PrintIT Reseller talks to Wes Mulligan, CEO of Danwood, about the company’s working relationship with Samsung and how it has evolved over the last two years.
PrintIT Reseller (PITR): How are your customers’ print and document needs changing and how does partnering with Samsung help you stand out from other suppliers?
Wes Mulligan (WM): Danwood operates in three different sales verticals: Public Sector; Corporate, for businesses that turnover more than £75 million; and Commercial for everything beneath that. We see different trends in each of these markets.
In Corporate, there is an increasing desire among customers to connect print with the rest of their technology; there is a desire to have common platforms and to homogenise so that all of an organisation’s offices are broadly similar and run in the same way. We find that in this market, Samsung is a really good partner for us because it is able to bring in technologies from outside print, which tend to be of interest to other people in the target market – not just those who deal with print. Today, more and more customers want to talk to us about visual displays and tablets in a way that they wouldn’t have done 18 months ago.
This is also true of the public sector, particularly education, which rates the Samsung offering very highly. They like Samsung’s tablets and they like being able to connect to their printers through those devices. They find that students warm to that technology. It sounds a little bit contradictory, but the public sector likes shiny new stuff; they like new ideas; they like innovation.
In schools and universities, we are seeing more and more decisions being made by a combination of IT teams and student union bodies. Student representatives now have a much bigger say; we have even had instances of students coming to tender meetings. I really welcome that because it focuses us on the value-add – if I am a student, what is it I am trying to get out of this technology and how can I use it in the best fashion?
In the Commercial marketplace, customers are still driven by two things: 1) knowing that they have got a good price; and 2) the assurance of good service. The public sector and bigger corporates expect to get good service – it’s almost taken for granted. But in the SME marketplace, the quality of service varies depending on who you go to.
PITR: So, as well as helping you to engage with customers, the breadth of Samsung’s range has enabled you to exploit new business opportunities?
WM: Yes, very much so. Visual displays is a relatively new area for us, but because we have such a good customer base we are already one of Samsung’s biggest sellers of audio-visual equipment in the UK. Being able to provide customers with printers and visual displays is really good for us. It makes us more important to the customer, which improves retention rates. We have sold some tablets – if someone comes to us and is looking for a Samsung deal we will filter it through us – but I wouldn’t classify ourselves as a tablet seller at this stage. But I definitely see that as an opportunity for the future.
PITR: How many years have you been partnering with Samsung and how has the relationship evolved in that period?
WM: We started with Samsung about 10 years ago, and we have accelerated our partnership significantly in the last two years by sharing information and holding quarterly business reviews, what we call our QBRs. These address a combination of day-to-day tactical issues and objectives that we have jointly set for the following 12 months. Sharing common objectives means that we are both pointing in the same direction. That simple framework has enabled us to grow our Samsung base significantly and develop relationships at every level of the organisation.
We also visit the Samsung headquarters in Korea on an annual basis to embed our relationship, to help make sure we are working to common goals and to ensure the Samsung supply chain and the Danwood supply chain work effectively together.
That’s at the managerial level. In the last two years there has also been a step-change in the type and quality of product developed by Samsung, especially in relation to serviceability. At the end of the day we are a service business and anything that helps from a serviceabilitypoint of view encourages us to go out and sell that kit.
PITR: In the last few years Samsung has introduced a number of A3 machines. Has that make a big difference to you and do you see that as the key to future growth?
WM: The Samsung A3 product is a particularly good product. We really like It and have rolled out the largest A3 deal for Samsung in Europe this year. Our customers like the look of the product and they like the ease of access through the tablet and Smart UX Center. That’s the primary driver for customers, both existing customers and those who want to switch to Samsung. It’s that ease of interoperability.
A3 is where the future growth will be. Obviously the potential sale of Samsung to HP in 12 months’ time is going to have an impact. I think it will help to create a very powerful OEM offering for HP/Samsung, because they will cover pretty much all aspects of the office arena with very good product. If they can combine the security heritage of HP with the innovation of Samsung, I think they could have some very exciting products indeed.
PITR: One example of Samsung innovation is the development of an app platform for its MFPs, which it sees as a real differentiator. Are you developing any apps for your customers?
WM: We are working with Samsung on some joint ideas at this stage. At the moment, apps are a great talking point and a source of interest. In that respect, they are a bit like 3D printing. Everybody goes ‘whoa!’ when they look at a 3D printer, but trying to convert somebody from taking a look to making a purchasing decision is a slightly more elongated process. Right now, people like the idea of having an app capability. I don’t think people make the decision to go down the Samsung route just because of the apps, but it helps build confidence about the ‘future ability’ of Samsung devices. It’s having that flexibility that’s important to customers, as opposed to the actual apps themselves.
