ASL Group scooped the dealer Service Team of the Year award in the PrintIT Awards 2020, following the announcement, Michelle Ryder caught up with Marketing Director Nigel Allen
Michelle Ryder (MR): Congratulations on winning the award, it’s a fantastic achievement but even more so when you factor in the current climate. How has lockdown affected the business and in particular service?
Nigel Allen (NA): The UK print market obviously relies on people attending offices and using the devices. Anyone in our market who claims that their business was not severely affected is either bending the truth a lot or has Amazon and the NHS as their two biggest accounts!
During the first lockdown, our service revenues were affected the most, with up to two thirds reduction initially. Installations continued and throughout the year we manged to get up to around 85 per cent of normal previous levels. The latest lockdown has not been so severe, as ASL has a good SME base as well as education and in general, those sectors are still operating, even with less personnel printing.
Around three to four years ago, we invested in diversifying our product offering to include unified comms and IT services. Throughout the pandemic, we have picked up additional business from both these areas which has helped lessen the loss of revenue in other areas.
MR: Has COVID-19 advanced any changes to the business strategy?
NA: As mentioned earlier, we decided to diversify a few years ago, and we had already put the structures in place to offer other services. The pandemic meant that some of our sales and marketing efforts have been increased to capitalise on the demand for improved communication across a workforce that has been decentralised. With the rapid rise of home workers, we have seen demand for Office 365 and Teams increase and the requirement and understanding that end-users need an integrated cloud-based telephony solution to ensure their customers see no reduction in service and support levels.
MR: In terms of service and customer support, how have you adapted to continue to meet SLAs?
NA: During the first lockdown we saw a big increase in the acceptance of remote fix. Through our dedicated call centre we already had a very high rate of remote fix and that was growing, however customers who previously wanted the comfort of seeing an engineer on site were open to their issues being fixed remotely. Like most businesses we have made use of the government’s furlough schemes but have always erred on the side of caution in terms of not being too aggressive with it, particularly in our support teams. The fact that we have customers that stay with us over 12 years on average, is testament to the support we provide. Although COVID-19 affected print volumes, it is still vital that our customers do not see a drop in service, when they need it most.
MR: Obviously diversification into other areas such as IT services and unified comms was a savvy business move, but did the events of 2020 see you embrace further alternative technologies to find new revenues?
NA: In November 2020, ASL launched a web2print service, Print Essentials. As the largest independent supplier of commercial and industrial print digital equipment, we are fantastically placed to develop the offering so that our 7,000 customers can take advantage of this service. As more people continue to work from home then a decentralised high quality print service will become more prevalent. Initially developed to provide open and transparent pricing and quick turnaround on short volume production runs from brochures to banners, some of the interesting discussions have been about utilising the service as a virtual print room for customers. It is early days, but we are receiving a lot of interest and good feedback from our customers so far.
MR: Looking ahead, how confident are you that print will recover?
NA: It will recover, the variable is to what extent. There are many analyst views based on knowledge, surveys, and general opinion. It will depend on who you are selling to and how those customers are set up in future. IDC predicts that between 2019 and 2024 the CAGR will be -4.8 per cent. However, ASL customers currently (prior to COVID) print over 1.3 billion pages per year, so although the drop is significant, it doesn’t take into account the fact that there is still a continual switch from mono to colour prints which increases the revenue received.
However, there probably will be casualties in terms of some smaller dealers who have not been able to diversify and create other revenue streams and who may rely on some key local customers who themselves may go out of business due to the lockdowns. This will inevitably lead to further consolidation in the market, meaning that the business that is out there gets shared amongst a smaller network of dealers.