Nottingham-based distributor ArtSystems has been acquired by Westcoast Holdings. MD Steve Hawker explains what that will mean to its customers.
Steve Hawker began his career as a telephone design engineer. In his entire life he has only ever had two job interviews. The first got him his job with Plessey Telecoms, the second came about when he rang the Managing Director of a company called KGB Micros.
The news item about a Nottingham-based initiative piqued his interest and after his interview he became just the second employee for the fledgling firm of KGB Distribution in 1986. The company changed its name to ArtSystems in its second year.
Less than 10 years later Steve and his business partner David Thomas were offered the chance to undertake a management buyout, which they happily accepted.
Steve and David began to build their business model based on service and support. Steve bought the company in 2009 and has seen turnover climb from the then £17million to £31million in 2015. He has worked with his carefully selected team (now numbering 70 personnel) to create a working environment of fast thinking flexibility and intelligent response to customer needs.
Westcoast Holdings acquired the distributor in April of 2016. Inevitably, with acquisition comes change, but in this case the core qualities that made ArtSystems so successful remain unaltered. However, thanks to the investment and resources of the new parent company, ArtSystems will be able to expand its portfolio of products and enlarge its service and support function. Change will only be for the better, business as usual only more so.
But what are the special qualities that underpin a company which managed to almost double its turnover during the worst financial crisis in living memory?
Steve begins with his people. He said, “We start by selecting great people. We train them on new products that require specialist knowledge; and those where channels need to be created. Our resellers have amazingly powerful sales engines. They’re equipped with everything they need to get product out there into the marketplace. What we provide is the insight and support they need to better inform their purchasers.
“End-users are asking for products that perform a specific task and they have questions that need the right answers – and more. Offering the wrong advice can be a painful experience and might even undermine a healthy business relationship. Selling someone the wrong product for an easy profit has a very transient benefit. You have the money today, but you’ve lost a customer for tomorrow. How often can you do that before the cracks begin to show? We build our business around strong skill sets, product knowledge and honesty.
“Manufacturers such as HP ask us to audit our business practices every month. We use this process to improve our business practises. We are strong enough to be constantly image critical and always look for ways to improve, but without demoralising the team.”
Purchasers are invited to Nottingham for product training, as are resellers. Steve continued, “Education and services are at the heart of our business. We have grown organically with our resellers. We stay with a new product until it begins to bloom, helping them develop their product knowledge and sales channels until they have a firm grasp of its potential. That’s what I mean by organic growth. Each product line has to gain a firm foothold on the next rung of the sales ladder before we turn our attentions to a fresh enterprise. That is how we have developed such a strong and healthy product portfolio. Our specialist technicians out there working UK-wide to reduce end-users downtime, and we have service contracts that guarantee next-day repairs or we promise to address any problems as soon as possible.”
In conclusion Steve outlines how ArtSystems will fit into the Westcoast family, “When I started discussing the acquisition with Westcoast Managing Director Duncan Forsyth, I felt there were strong synergies between the two companies. Our ideas meshed in a way that made me confident this was the right move for all of us. Just over a month later everything has proved to be exactly what I hoped it would be. We are recognised for our strengths and provide specialisms that help fill a specific niche in the Westcoast Holdings business family.
“We are probably already the largest large format distributor in Europe. Our position in the growing 3D market place can also be seen as unique in that we are really the only true ‘value added’ distributor in that market. We bring proven channel development experience to the sector and that’s one of the key factors we feel will make a vital difference towards helping resellers make the move into 3D.
“ArtSystems working as an autonomous company under the Westcoast umbrella will largely mean business as usual. But it will allow our customers will reap the benefits. We are now in an ideal position to facilitate growth, improve services, and build our portfolio. Customers can be confident ArtSystems will remain everything they have come to know and trust − fleet of foot, responsive to need and always offering an honest human face to its customers − just more so.”