PITR: Samsung has recently brought out some interesting end user apps, notably Dynamic Workflow, but arguably its servicing apps are even more useful.
WM: One of the biggest drivers we have in our business is to increase the level of remote resolution, to fix a problem on a machine in a call centre rather than having to send out an engineer. Of the five main OEM brands that we have within our base, Samsung has the best remote resolution rates. We like that because it’s a huge driver of customer satisfaction and a huge driver for our economic model. We put a lot of time and effort into getting remote resolution rates as high as we possibly can and Samsung comes top. It takes time to build up that capability and approach. And that’s the benefit of having QBRs and visits to Korea, because we are able to tell Samsung more about the workings of a dealership, which are different to the workings of a direct sale business.
PITR: One of the challenges Samsung has had in the past has been penetrating the traditional copier dealer. Why do you think that has been the case and do you think that will change with growing sales of Samsung A3 MFPs and the launch of its new channel MPS programme?
WM: I can only speak about my own experience with Danwood, and Samsung has not found it difficult to engage and work with us and vice versa. If you have some organisational structure, the right individuals and are dedicated to maintaining communication and the flow of information and problem solving between an OEM and a dealer, it works very well. If you don’t have that infrastructure it can become difficult, because when dealing with any large organisation it is easy to get lost. I would disagree with the assertion in your question; our dealings with Samsung have been great – we agree objectives and deploy resources to make them happen.
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PITR: The National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) says that 92% of employers taking on apprentices noticed a more motivated workforce and 80% saw an increase in productivity in the workplace. What has been your experience?
Scott Walker: “I’ve employed four apprentices within the last five years. Each of those have gone on to do bigger and better things. If I can get an apprentice to the point that they’ve gained enough valuable experience to allow them to make their way into a role they truly want to do, then I’ve done my job as their mentor.
“Apprentices don’t come on board with some of the bad habits we all pick up from working in different office environments. More than that, I find they are just so eager to learn new things.
“My current apprentice has been working with me for less than a week and she’s already cleansed more information that the whole team has in the last six months…says it all really!”
Mark Smyth: “The apprentices we have experienced so far, have mostly been excellent, with the odd exception which you expect to some extent and would be the same if we were hiring fully experienced, skilled employees. They have a good work ethic and are keen to progress and further their careers, whilst maximising opportunities for both our organisation and personally, and it certainly rubs off on others in the workplace.”
Colin Griffin: “Employing an apprentice certainly brought some benefits to Blackbox Solutions. It was particularly encouraging to see how our staff responded to the challenge of managing and mentoring a young trainee in the workplace, particularly as some of those involved had little prior experience of managing and delegating work to team members.
“Their efforts were rewarded, as the apprentice improved his grades and performance throughout his training. The members of staff involved rose to the challenge and extra responsibilities and I believe it was a great benefit for them.
“However, I wouldn’t say that our productivity was improved by the presence of an apprentice and we had a few teething problems in the early months. I think the key issue is that apprentices come direct from school and in our experience it took a little time to inculcate them in the business world and for their maturity to catch up and match our expectations.”
Aimee Timmins: “We are still very much in the early stages but a more motivated workforce and increased productivity is exactly what we are looking for and have discussed this as being a major benefit to taking on an apprentice.”
Julian Stafford: “As a business we see huge potential in investing in young people. Our motto is hire the best, keep the best and develop our youngsters. We train them to the highest levels possible and develop them through the business in the direction they choose for themselves.
“Young people have a huge impact on our business, they are enthusiastic, eager to learn and have a lot of ideas to bring to the table, especially where technology is concerned. The youngsters we bring through are avid users of technology. They use the latest devices and apps all day every day and are at the forefront of what’s out there. Young people are the future of our business and we can learn a lot from them.”
Chris Roll: “15 per cent of our existing workforce joined us as apprentices and we’ll typically take between three to four new apprentices per annum. It’s not easy to attribute productivity and motivation to the influx of young apprentices to the business, but there is certainly a noticeable link in the supportive culture within RDT and much of that stems from the fact we have employees that started as apprentices all across our business.
“Our experience has been very positive and we recruit on the basis that if the candidate has the right work ethic we can provide them with an opportunity to learn a little about the whole business before deciding together where they’d be best placed.”
