Flex IT is a circular technology specialist headquartered in the Netherlands and with offices in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Poland, Finland, Sweden, Bulgaria and the UK. In addition to its rental and demo offerings, it refurbishes used laptops, servers and mobile devices and buys excess stock from vendors, such as HP, Dell, Apple and Lenovo, which it then sells through a network of resellers. We asked CEO Leon Timmermans for his view from the channel.
Technology Reseller (TR):How’s business; better or worse than 12 months ago? And how confident are you about the future?
Leon Timmermans (LT): Since implementing our new strategy (a process that was executed in Q2/Q3 2019) our primary focus has been on circular IT hardware. We have been working on introducing circular reseller partner programmes and increasing our circular footprint in Apple, Dell, HP and Lenovo. This has sent our share of circular sales through the roof. With COVID-19, demand has exploded and we have been refurbishing and shipping high volumes of IT hardware to satisfy ‘work from home’ demand. Since we introduced our 3-year warranty program for refurbished devices, the market has no excuse not to buy circular.
TR:In what areas are you experiencing strongest demand?
LT:Currently, in both our rental and sales businesses, the highest demand is for notebooks, webcams and desktop sets for working from home or the office. We anticipated reseller demand with our ‘the return to office’ and ‘working from home’ packages.
TR:Where is business proving most difficult?
LT: Server storage demand has really dropped. Mobility is recovering, but had a very difficult time during the COVID-19 lockdowns when retail outlets were closed throughout Europe.
TR:How have you changed/are you changing business operations to exploit new opportunities?
LT: In day-to-day business, topics such as innovation, business development, even M&A often get rescheduled. As a management team, we decided to divide strategic meetings from more operational meetings and have seen an enormous uplift in innovation and business development as a result. At every level in our organisation, we have internal incentives to challenge employees to think hard about what they are doing. It supports our culture and energy and brings extra value to our customers.
TR:What do you see as the biggest challenges facing channel businesses today?
LT: The new way of working remotely gives extra impetus to digital channels. Last year, we kick-started several digital development projects and current market changes demand an even faster pace of digital implementation. Training and aligning employees and customers to the new standards is an ongoing challenge.
TR:Could vendors and distributors do more to help partners overcome these challenges? And if so, what?
LT:As Europe’s leading circular distributor, we help and support our resellers by increasing their value to the end user. We do this by creating trade-in programmes (ITAD) and renting equipment either to support short-term needs or to decrease capex spend by the customer. We are also big believers in creating leads for our resellers and devote a part of our marketing budget to engage end users. It is extremely important to us to maintain reseller loyalty, and any end user leads are always passed on immediately to our circular partners.
TR:Are customers becoming more demanding, and if so, in what ways?
LT:In my opinion, it is a positive thing that we are always being challenged by our resellers to improve. One of the three company goals we have is to create a lean and mean organisation with an excellent customer focus. You can only improve yourselves to the max if customers and competition are constantly challenging you. While I don’t think customers are becoming more demanding, they are becoming more digital, so we have introduced a circular product information system across Europe to give resellers easy access to the best content for the circular products they sell.
TR:If you could change one aspect of your job, what would it be and why?
LT: I see life as a continuous learning curve, and coaching our team with what I’ve learned throughout my career is extremely rewarding, especially when I see new talent taking on board the lessons I have learned. If I could change one thing, it would be to spend even more time coaching and developing our team.