Michelle Ryder caught up with Phil Jones, Managing Director at Brother UK to find out more about the business’ plans for growth in the coming year
Brother UK has announced a number of new initiatives around its labelling range. Last year saw the launch of a new hardware-as-a-service platform – Managed Label Services (MLS), which allows companies to access new Brother label printers, third- party hardware, software, services and supplies, with the option to spread the upfront cost over an affordable monthly payment plan. The company has also forged several partnerships with barcode software providers including NiceLabel, BarTender and Datalogic, and expanded its labelling and mobile print product line-up.
Jones said that the pandemic, resultant rise in online shopping and what looks to be permanent changes to buying habits, has created increased demand for Auto-ID solutions. “For Brother, developing our specialist print services (SPS) offering and capitalising on the opportunities that lie in the warehousing, travel and logistics sectors, is a key part of our growth plan,” he explained.
Brother has a strong heritage in the office and indeed home office space, and Jones sees now as the perfect time to expand its reach into the back-office. “Our strong offering across hardware, software and services in mobile, labelling and barcode printing technologies, is a key differentiator and we are extremely well placed to support our partners in making an adjacent move,” he said, adding: “Our messaging is very clear and powerful: we can offer innovative new procurement options through our hardware-as-a-service platforms, and we can help customers to rationalise vendors and roll more printing equipment into a fully managed estate from Brother. This is a key focus area for the business this year and we will be looking to build new channel partnerships to help boost our footprint and capability in this market.”
Another key issue affecting firms in all sectors is the continuing challenges in the global supply chain. Jones admits that whilst Brother’s own operations are very slick, the business has not escaped unscathed, and it’s been a testing time.
“I think it’s fair to say that the severity of the impacts very much depends on where you manufacture and where your component suppliers operate. More recently of course, there has been challenges around increased shipping costs. The areas that we control continue to run smoothly, however there are so many factors outside of our control that regardless of our best efforts, challenges persist. There is no doubt that colleagues in this area have really worked hard this year. I firmly believe that regardless of where you sit in the channel, supply chain issues will continue to be challenging in the coming year,” he said.
“That said,” he continued: “We have had a steady supply of product for the past year, and we are able to be able to accurately forecast future revenue etc. which is key in terms of maintaining business stability.
“The word ‘stagility’ – an amalgamation of stability and agility, quite accurately sums up what and where we are as a business. Brother UK is a very stable organisation in terms of financials, reputation etc. but we are also incredibly good at being agile where and when we need to, and that approach has been tested to the max over the past couple of years.”
The pandemic has irrevocably changed the business landscape, it’s been well- documented that print volumes which were in decline pre-pandemic, are unlikely to fully recover. Moreover, the move to remote working and the new hybrid working model being adopted by firms worldwide, have created a reliance on new, modern technologies that enable digital transformation.
“Brother has faced the same challenges our customers are facing, we had to rapidly digitise our own operations in order to conduct business as usual in extraordinary circumstances. We know and understand the pain points and, importantly, we can help customers to resolve them,” Jones said.
To that end, Brother’s strategy is to place more emphasis on expanding its services set. “Internally we call this our ‘plus one’ selling focus,” he explained. “By that I mean not leaving money on the table when engaging with customers. For example, our partnership with Kofax enables us to provide productivity and workflow tools – that’s a key focus area for us now. We are also working on bringing what would have been transactional printing purchases under MPS contracts, and making sure renewals are successful. It’s about having the right conversations with customers and identifying where and how we can help.”
Brother has already stated its goal to build new channel partnerships in support of its SPS business growth strategy and the firm is also looking to partner expansion within its core business. “It’s about having enabled partners that can have the conversations with customers around our services offering and support them with Brother’s specialised hardware and software applications,” Jones said.
Investing in people
The so called ‘great resignation’ is another recurring theme at the moment. Jones admits that Brother has been affected by this trend too. “Across the industry we are seeing a lot of people moving on, getting new jobs and taking early retirement. Within Brother UK, we have experienced a seven per cent churn, a little higher than we expected. But interestingly, we have also been attracting new talent and so whilst losing colleagues is not without pain, we have been able to backfill those positions comfortably.”
He continued: “What this has demonstrated is the importance of ensuring a company’s organisational value proposition (OVP) is on point and very much front of mind,” he said.
Last year, Brother UK made a significant investment in redesigning its Manchester head office to support collaborative working and social interaction. The business has adopted a hybrid working model – whereby employees work from the office three days a week and from home the remainder of the time. This model is continuously reviewed and will be evolved as required to support the needs of colleagues and the business alike.
The office features new break-out spaces and meeting rooms as part of the redesign, which also includes new technology infrastructure to enable hot desking. “The investment we’ve made in the workplace redesign is already paying dividends,” Jones said, adding: “Our OVP has been a key component of our strategy for decades, and we are laser-focused on ensuring it continues to stay relevant. We have lots of new initiatives around employee experience that we will be rolling out across the next three- year period.”
As testament to the company’s success in this area, Brother UK has just announced it has received Investors in People’s Platinum status for the third time. “I am extremely proud of this achievement,” Jones said. “We are the first company in the UK to secure this three times in a row. Of note was the results of our most recent employee survey, our average score was more or less the same post-pandemic as it was prior to COVID-19. The IIP assessors noted that this was dramatically different from most other firms, whose scores suffered significantly.
“There is lots of fluidity in the workplace market so making sure our succession plans are mapped out to ensure we continue to attract new talent and being proactive in terms of refreshing our OVP will remain front and centre,” he added.
“Looking ahead, we will continue to push for new ways to add value to both our own and our customers’ business. We have an exciting array of new technology that we will launch this year, with particular focus on our inkjet and labelling product lines. We have a strong services offering – and a number of innovative solutions including MLS and our circular economy-driven print subscription service – EcoPro – that address changing customer requirements. I am feeling very positive about the coming year,” he concluded.