Runs in the family

The personal approach a family business offers is unique. This is especially true for West Sussex firm Khoo Systems, which is headed up by an ambitious husband, wife and son team.

Oxford Economics estimates that there were 4.8 million family businesses in the UK in 2020, making up 85.9% of all private sector enterprises. The family-run sector is vital to the economy, and these firms come in all shapes and sizes – from entrepreneurial startups to established, multi-generational companies.

Take Khoo Systems, for example. This successful family business, run by Stephen, Heather and Chris Khoo, has been operating for more than 20 years, developing eCommerce software and expertise, and helping customers reach their full potential selling online.

Stephen and Heather are husband and wife, and Chris is their son. Stephen is the technical director, founder and CEO of the company; Heather is the co-owner, accounts director and manages client relations; and Chris is the sales director and goes after new business.

Based in West Sussex, the organisation offers three core services – Khoo Seller, KhooCommerce and Church Pages. Khoo Seller is a service aimed at businesses that want to have a web presence to sell online direct to consumers and/or to wholesale, but also need a way to manage their inventory, purchasing and customer management in one place. “Normally businesses would need to source several software tools to manage these processes, but KhooSeller is a powerful solution for SMEs looking to invest in one platform that manages it all,” says Chris.

KhooCommerce, on the other hand, is aimed at Amazon Vendors to help them save time and money when processing Amazon orders. Chris explains: “Without automation, this can be a very manual process and generate lots of paperwork in admin and the warehouse, such as lengthy pick lists capturing how orders are packed. KhooCommerce provides scanning technology to allow businesses to scan items into boxes, print labels and dispatch orders efficiently. We estimate that our software typically saves a company 20 hours of manual work every week, with larger operations saving even more.”

Chris points out that the company has had great success and growth in the KhooCommerce product recently. It has been disruptive in the UK market, meeting the needs of businesses that had a large Amazon business during the Covid-19 lockdowns. “This is a niche market but solves critical business process problems for vendors and many hours of manual work each week,” he says. “We’re thrilled, and slightly blown away, that we’ve now helped our customers process several millions of pounds worth of orders! It’s quite humbling to be a small team delivering so much impact to businesses all over the world, including Europe and North America.”

The third focus area for Khoo Systems is Church Pages, which offers websites to churches and Christian charities to help them communicate their activities and services to their target market. This is the not-for-profit side of the business. As a Christian company, Khoo Systems wants to support churches serving their community and charities caring for those in need.

So, what makes the Khoo family the dream team? Well, a big part of it is that each member has distinct roles and skills. Stephen’s skills are in conceptualisation, problem solving and execution, while Heather’s are in client relations, ensuring the new features are implemented effectively, training and accounting. For Chris, his strengths lie in talking to clients and understanding their process, as well as seeing the wider picture of how this could benefit more customers.

Chris explains: “We know, as a family, that good relationships make things work well and so our focus is always on customer service. We find that it is key to keep discussions focussed on what is good for the business, and not necessarily what is easy or what the competition is doing. While we are a family-run business at the core, we would say all the staff members (including Woody the office dog) are like family to us!”

For Chris, Stephen, Heather and the wider team, Khoo Systems’ main USP is a fantastic software suite coupled with a personal approach. “We treat our customers as family and want only the best for them,” says Chris. “We are very flexible and can provide a personalised service to meet customer needs better than larger corporates. As a company, we are underpinned by trust and feel a strong sense of loyalty, meaning we always go the extra mile. Our vision is to be the best company to work with when selling online and to provide innovative software that is invaluable for Amazon Vendor customers. We partner with clients and consider ourselves an essential part of their business, helping them to save time and money as they grow online.”

This commitment to customer service, alongside Khoo Systems’ ability to be agile, reactive and proactive to sector trends, has been integral to the company overcoming the challenges of the past few years. Technology is constantly changing – as are the individual’s demands from the internet – and Khoo Systems has had to be as flexible as possible and rely on all staff to keep in touch with changes in the market.

Like many organisations, Khoo Systems was unsure about how Covid and lockdown would affect the business, but in fact, it was able to maintain the same level of service and saw many areas of business grow exponentially because eCommerce sales increased so rapidly.

Another challenge, at times, has been finding the right staff to join the team. “Being a small business, it is essential that everyone has the same customer-facing and caring ethos,” states Chris. “However, finding the right individuals to join us has not been easy as they must be aligned with the company’s values where customer service and the wellbeing of the team are as important to us as making a profit. As with many family-run businesses, our staff become like family.”

Since Covid, Khoo Systems has introduced various measures to support staff and the companies it works with. These include setting up a work-from-home scheme for employees, not changing cost plans for customers, and supporting charities and churches by helping them get online and build a website presence.

On the commercial side, the company encouraged clients to use the lockdowns to invest in their social media and email marketing. “We found that those that were both agile and quick to embrace a strong online and social strategy were able to survive and grow in that time,” says Chris. “On our advice, one client ran a promotion as a test and hit 400% ROI within two days of the campaign starting.”

Khoo Systems is excited to see how the UK will continue to grow into a competitive, independent marketplace for exporting software and goods to the EU and the rest of the world. In 2023, the team are urging businesses to be proactive in engaging online. “This applies to your website, shopfront, Amazon presence, warehouse operations, social media presence and beyond,” advises Chris. “You need to know where your customer spends time online and make sure that you are in that space. It is essential to understand what a customer or prospect will want to see in your products, what questions they are asking and be able to adapt your messaging for each touch point.”

Businesses, he recognises, need to be willing and able to invest time to engage with a digital strategy that encompasses email campaigns, blogs, updating new products, active marketing, supply chain, stock control and more. “Our software systems provide a series of tools to enable businesses to do this effectively, and we’ve found the most successful are those that take this seriously and invest time and effort to make it work. What worked one year ago may not work this year, so you have to be open-minded about change and willing to experiment with fresh approaches.”

Right now, it’s a very exciting phase of growth for Khoo Systems. Looking ahead to the future, the business will continue to focus on growing its software platforms and expanding into new markets. It is securing an increasing number of customers in the USA, which is exciting – not least because Chris is about to marry a lovely lady from Florida!

The family firm anticipates closer collaborations with partners in the online space, as well as new partnerships in areas such as warehousing and marketing, and on top of expanding its charitable giving, aims to make new integrations and add new features to the platform.

Tandem Media, the publisher of South East Business, is family-run too, so from one family business to another, we’re wishing Khoo Systems lots of success in 2023 and beyond!

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