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View from the channel

Wayne Loon, Managing Director, Abbey Office Solutions

Abbey Office logo
Abbey Office logo

Q: How’s business; better or worse than 12 months ago? And how confident are you about the future? 

A: Without a doubt, we are 100 per cent in better shape than 12 months ago. We shut the doors on March 21 last year and by end of the May, business had fallen off a cliff and our turnover had dropped by 90%. Luckily, it didn’t stay like that and we are almost back to where we were before lockdown, not quite where we were on service but that’s coming back. I have some excellent new sales guys who, in just 5 days, have achieved around 30 days’ worth of sales so it’s clear that we are recovering well.

Q: In what areas are you experiencing strongest demand? 

A: Funnily enough, everyone has been talking about the home office boom, but we haven’t found that to be the case. Our main area of strength is the schools. We’re fortunate to be supported by Canon now, and they have such a lot of experience in the schools’ market. One of my new sales team brings a lot of experience in the schools’ arena with him; that knowledge is now paying off and we have about 50 machines due to be installed in schools between now and August that we know of. When talking about product strength we sell 95% colour MFPs. We do stock the mono products but they’re quite slow-moving and we don’t really get much call for mono these days. 

Q: How have you changed/are you changing business operations to exploit new opportunities? 

A: We have recently changed from being a mainline Olivetti dealer to become a Canon dealer. That has been a massive change for us and we’re still going through changes now, right down to the people. We have a virtually new team that have Canon experience, and the timing could not be more perfect for us. On top of that we have different software coming in, for the stores and workshop, and barcoding systems for the warehouse, to enable our service and logistics to run even more efficiently. Within the offices we have some big screens up on the walls now that everyone can see, showing at a glance, what the business is doing at that moment. We’ve never had all of this before. I’m really getting into self-development, too, and am learning very quickly about the latest software we have installed for combining our HR, service scheduling, accounts and even our CRM system in one neat system. Our big plan is to expand the building – we have scope for that, already, by using some of the currently empty space to the back and side of the premises. This will give us the opportunity to bring everyone together in a larger working environment. 

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing channel businesses today?

A: I would say, in our industry, one of the biggest challenges is getting hold of stock. Most of the manufacturers don’t have a UK warehouse anymore, so stock is ordered and delivered from Europe and the hold ups and stock levels are affected by this. Even Canon are governed by Europe, so this challenge is everywhere. The other thing for us, is that we have always kept enough stock of most Olivetti items, so we have, to a greater extent, been able to provide our customers with replacements and new products quickly. Now, having changed to a new supplier, I have to stock all new products and that brings in additional cost and space issues for me. I always stock and use genuine toner and spare parts but even though I hear that non-genuine parts and consumables are cheaper, I’m still not interested in stocking non-genuine consumables to save costs and time. 

Q: Could vendors and distributors do more to help you overcome them? And if so, what? 

A: I think it would really help if manufacturers brought their warehouses back to the UK to make things more accessible. I do hold a lot of stock in my warehouse, that I’ve built up over years, when I was an Olivetti dealer but, if I don’t have something, especially now, I’m going to struggle to get what I need to cover the time it takes to build up Canon stock and for it to come from Europe. I’m sure, though, that once we get past this initial stage, it will become a lot easier, but it would be a great help if manufacturers had next-day delivery systems here again. 

Q: If you could change one aspect of your job what would it be and why? 

A: Funnily enough, I made a change about six weeks ago. I have pretty much stopped selling now but I’ve handed the reins over to my Sales Manager, who has been with me a while now. I’m still going to be available for him if he ever needs advice, but with all the changes, the planned expansion, new people on the team and a larger business to run, it’s now a matter of making time for a more active Managing Director role and allowing very capable people to do what they do best. I have a much clearer and rounded vision of what lies ahead and I’m very optimistic about the future of the business.