Ken Daly, CEO of JML

Spotting the products of the future: An interview with alumnus Ken Daly

Ken Daly (Engineering, 1989) is the Chief Executive of JML, retailer and home shopping company. He has been with the company almost since its inception, starting in sales and working up through the ranks, becoming Chief Executive Officer in 2012.

Ken is also now putting his talent for spotting a great product to use on Channel 4 show ‘Buy It Now’, supporting sellers and inventors to get their inventions in front of customers. He says:

“JML was founded in 1986 and I joined in 1994. At the time there were about four other people working there and the office was this basement in Camden Town. I had recently graduated from Exeter, spent some time travelling and was going to find myself a job in Electronic Engineering – the subject I studied at Exeter. However JML advertised a sales role in the paper and because I both needed a job urgently and enjoyed sales, I went for it. I thought it would be a stop-gap role but I had such fun I’m still here more than two decades later!

“John Mills, the founder of JML, is a really inspirational guy with a lot of really innovative ideas. He started JML by taking products to big trade shows and demonstrating them in the traditional way. But then he began to make videos of these demonstrations instead and that made it much more viable to showcase products in stores all around the country.

“When I started out I spent a lot of time driving up and down the country visiting retailers and selling our products along with the videos. If retailers committed to buying a certain number of products we would give them the demonstration unit on loan for free and that was really successful.

“To start with I got into about 100 stores but then I found I couldn’t cope with the sales by myself anymore and we started building a team. The first guy I recruited is now our Chief Operating Officer – another example of someone building their career with JML. We now have about 100 people up and down the UK delivering products into stores and other Account Managers in the Head Office, plus some distribution internationally.”

Ken is now supporting other sellers through the new Channel 4 TV show ‘Buy It Now’; a series where inventors, creators and sellers of new products have just 90 seconds to demonstrate their item before an audience of buyers in the hope of securing an order.

“The producers of ‘Buy It Now’ approached us as they thought JML was the perfect fit for the concept. About 10% of our products are developed by us and the other 90% come from inventors so I spend a lot of time looking at new products and selecting the best ones for us to sell.

“Initially I said no as I was a bit wary about being on television, but it’s been a great experience and we’ve already found three or four really strong products. My favourite demo so far has been an uplighter. It plugs into the wall a bit like a baby’s nightlight but projects the light up the wall just like a much more expensive and complicated product. It’s really simple but it’s effective and I absolutely love it. Sales have been good so far so people must agree with me!”

As well as taking part in ‘Buy It Now’, Ken is also continuing his connection with Exeter through support of PhD researcher Sarah Wirtz at the Business School. Sarah is exploring new product trial, branding and optimising advertising expenditure using data from the company.

“I had a great time at Exeter and wanted to give something back, and supporting Sarah is the perfect way to do it because our business ultimately benefits from the work that she does. It is a win-win as Sarah gets the support she needs to complete her research and we benefit from the insights she brings to the company. I’d encourage any business to think about how they can support researchers in this way.

“It’s also brilliant to keep that connection with my University. I have great memories of my time at Exeter – the amazing social scene and the lovely environment. I remember being able to revise for my finals while sitting on the beach, I don’t think it gets much better than that!”

Date: 4 May 2018

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