As mission statements go, the ABS UK strapline ‘looking after much more than just documents’ could not be more apt. Since 2013, its charitable foundation has donated thousands to worthy causes.
The Elland-based Authorised Develop Dealer and Ricoh Gold Customer Service Certified Partner was set up by Chairman John Lees back in 1990. At the time, Lees was in charge of what was then Alcatel’s northern copier division. When the telecoms giant decided to pull out of the business, Lees bought the ‘relatively’ small customer base, took on the two engineers and created ABS UK.
“We started out small, initially as a Panasonic reseller,” said Lees. “Panasonic was a fantastic partner for small businesses and the agreement worked really well for us.”
The business didn’t take off overnight. Lees describes the fist year as slow and steady, until what he calls its breakthrough moment. “We were appointed as the preferred copier supplier on the Yorkshire Purchasing Agreement (YPO) in 1991, a position we held for five years until they expanded into geographic areas we couldn’t cover,” he said.
During that period, the company expanded: headcount rose to 13 staff, including three engineers; and turnover increased.
Despite the success it brought, Lees says that the ending of the YPO contract provided ABS UK with a new opportunity for growth. “Our size actually worked in our favour,” he explained. “We were more cost-competitive and had the ability for fast decision-making, unlike some of the larger operations with multi-layered management structures.”
A family business
Lees is proud of the fact that the company – a true family business in which his sons Paul and David are Managing Director and Marketing Manager respectively – has remained true to its roots. “My mantra is to work hard, to do your best and always to be honest, and that’s the foundation upon which we built this business,” he said.
ABS UK has a number of customers who’ve been with the company since day one. Employees, too, have shown great loyalty, racking up many years’ service. “We value our staff and we look after them,” explained Lees. “People retire here!” In 2014, the company launched an annual employee recognition scheme to support staff in achieving their goals.
ABS became a Ricoh reseller 20 years ago and signed up with DSales to sell the Develop range in 2010. “As we grew, we recognised that as a single-line vendor you can’t meet every single customer’s needs and we needed a strong second partner to really position us as an independent reseller. The Develop line ticked a lot of boxes for us. The product range is really very good and we’ve got a superb working relationship with DSales,” explained Lees.
Turnover now sits at £5.5m, and the company is one year into a four-year plan to reach £9m by 2019. “We’ve got targets in place and we’re already way ahead,” he said.
Giving something back
Five years ago Lees took a sabbatical and travelled to Sri Lanka where he stumbled across an orphanage in Tangalle and volunteered to help out for a few days. “That experience opened my eyes and I decided then and there that we needed to give something back,” he said.
He pledged to support them in building an infirmary and volunteer accommodation block at the Eliya Children’s Home. “The construction costs came in at under £11,000 for a building equivalent to a standard four bedroom house in the UK, so we donated the full amount,” Lees said.
That marked the beginning of the ABS Foundation, which has subsequently paid for solar panels to be fitted, a move that has enabled the orphanage to become self-sufficient in energy and earn an income each month equivalent to their monthly food bill. ABS UK has also organised and funded a volunteer trip for four staff members to spend eight days in Tangalle providing support and assistance.
In addition, the ABS Foundation supports East Coast Primary School in India, where it has funded a roof for two classrooms, and regularly fundraises for local charities. In December 2014, it supported Bradford Nightstop, a charity that provides a safe place for young homeless people in Bradford, raising
£2,000 by spending a night on the streets. “Over and above the feel-good factor of helping others, our charitable ethos actually attracts people to come and work with us. They want to be part of a company that gives something back and that’s the real value-add,” said Lees.
ABS’s CSR activities were a factor in its success at last December’s Business of the Month awards run by law firm Eaton Smith in conjunction with the Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce and UK Trade & Investment Yorkshire. The judging panel was impressed with the growth and employment figures of ABS, as well as its emphasis on corporate social responsibility.
With the business in capable hands, Lees has taken a step back and is semiretired. “We have a fantastic team and they are doing a superb job,” he said. “The time is right for me to leave them to it.”