Etail group DRL, owner of Appliances Online, is vying to buy the Comet brand to trade online. However, many may not be familiar with the online electricals group. Retail Week takes a closer look at the company.

DRL is probably the largest electrical retailer that you’ve never heard of. But that is fast changing.

The Bolton-based group was set up in 2000 by Moben employee John Roberts who paired with two friends, ecommerce professional Alan Latchford and John Dutton who had a small distribution firm.

Roberts wanted to create an online appliances website which took the many layers of supply out of the electricals retailing, therefore reducing costs, and which delivered amazing service at the same time.

Appliances Online was born. At the time online shopping was in its infancy and former Dixons boss John Clare, who was at the helm at Comet when it collapsed, declared that it would not take off in electricals.

It clearly is a different playing field now and DRL racked up sales of £151.5m and pre-tax profits of £3.35m in its year to March 31, 2011.

Appliances Online is the bulk of the DRL business, accounting for around three quarters of sales, with the remaining quarter coming from the white label services it provides for retailers such as Next, Argos and Boots.

It moved into this arena in 2004 when Sainsbury’s became its first client.  Roberts says it was a shrewd move at the time as having a trusted name like Sainsbury’s behind it helped DRL build relationships with the big electricals manufacturers and was also a big draw for consumers too.

DRL acquired Expert Logistics, a white goods distribution firm in 2009 which was an important step for the retailer. It allowed it to have complete control over distribution which has enabled it to stride ahead in fulfillment. The retailer offers next day delivery and return as standard which Roberts believes helps it stand out from competitors both on and offline.

The group recognises that it is more than just good prices and speedy delivery which draws in customers. It also has an impartial review website Appliance Reviews which offers impartial reviews, videos and the option to get questions and answers with product experts. 90% of shoppers looking for a new electrical item head online for information, according to Roberts who is keen to make sure that they head to DRL’s websites to get what they’re looking for.

All its initiatives have clearly resonated with consumers as over 65% of customers who shop with Appliances Online buy again within the next 12 months. This is helping sales to catapult with the group growing at around 30% per year, according to Roberts.

Comet’s collapse is set to propel this further. If the group snaps up the brand name it is confident that its service and value combined with the resonance in the Comet name will be a “powerful force online”. However, if it fails in its bid it still stands to benefit from Comet’s predicament as business has been booming since its demise.

Either way, it’s clear to see that DRL is set to be an increasingly powerful player in the changing electricals game.