Beth Fairweather: “Yes, I would agree. When our apprentices start with the business they’re assigned a mentor. During breaks from training they will go out with their mentor to shadow the work they are doing, which both the apprentice and mentor find to be rewarding.
“We have found all previous apprentices to be extremely motivated to learn new things and adapt very well to change. They integrate really well with our existing workforce and their willingness to support has a positive impact on all parties.”
PITR: 83% of apprentice employers believe that they are investing in the future of their business. What are your views on developing apprenticeships to build key skills within your company?
Scott Walker: “Every company has an image of their perfect employee. An apprentice is the best way to mould that perfect employee. They’re trained from scratch and carry out their tasks in the way we see as ‘best practice’. I started my career as an apprentice and some of the best employees I’ve brought on board have been apprentices.”
Mark Smyth: “The apprenticeship service is one of many ways Vision supports development and business growth, enabling us to add skills and resources in areas where they are needed most.”
Colin Griffin: “At present we are focussed on growing our business into new geographical areas and our apprenticeship programme is not a high priority. That said, we see a functional apprenticeship programme as an important component of our staff training and development in the longer term.
“I see apprenticeships as a credible alternative to university, particularly in a fast-paced industry like print and IT technology where hands-on training and experience are incredibly valuable. This industry moves so rapidly that bringing apprentices through who truly understand our business ethos and the sectors in which we operate will be crucial to building our company in the future.”
Aimee Timmins: “Our view is that if we can start a young person straight from college we have a better chance of encouraging our culture into their working practice. Our intention is that our apprentice will receive training and support in every internal department of the business and cover holidays and absences. Their skills will develop over time, enabling us to fit them into a specific role in the future.”
Julian Stafford: “To date, we have supported twenty five apprentices, seventeen of which are still employed with the company. One of the first apprentices has progressed very well, now working in his second year as a fully-fledged field engineer servicing photocopiers.
“Apprentices are incredibly important to Midshire’s business growth. By training local apprentices to our standards they have the skills and knowledge needed for a successful career in the company.”
Chris Roll: “Apprentices are fundamental to our business today and will continue to be so in the future. RDT has excellent employee retention by any standards and this is primarily down to the fact that we develop staff across the whole of our business, which in turn builds loyalty and trust.
“We run an academy that provides staff with a programme of development based upon their chosen career path. Apprentices benefit significantly as they’re able to gain accreditation across all the key business functions. This gives them valuable knowledge of our business that you wouldn’t typically gain by employing within a specialised field such as sales or finance.”
Beth Fairweather: “We recognise the industry is expanding to include more IT/Software solutions, which is why we implemented the apprenticeship scheme a couple of years ago. We decided to choose this particular path for our service apprentices so that we have the right people with the relevant skills to complement our existing teams at this time of change. We see this very much as an investment in our longer term future so that we maintain our position as market leader in our sectors.
“We have some members of staff from earlier versions of the scheme who have been with us for over 25 years; many of whom are in our service division.”
PITR: How do you balance apprenticeships alongside investment in other areas of workforce training?
Scott Walker: “It’s as simple as managing the diary correctly and planning ahead. I allocate half days where possible to review with my apprentice’s assessor and ensure I’m allocating tasks to allow her to achieve the required modules in her qualification. The time I’ve been spending on other tasks are now becoming tasks she carries out. This gives me the balance I need to focus on developing existing staff.”
Mark Smyth: “We specifically identify areas of our business and roles that suit apprenticeships for key reasons such as business growth and demand, and future resource planning, especially in service and support where a continued increase in clients drives demand. The apprenticeship service provides a good method for future planning. As their skills develop, they add more value to our business and at that point they also feel more valued and their contribution is very recognisable.”
Colin Griffin: “At present apprenticeships are less important to us than training our existing workforce. We continually develop our staff and several of our team are currently undergoing specialist training in fairly niche sectors, such as high volume production print, which will provide us with further opportunities for growth once they’ve qualified. This, in turn, will provide additional opportunities where we can offer apprenticeships, under the guidance of experienced managers and technicians who can really bring the best out of young people and shape them into valuable members of staff.
“We think that this strategic approach to training will bring us the most benefit in the long run, by expanding the knowledge of our senior team members and then providing training opportunities for the next generation of technicians.”
Aimee Timmins: “We have a coaching culture and having an apprentice would encourage other members of staff that currently don’t have the confidence to coach colleagues to feel comfortable possibly with a younger, inexperienced staff member to develop their own coaching skills.”
Julian Stafford: “The Midshire Academy and our apprenticeship programme is just one small part of what we do to remain at the forefront of the industry and to provide opportunities for our staff to grow and develop within the company.
