What started out as a hobby…

Posted on Nov 15 2016 - 10:05am by Editorial Content

Back in 1989, it’s fair to say that print and copy dealerships were in the main

Janet Bowden

Janet Bowden

set up and run by men. Woodbank Office Solutions is a notable exception.

Now a successful multi-million pound business with 20 employees and a smart four-storey headquarters, the Stockport-based dealership started out as a way for ex-banker Janet Bowden to earn some money and maintain a good work-life balance when raising her young son.

Before swapping the world of banking for printers, Janet had worked at Rothschild, where she was mainly involved in the provision of finance and leasing agreements to fund office equipment purchases. This experience and the exposure to the print and copy market that it entailed presented Janet with an opportunity to make some extra money whilst her son was still a baby.

I had built up a strong network of contacts in the industry and quite a bit of knowledge, so Rothschild asked me to get involved in collecting and selling on repossessed office printers and copiers. Initially I saw it as something I could do almost as a hobby, to earn a bit of spare cash whilst staying at home,” she explained.

Janet set up Woodbank Office Solutions, a name derived from the area in Stockport where she lived, and started working from home. Armed with only a handful of contacts and a full page advert in the Yellow Pages, the business grew from there.

“The early days were quite fun,” she said. Each day involved travelling to pick up repossessed machines, which she stored in her garage and lounge. Once they were sold, Janet would load the copiers into the back of her car and deliver them to customers.

Woodbank offices

Woodbank offices

Things were a lot different back then,” she said. “There was no internet, no Facebook or email. You had more face-to-face contact with your customers. And in those days the machines were really heavy and bulky, not like today’s models which are much more compact and lightweight.”

Service revenue

In 1995 Konica Minolta approached Janet about becoming a reseller, and at this point the business took off. “Expanding the business to offer new equipment also provided us with the opportunity to build an additional revenue stream through service,” Janet explained.

Woodbank Office Solutions recruited new sales staff and engineers, and turnover increased steadily to the extent that in 2003 Janet was able to buy Woodbank House, a beautiful listed building in Stockport. “The building had four floors and initially we only occupied one,” she said. Today it houses all 20 of the company’s employees, a showroom and a workshop for its five engineers, as well as warehousing capacity. Generally, the company holds around 60 devices in stock, as well as parts and consumables.

Turnover doubled

Four years ago Woodbank was appointed a KYOCERA dealership. “Taking on KYOCERA as a second line was the best decision I made. The ability to offer a different proposition and enter new markets, such as education, with a range of lower cost entry-level printers and MFPs enabled us to go for tenders, and we were really successful with that – we doubled turnover that year,” said Janet.

Woodbank conducts most of its business in the north, in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield, but it also services customers further afield. “We have a nationwide MIF and provide a national service for several large national clients, of which Royal Mail is one,” explained Janet. “We’ve even done a deal in Germany.” Two years ago, it opened an office in Liverpool so that it could provide a local service to businesses in the area, and it plans to open a third base in Leeds in the next few months.

Business development

Woodbank recorded a turnover of £2.8 million this year and is targeting £4 million by July 2018. It is currently recruiting additional sales people and recently appointed a marketing manager to drive its PR, marketing and social media activities in support of business development.

We’re actively targeting new business for further growth and investing in additional sales resource to further expand our presence,” said Janet.

Summing up the strengths of the company she founded as a hobby and has seen grow into a multi-million pound enterprise, Janet said: “We have a great reputation and are very close to 100% customer retention. The business has a superb culture and a great team and everyone plays a key part in ensuring our ongoing success.”