[Dealer interview] Creating monstrous business growth

Office Monster’s directors, Steve Hanley and Ryan Ward, told Nell Walker in September 2018’s edition of Dealer Support about their company’s incredible growth story and what makes it stand out

Office Monster has enjoyed an incredible few years. Just a short time ago, in 2013, the business launched as Cartridge Monster; realising that the name limited the company to just one sector, Office Monster was born a little later and has gone from strength to strength ever since.

Directors Steve Hanley and Ryan Ward oversee a dedicated, youthful team of enthusiastic workers while remaining hands-on at the forefront of the business. Both men have a background in office supplies – in fact, they met due to Ryan being a customer of Steve’s.

“I used to work for VOW and Ryan was one of my accounts there as Cartridge Monster,” says Steve. “I was looking to grow accounts in my area and one of the natural targets was ink and toner-only dealers so as to branch them out into office supplies. I left VOW in 2016 after four years and started working alongside Ryan; we came together to push Office Monster forward.”

Diversification

In diversifying side-by-side, Steve and Ryan lit the company’s fuse and created exponential growth for Office Monster. Now selling stationery, furniture and facilities management as well as ink and toner – among other product ranges – the business began to reap the rewards.

One particularly meaningful acknowledgement of the company’s progress was a nomination at this year’s Yorkshire Business Masters Awards in the fastest growth category, which acted as a huge morale boost for the Office Monster team even though another organisation took home the prize.

“It was fantastic for us,” says Ryan. “We’re a young, diverse group so the recognition of being shortlisted in that category was great. It was the first time we’d entered any form of awards, and we have seen amazing growth in five years. In year one we had around £80,000 turnover, then half a million in year two, a million in year three and £1.6m in year four – our figures are fantastic.”

Organic growth

The most impressive element of this is that the growth has been entirely organic with no outside investment or loans. “We’ve grown on sales alone, and every single penny of profit we’ve made has been re-injected back into the business in order to grow,” Ryan continues. “We were just happy to be at the awards ceremony and put the office supplies industry on the map within Yorkshire; hats off to the winners.”

A major driver behind this growth has simply been being savvy in running an online business, combined with continuously adding value, as well as engaging effectively with vendors. Office Monster takes full advantage of the multitude of sales channels available online and is always looking to expand into corners of the internet where the business is not yet represented. Being an online business also means that the company is customer-led, so Steve, Ryan and their teams are fully-focused on ensuring that customer service is a top priority.

“We are a service-led, online supplier, which is more unusual than people realise,” Steve explains. “People expect convenience from the online experience but they don’t expect the kind of service you’d get from a retail establishment, which I think is wrong. No matter where you’re buying from, you should expect a certain level of service.

“It’s pretty simple – excellent customer service leads to longer-term relationships and we can see this when we’re looking at retention rates of customers. The repeat business we get comes back to the level of service we provide at both the point of order and after sales.”

Seeing the positives

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Besides simply treating customers well, Office Monster aims to continually cultivate its image by turning negative situations into positive ones. For example, if an item arrives with a customer damaged, the company doesn’t believe in simply offering them a meaningless certain percentage off the next purchase; instead, it will refund the item and send out a replacement (within reason) as a gesture of good will, thus encouraging a strong relationship. Steve and Ryan have become so used to their own system that they’re often surprised by what a negative experience ordering online elsewhere can be.

“Some companies see the customer simply as an order number and if something goes wrong it’s an inconvenience,” says Steve. “We’ve got no issue refunding them and sending out a new product. When we look at how much money it actually costs us to keep customers happy, it’s a fraction of the average marketing budget – offering refunds rather than discount codes shows we care, and we do it straight away rather than waiting several days to ‘investigate’ as some companies do.”

Office Monster is happy to admit its mistakes when they happen, helping it to stand out from the crowd. Indeed, differentiating itself is one thing the business strives to do; this begins from the striking name and cartoon logo, through to being a truly solid online business which isn’t just using the internet because it thinks it should.

Competition has led many dealers to move online but Steve believes it’s driven – at least in part – by the perception that online is easy. Working from a digital platform does enable businesses to sell very cheaply and, therefore, win business, but it doesn’t necessarily allow for achieving decent margins, creating a team or generating future custom. Selling cheaply means very little money for marketing or evolving; Office Monster is the first to admit that it doesn’t sell at the cheapest rates, but it’s operating very successfully, as many other dealers selling at mid-market prices are.

“We’ve got personality”

Office Monster’s advice for other dealers, therefore, is to sell at a rate that allows them to comfortably run a business with room for marketing, branding and focusing on growth.

“We’ve got personality, which is reflected in our brand and the way we engage with our teams and customers,” says Steve. “We come across exactly how we want to come across; our advice for other dealers is to differentiate themselves and not be ‘just another office supplier’. We’re all, essentially, selling the same stuff, and we’re all capable of being the cheapest if we really want, but that’s not how to grow a business. Dealers need to look beyond that.”

So, in a time of great change when smaller dealers are moving to the internet in droves, what does the future hold for Office Monster?

“We’ve got some big things in the pipeline,” says Ryan. “We’re always looking at new ways to extend the business. We’ve got targets for the next five years and are looking to turnover £10m in that time, which is healthy and achievable given our growth so far.

“We just need to maintain the brand and our sense of fun. Office Monster is a quirky brand and all we need to do is make sure we stand out from the crowd and just keep pushing.”

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