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Five key trends

Acquiring for growth

A string of acquisitions and a focus on sustainability is driving growth at Waltham Abbey-headquartered Cowans Group

Cowans Group has undergone a number of rebrands since it was first established in 1932 as a print business. As the business expanded, the company traded as Cowans Direct, then following a spate of acquisitions, in 2006, it changed its name to Cowans Group.

Kevin Foot
Kevin Foot

Managing Director Kevin Foot has been part of the business since the early 1990s and it is under his helm that the company has completed half a dozen acquisitions, the last two deals supported by Integra Business Solutions’ i-merge initiative. Designed to support the independent dealer channel and aimed at dealer principals looking to either buy or sell a dealership, i-merge helps find, match and support dealers looking to take the next step in the business lifecycle.

In March 2019, Cowans Group completed the acquisition of Bedfordshire-based office supplies company, Business Point. The move further strengthened the management team, bringing additional capabilities to better support both customers and staff, and enabled the firm to increase its competitive advantage through the ability to offer an even broader range of services together with a greater depth of knowledge and experience within areas such as office interiors, workwear, print and corporate/business gifts.

Just a few months later, the company closed on another deal, joining forces with Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire-based B.O.S. Sales (office equipment) Ltd. The two companies had complementary product ranges but the partnership delivered yet more specialism across areas including IT consumables, printers, packaging and large-format printer supplies.

“Our acquisition strategy over the past five or so years has been to purchase small, independent dealers which we have absorbed into our business. The overall goal was business growth and as a result, we have doubled in size,” Foot explained.

“We have also successfully expanded our geographical reach, extending from our original base in Central London into North London, Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. Additionally, we have been able to enter new sectors as well as build our presence within existing areas, for example we already had a strong print offer, but through B.O.S. we have now entered the wide-format printing supplies sector.”

Sustainability is a key focus for 2020. Cowans Group is kicking off the New Year launching an initiative called Blue Marble. “Blue Marble has sustainability and environmental protection at its heart,” Foot said, adding: “We will be focusing on improving our own green credentials as well as working with customers to make better choices and take steps that will help them to reduce their carbon footprint.”

Under the initiative Cowans will provide additional services to customers that will include waste reduction and recycling schemes; a green audit of business supply usage; free carbon footprint calculation; advice and supply of alternative eco products and services; as well as taking steps to reduce delivery road miles, via a single source supplier and improved processes designed to eliminate ‘panic’ orders.

Internally the firm has pledged to calculate, monitor and reduce its carbon footprint. It will nominate departmental environmental champions who will oversee the implementation of energysaving measures across the business; initiatives to reduce consumption and increase recycling; to reduce and where possible eliminate single-use plastics; analyse and reduce packaging; and reduce vehicle miles by improving delivery route planning.

“We firmly believe that 2020 will be the year of environmental change. Environmental protection is such a hot topic and as a business supplies provider, we have to take steps to improve our own performance and support our customers in their goal to reduce their environmental impact,” Foot said.

Looking ahead to the future, Foot confirmed that further acquisitions are also firmly on the cards. “We are very interested in speaking to like-minded businesses with a view to acquisition. The market has seen unprecedented consolidation in recent times, and I believe that will continue. For Cowans, strategic acquisitions will play a key role in delivering on our growth strategy.”

He continued: “Continued, sustained growth is a primary objective and we’re very optimistic about the future. The conversations we are having with customers are not about price, but more about the value we can bring and we firmly believe that our strong product offer and excellent customer service, combined with a renewed focus on sustainability, will differentiate Cowans, benefitting both our and our customers’ businesses.”