of Haribo, or else there would be a revolt on the forums!”

It’s true – Overclockers includes a pack of sweets with every order as a little extra thank you. It’s clear the etailer takes customer service very seriously: it reviews its RMAs every week (it has a solid 93 per cent service level on the day I visit), engages with its customers on its forums and social media every day, plus it offers free shipping for its most loyal forum members. It also provides a ‘delivery to your desk’ and free repair service at different iSeries gaming events.

“We are part of the community,” Ling states. “We are our customers – that’s our ethos really. Part of our expansion was to provide a better customer service and to enable the company to do more things – that’s very important to us.”

“We are part of the community. We are our customers – that’s our ethos really."
Steve Ling, Overclockers UK

Relic explains: “On Trustpilot we have a score of 9.5, which is higher than any of our immediate competitors. The vast majority of our customers don’t come from Google or other search engines or adverts, they come to us direct. We can’t disappoint those gamers and enthusiasts, we have to give them the best. That’s our market and we cater for them – we really don’t want to betray that ethos.

“If you look at our forums, it’s one of the largest and most influential on the planet. When we post a product review on there – and it’s always an honest review – we can influence global sales of a certain product. We’ll tell the vendor honestly and openly what we think of their product. Sometimes they will pull the product and won’t sell it with us.

“We want to focus on our core community and expand it. We want to provide the best, the fastest and the best price/performance products. I cannot say we’re the cheapest on the market but we have one of the best services out there, and time to market is very important.”

This strategy is paying off. OCUK’s turnover rose from £37.4 million in 2013/2014 to £44.8 million in 2014/2015, and while operating profit isn’t up yet, Relic assures me it’s healthy. Since being bought by German firm Caseking in early 2012, OCUK’s staff headcount has risen from around 30 to 65, while its current 32,500sq ft warehouse is about twice the size of its previous location.

“We’re already wondering how soon we can move to the next one,” Ling admits. “It’s a nice problem to have, right? We’ll just have to start exploring the options.”

We talk about some of the other challenges of being a top tech etailer. “Once, we noticed a product in Germany was priced much lower than it was in the UK,” Relic adds. “We had a meeting with them and said: ‘look, please put yourself in order, we don’t want to disrupt your operations, we could legally move this stock from Germany to the UK and resell it here, and make more money’, but we didn’t do it.

“We brought it to their attention to resolve the pricing issue, and they did. We helped the channel by putting pressure on them.”

Check out our image gallery of OCUK's warehouse, shop and offices here:

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A TECHIE’S DREAM

A lot of companies nowadays say that they work closely with partners rather than just sell to them, however I feel OCUK really does have strong links with vendors, as I’m about to discover.

“This is the mess area now,” Ling exclaims, as we reach the far end of the warehouse. There’s a table awash with modified components, from motherboards to GPUs, sticks of RAM, PSUs, Intel Skylake processors, fans and whatever else you can think of. There are boxes all over the place, with a huge tank of liquid nitrogen situated away from the mess.

This is where Ian ‘8Pack’ Parry does his modding, using the liquid nitrogen to keep components cool as he takes part in extreme overclocking and benchmarking sessions. “This is a man’s paradise,” Relic beams. “It’s also a mess.”

“You want to offer the best possible product for the price so that the customer is happy. Some other companies have a different ethos and approach. They might just focus on price point and that’s not who we are.”
Miodrag Relic, Overclockers UK

Unfortunately, 8Pack isn’t around today. I’m told he works very closely with motherboard and GPU manufacturers, visiting their head offices to sit down with the product managers.

“He will start tweaking, tuning, overclocking and pushing products as far as they will go,” Relic explains. “It’s in our interest they all have the best possible products. We encourage competition – it brings the industry forward.

“We’re brand agnostic. Some builders out there only give love to one brand, but we don’t do that. We want to give choice, we understand what each product can deliver and we can incorporate it into our system build. That knowledge comes from us working closely with the vendors. When it comes to overclocking, no one can beat us, because we know all of the checks. We advise the manufacturers what to do.”

I ask how much gear Parry has broken or damaged over the years in order to be the best. “Oh God,” Relic replies with a pained expression on his face, as his brain figures out the total amount. “Tens of thousands,” he adds.

Is that the number of pieces or value in pounds? “Who knows, who the hell knows,” Relic sighs. “We just want to be excellent at what we do. If you want to be the best, it’s really important to have this complete vertical integration and to get involved in the design stage. 

“You want to offer the best possible product for the price so that the customer is happy. Some other companies have a different ethos and approach. They might just focus on price point and that’s not who we are.”

A GAMING COMMUNITY

After a quick tour of the goods-in area, passing a huge stack of Haribo crates, we head outside where a truck is unloading stock to be loaded into the warehouse.

“We use DPD and they’re so reliable. We’ve used them for many years and we’ve noticed more of our competitors are using them now as well,” comments Ling.

Before heading upstairs to OCUK’s offices, we pass a disused metal detector.

“We don’t use this anymore – we trust our staff,” says Relic, who also points out an employee suggestions box on the wall. “We encourage people to drop in an anonymous message and tell us what they think, even if they have a complaint, they can tell us,” Relic explains. “I want people to be happy; a happy workforce is a productive workforce.

“Yes there is pressure, but we try to operate an environment where people are satisfied and enjoy coming to work in the morning. People make a company – not the other way around. Some companies forget that.”

Upstairs, there’s a series of meeting rooms and office desks. 8Pack has another room all to himself on the far left, where he designs and tests out systems. Another room is purely for taking photos of products for the website (there’s a new chassis in here which hasn’t yet launched), while the PR and marketing, finance, sales and purchasing teams have their own rooms. In the corner of the latter sits Andrew Gibson, OCUK’s purchasing manager. There’s a large pirate flag on the wall behind him. “That tells you all about his attitude to purchasing,” Relic jokes.

With the tour coming to a close, I ask the team if they will expand beyond this facility and open physical shops across the UK, following their trial at the HyperX pop-up shop in London earlier this year.

“We’re always thinking about new options and directions,” Relic states, dodging my question. “I can just tell you this. It will be an exciting next 12 months. 

“You know when you have a job and you wake up and think: ‘Oh God, I have to go to the office…’ It’s not like that at all here.

“At some of the events we attend, I don’t need to be at the booth. But I’m there. Yes my feet hurt, yes I get tired, yes my wife she hates me because I’m never at home during the Bank Holiday,” he chuckles. “That all stands. But this is my community, it’s my crowd.

“It’s good to be part of this crowd – and I wouldn’t change it.”

Check out our image gallery of OCUK's warehouse, shop and offices here:

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