“We have an ongoing commitment to provide the very latest training on all manufacturers we use. Our teams are trained by the manufacturer trainers at the manufacturer’s training centres.
“We believe this gives an unparalleled level of training without business interruptions. Regular team meetingsare conducted where training needs are addressed and courses booked, if ever the lead time on a course is too long, we will give the engineers training alongside a senior trained member of the team.
“We periodically have manufacturer training updates on the user features of the machines, which ensures everyone in the business is as knowledgeable as they can be on all devices. We have recently delivered a management training course and are about to undertake a customer service training programme for all employees.”
Chris Roll: “From our perspective, it really isn’t an investment that requires much consideration as apprentices have always proved to be a reliable ROI compared to other workforce training options. Direct costs are typically negligible, and providing you’re allocating the necessary time and have the right processes in place to identify individuals that have characteristics that match the business profile, it becomes a simple decision.”
Beth Fairweather: “We have our own purpose-built training facilities with dedicated trainers to support our existing employee training needs, which we are then able to extend to the apprenticeship framework. In 2016, we’re aiming to provide over 5,000 training delegate days, which is more than ever before. The needs of developing our existing teams and those within the apprenticeship programme are primarily the same training needs, just phased differently based on experience levels.”
PITR: In spring 2017 the way the government funds apprenticeships in England is changing. Larger employers will be required to contribute to a new apprenticeship levy, and those that are too small to pay it will have 90% of the costs of training paid for by the state. There have been concerns expressed that this may impose additional administrative red tape on smaller firms and discourage them from taking on apprentices at all. Will this change the way you view apprenticeships/prompt you to hire or stop hiring?
Scott Walker: “In my opinion, the only people raising concerns are those that don’t see the true value of apprenticeships. I’ve heard stories of apprentices being employed as cheap labour to carry out the tasks others don’t want to do.
“An apprentice is an investment for the future, an individual who will bring huge value to the business over the coming years, it’s not an overnight fix. The costs (even to small businesses) are truly balanced by the value they bring from day one. Yes, you need to allocate more time to them in the early days, it’ll take some time before they’re confident and able enough to carry out the majority of required tasks, but when you get them to this point, their value speaks for themselves. Consider what most companies pay an apprentice (£7 to £8k PA), it’s a great return on investment.”
Mark Smyth: “I do hope we will be able to continue to use the service, however it needs to focus on giving young people an opportunity with good, sound commercial value to businesses and many organisations remain concerned about the new levy. We will focus on understanding the full extent of the changes and their financial impact.”
Colin Griffin: “When considering taking on an apprentice, we’d need to consider the business case and whether the appointment would benefit the company. Financial feasibility would certainly be important, but we’d also need to consider whether the apprentice would bring additional value in other areas, such as their particular skill set, personality, aptitude, work ethic and so on.
“So, the change to the government funding wouldn’t really affect our decision – we’d be more focussed on selecting the correct candidate who would be interested in developing their career with us once they’ve completed their apprenticeship.”
Aimee Timmins: “It is our intention to use the current £1,000 contribution to motivate the apprentice. We have also made the decision to pay more than the minimum apprentice wage.
“The idea of creating a dedicated loyal workforce by initially taking on energetic young people far outweighs the costs of setting up an apprenticeship scheme. If a business trains an apprentice well, then in turn that young person will feel a certain loyalty to the company that trained them.
“The administration on small firms will not discourage Sharples from taking on apprentices. A well supported and trained apprentice that fails to meet our expectations is more likely to discourage us from looking into additional apprentices than the additional administrative red tape.”
Julian Stafford: “Young people are a really important part of our business. I can’t see these changes making a difference to what we do or how we do it.
“Working with and supporting young people through work experience, apprenticeships and through our academy, is one of the aspects of running a business I enjoy the most.”
Chris Roll: “There are clearly pros and cons from the new scheme but we don’t really have enough information yet to understand how it will impact our business. We have every intention to continue developing apprentices at RDT, as they have proved essential to nurturing new talent. It would take a significant increase in costs for us to reconsider apprenticeships in the future.”
Beth Fairweather: “This will be a very big change, particularly for smaller businesses. Like all businesses, Danwood is conscious of costs. However, we also recognise the value the apprenticeship programme brings so it is a case of balancing the business needs against costs.
“This will be a key factor in determining how much we would expand the programme, but either way we are committed to supporting young people and giving them the tools to be able to enter the wider workplace while helping us deliver excellence to our customers.”