Midwich’s annual Technology Exposed event, this year held at MercedesBenz World in Weybridge, gave Technology Reseller the opportunity to catch up with Midwich Chief Operating Office Mark Lowe and Divisional Director Stuart Mizon to find out more about the specialist distributor’s recent successes and its priorities for 2018.
Technology Reseller (TR): Midwich has just announced a 33.6% increase in revenue for the six months to June 30 2017. What are your priorities for 2018?
Mark Lowe (ML): Listening and Learning.
In 2017, we placed particular emphasis on listening to our customers; we conduct regular surveys and we spend a lot of time finding out what is important to them. What we find is that quality of account management and speed of response are of the utmost importance, so we have invested record levels in training our staff in those areas, spending over £250,000 on staff training in the last 12 months. We’ve mixed generic sales and customer service training with a real focus on the technical capabilities of our staff to help increase the number of enquiries we can resolve at the first time of asking. We want to minimise the redirecting of customers and ensure they have a fantastic customer experience. Our customer survey scores were already very high and they have improved markedly year-on-year – 85% of our customers think Midwich is easy or very easy to do business with and 85% say they are happy and delighted with us. Both of those are up on the year before.
Stuart Mizon (SM): Training our people to ensure they deliver first class customer service is of absolute, paramount importance to us. We are a specialist distributor; we try to add value through the whole chain of engagement, from pres sales right the way through to post-sales. If we don’t listen to our customers and understand what is important to them, how can we deliver the right level of service to them? We did that before, but we have now dialled it right up to the top of the agenda.
ML: In the context of listening and learning, I would add that there are now more ways than ever to interact with Midwich. We are on track for over 2,000 customer visits this year and the number of people we welcomed through our doors at events last year was over 1,500. We’ve really bolstered our calendar in terms of training and events for our customers. We’ve done a number of regional and technical roadshows around our technical AV products and we’ve done events up in Scotland alongside the flagship event we have here today.
TR: Are resellers becoming more demanding.? Do they need more interaction with distributors?
ML: The needs of customers haven’t changed. They have always needed first class customer service and that is something that remains constant. But as more and more products are put together and with more and more products hanging off the network, an AV system may be complex, so it’s becoming more important for us to provide that top level of customer service, to ensure that customers get the right answer at the first time of asking to minimise disruption.
SM: We’ve started to expand into other product technologies through some of the acquisitions we’ve made and that’s where we add value through all we do. We help our resellers identify new opportunities and hand-hold them through that process, ultimately to help them grow their revenues and the profit they can make through new areas that they may not have considered or been involved with previously.
ML: Customers look to Midwich to innovate, to bring in new technologies they can take to market. Our job is to simplify that process and break down the barriers to entry for our customers so they can get involved in new and innovative technology areas. One example is LED. That’s still at the early adoption stage. However, it is becoming more prevalent in terms of adoption particularly in the retail and corporate space. PSCo, our LED and rental specialist arm, provides extra layers of support to allow our customers to get involved in this growing area, whereas before they may not have been able to do that. They help customers to specify the right products; they might provide a high level of after-care service; they ensure the product is of sufficient quality – we go out to source and QC the products ourselves. They also have really impressive demonstration facilities, where resellers and their end users can see the products side-by-side.
We have a Broadcast arm called Holdan, based in Manchester. We acquired them in 2016 and they do for broadcast exactly what PSCo does for LED. They provide an extra layer of comfort; they have demonstration facilities; regular training; simplified packages and they help traditional AV and IT resellers, as well as broadcast resellers, to take advantage of the trend for companies to in-source video as part of their marketing function. That encapsulates how we invest in the channel to allow our customers to generate extra revenue.
TR: Both those examples are acquisitions. Are your existing resellers taking advantage of these new capabilities?
SM: I would absolutely say that we are taking these opportunities to our existing resellers. We are introducing them to these businesses, to the people within these businesses. We often get a phone call, saying ‘I’ve got this opportunity, but I don’t know where to start. Help’ and, for us, that’s the perfect call because that is where we can use our specialist resource and people from right across the group, from the traditional technical AV side within Midwich to the enterprise video broadcast stuff from Holdan to LED from PSCo. We can bring in all of that and use it to help customers deliver the right solution for end users – in many cases a solution that they have probably not sold or even thought about selling previously.
TR: When did you start your acquisition strategy?
SM: The first acquisition we ever made was back in 2006. That was a business called True Colours Distribution who were a technical AV distributor. At that stage, Midwich was very good at selling display products, endpoints, but the technical products, the glue that sits in-between and makes those systems work, we didn’t have. We identified that if we were going to add real value and help our customers on this journey we would have to be able to provide a complete solution. That underpins our strategy as a specialist distribution business, being able to offer complete and full solutions to our resellers. To do that we recognise that we have to have a high level of specialist resource.
TR: You describe Midwich as a specialist distributor. What exactly does that mean? In what ways is the service you offer different to that provided by another distributor?
ML: For us, specialist means offering an enhanced value proposition for our customers. At base level, that value proposition would comprise strong logistical capabilities, for example. Then the advanced value proposition might encapsulate specialist resource – experts in the field, which could be a vertical or a technology sector; it could be digital signage, it could be defence, it could be education. Then, in terms of specialist resource, we have to invest heavily in training to make sure we keep abreast of the latest technologies, legislation, trends.
Secondly, it’s about demonstration capabilities. We provide our customers with access to demonstration facilities and demonstration stock to help our customers to specify the right products. Where some products need to be ordered and specified as part of a large bill of materials, we need specialist capabilities to put that together. We may need to provide on-site pre-sales support to help the reseller. We might have specific service level agreements for aftercare, post-sales support. The net impact of all this allows our customers to take solutions to market, whereas a nonspecialist approach might just be about selling products efficiently.
TR: Presumably the number of customers you have is going up and up as you acquire new areas of expertise?
SM: We trade with a lot of customers and we obviously have a large, diverse range of resellers but we strive to treat all of them the same whether they are our largest vendor customers or one person who spends once a year with us. So, we’ve invested in a team to support some of those smaller customers so that they have equal access to account management, to people on the phone. We’ve done that 1) because they tell us it’s important and 2) because we see a number of our competitors going in completely the opposite direction, driving their customers to e-commerce platforms, forcing them to order electronically. If we are true to our specialist ethos, we have to provide equal access to all customers regardless of size – that’s really important to us.
TR: Your specialist approach must also help customers cope with the rapid pace of technological change.
SM: Absolutely and LED is a great example. It’s still very much in its infancy. We identified that as a key trend a number of years ago. We’ve invested in that business and invested in the specialist resources to help our customers and hand-hold them through those new technologies as they come to market.
ML: acquiring a brand may be relatively easy, but where Midwich excels is that we invest in the infrastructure and support framework for our customers to support it. We don’t take on a product unless we can provide our customers with the support that they need. Customers often ask us what is next and that is where we are striving to provide them with a pipeline of technology. Right now, LED and enterprise video broadcast are two areas at the forefront of that.