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Lessons from Sainsbury’s – successful switching in action

Water Plus and Sainsbury’s Argos took to the stage at the Water Event, in September 2017, to explain the switching journey we’ve been on together. We were excited to co-present and we talked about our journey so far, the Sainsbury’s Argos procurement process, site switching and delivering/receiving the first bill. We felt it was important for us both to tell the story, sharing our experiences so others can learn from the joint success. 

The case study presentation was opened by Anne Connor, Key Account Manager at Water Plus, who outlined the topics, introduced the theme of the session and what would be covered by herself and Sainsbury’s Utilities and Renewables Specialist, Alex Griffiths.

A little bit about Sainsbury’s Argos



Alex explained, Sainsbury’s came from humble beginnings with the first store being opened in Drury Lane in London in 1869. 148 years later Sainsbury’s is one of the UKs largest retailers, with a varied portfolio including supermarkets, convenience stores, fresh produce, travel money, home insurance and clothing.

In September 2016 Sainsbury’s acquired Argos to bring in an additional 217 sites to their portfolio.

In 2005 Sainsbury’s launched its '20 by 20' strategy which outlined a set of clear goals covering sustainability issues within four business areas which included the target of reducing water consumption by 30%. This target has actually been met several years before the 2020 deadline, and yet Sainsbury’s continue to evolve and further develop their water management strategy. 

Sainsbury’s switching drivers 

For Sainsbury’s, price wasn’t a major factor for choosing a water retailer, instead, Sainsbury’s analysed their needs and the following were their driving factors for choosing a water partner. 

  1. Consolidated bill – reduce internal processing time at Sainsbury’s (change from dealing with 20+ wholesalers and associated bills to 2 retailers)

  2. Negotiate new contract terms –negotiate terms that were important to them, including:

    • payment terms

    • billing cycle to fit with Sainsbury’s Argos processes

    • ensure actual meter reads over estimates 

  3. Account management support 

    • Sainsbury’s wanted to partner with a retailer and expert in water management to help with their water strategy

    • Query resolution – historically dealt with 20+ water companies, this made query resolution difficult to manage


"Going back historically we would have dealt with 20+ water companies across the whole of the UK. It proved pretty difficult to get to the bottom of certain queries, we didn’t always have a dedicated Account Management team.

That’s all changed in the new world, we’ve got a Key Account Manager here with Anne who does a great job for us” 

Alex Griffiths

The procurement process

Tendering for a National water retailer wasn’t taken upon a whim, Alex explained that Sainsbury’s Argos had been watching the market develop over the past 12 months prior to April’s market opening. Alex and the team had assessed what was important to them, for instance Sainsbury’s has a ‘2020 environmental target’ which includes a water reduction goal, although they’ve already surpassed this, Sainsbury’s Argos wanted to continue to improve their water management strategy and to partner with a water retailer that could help them achieve this.

The contract was awarded at the beginning of March, three weeks prior to market opening on 1 April 17. Sainsbury’s Argos described how they’d chosen to split their portfolio into two parts, reducing the number of retailers it had to deal with from over 20, down to two.  Water Plus was awarded the contract for 1,100+ across the UK.

Anne.PNGThe switching process

Anne took us through the Water Plus 6 stage switching process. This includes data collection, data validation, switching, meter reading and billing. She explained how the Water Plus team spent  a considerable amount of time matching the national site list provided to them with the correct SPIDs. This enabled our pricing team to accurately price the entire portfolio and offer the customer different ‘product options’ ensuring Sainsbury’s Argos were choosing the best available ‘deal’ for their business requirements. Water Plus has a couple of options as to when/how to switch the sites, but for  Sainsbury’s it was more important to switch quickly and hit the target of switching  by 1 April and that dictated the route for Water Plus.  Anne was very happy to announce that the target was hit and over 1100 sites were switched with only two issues, which were quickly fixed, and the first consolidated bill was produced for Sainsbury’s early July.  

“Considering we were looking at over 2,000 supply points it’s fair to say that switching went brilliantly for Sainsbury’s, it couldn’t have gone any better. At a time when some things were a little uncertain we went through the process with flying colours. Our Water Plus key Account Manager, and her support team were superb throughout and we’ve switched our sites without any hitches whatsoever”
Alex Griffiths, Utilities & Renewables Specialist.

Alex went on to say that following on from switching Sainsbury’s has met with the Water Plus Advanced Services team. They are now considering technologies such as AMRs, water efficiency app and benchmarking. 

Alex’s advice for anyone looking to switch: 

  1. Be data ready – understand how many sites you have? What is the consumption of each site? Where are your meters located?

  2. Know what you want – what’s important to your business – access to an Account Manager, water efficiency advice, consolidated billing etc and find a retailer that can provide this.

  3. Compare like for like – list the ‘deal breakers’, specify what you’re looking for when going to tender and that way what you receive will be comparable. 

Finally, Anne stated that reducing costs and driving up customer service are the key benefits of an open water market to customers. 

Alex’s summarised his journey with “It’s been a great process, impressive actually and it’s been a really good story to tell internally within Sainsbury’s” 

Click here to take a look at all the event highlights including these talks.   

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