[Dealer interview] The art of diversifying

Siobhan O’Connor, MD of Codex discussed, in June 2018’s edition of Dealer Support, the ways in which the business has adapted to modern needs, its increasing adoption of technology and how it works to support its home nation of Ireland

For over two decades Siobhan O’Connor has been on the front line of the office solutions industry, witnessing its evolution, and has utilised that experience as MD of Dublin-based Codex for the past four years. Her background lies in sales marketing and finance with a heavy focus on building business via brand recognition, strategy, identifying the right acquisitions and investing in people – the latter of which is of particular interest to her.

“I firmly believe people power will win every time if you involve, include and encourage,” she says. “Ignoring experience is fatal and performance is about people long before numbers. My job is to create future leaders who can use their power for good to seek and receive support and who have the ability to change and be authentic.”

The rebrand

Siobhan leads this 39-year-old business with the same sense of assurance she seeks in her staff. The company was founded by Brendan Murphy who laid the foundations for an organisation that could be driven forward into a modern Ireland and it has overcome a variety of obstacles to achieve what it has today. Rather than dwelling on any difficult times Codex has experienced, Siobhan chooses to consider it all part of the company’s rich history and to focus on the current phase of the business. One major recent change was 2014’s rebrand of Codex Office Products to Codex Office Solutions; the connotations are those of a broader, more specialist level of service – something that invariably looks more attractive to customers.

“The ultimate goal is that we just use ‘Codex’ and that it’s all we need for people to recognise us – we can already see this beginning to happen, which is exciting,” says Siobhan. The business has achieved this increased recognition through standard methods of rebranding such as using its newer name on its vans, buildings, paperwork and packaging, and also by looking closely at its customer base and identifying opportunities. “We surveyed their needs and identified quite quickly that Codex was a company of trust that delivered on its promises,” Siobhan explains. “We knew that, if we added more ranges to our offering, they would be delighted to support and advise. Customer input is crucial for any new venture and it should define the strategy.”

Adaptive and reactive

Codex also keeps its face in the spotlight of the industry by attending all the events and exhibitions possible, ensuring that its door is always open to any supplier or manufacturer with new products or solutions to offer. Siobhan and her 25-strong sales team never turn down a meeting because they are loathe to miss anything, which helps to ensure they keep on top of trends and remain both adaptive and reactive.

Being an agile, innovative business comes naturally to Codex and has allowed it to take on some niche services. One offering the business has seen success in is its print and design solution, something that came about from the realisation that trying out new things was – and is – a necessity for business. “On examining how to grow the business, and in light of shrinking sales within the office products category, we decided to explore developing the print and, most importantly, the design work around products,” says Siobhan. “We engaged with our sales team and our customer base and worked on a number of case studies with a few customers – this allowed us to recognise that there was indeed an opportunity here.”

Codex set about appointing an experienced print and design manager and the business has been able to grow its product range of printed bags, cups, mail marketing campaigns and gift vouchers by over 50% in the past three years. Codex has expanded the team again this year and is expecting another €500,000 worth of business to filter through over the next 12 months.

Print and digital

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Delving into print and design – and, as part of this and beyond, more advanced technology – has allowed Codex to thrive despite those ever-decreasing stationery sales. Siobhan believes that nobody should depend on core office products to grow their business because it won’t happen; her ethos is that you have to offer other product lines and expand into areas like technology in order to thrive; close relationships with customers are the key to unlocking the direction that dealers should move into next. For Codex, a key trend in technology right now is customer integration. “This involves purchase-to-pay solutions and direct connectivity into our customers’ back office systems,” says Siobhan. “We are happy to invest with our customers – whether it’s SAP, Oracle or even if we have to build a bespoke client-specific system, there is never a ‘No’. Technology is, more than ever, driving financial controls, product selection and customer behaviour.”

Codex has also invested heavily in e-commerce and now has a new website with a sleek ordering system – something it continues to develop on a weekly basis. Originally this was outsourced but, thanks to increasing levels of skill and understanding within the business, Codex took over all its own inner processes in 2017 with a full-time digital and support team. Remaining innovative isn’t much of a challenge for Codex, simply because it is always looking for new solutions and new ways of adding value for customers. It aims to be transparent within the industry, particularly as of 2016 while preparing for GDPR, when Codex chose to share its vision with suppliers at an invite-only conference themed around setting standards in business. It outlined the short, medium and long-term vision for the company and the part suppliers would play – plus Codex’s own expectation of what it would look like in the future.

What it looks like, for Siobhan, is a diverse business which can adapt quickly, acquire meaningfully and serve the community as a home-grown Irish business. Last year Codex was named one of the ‘Best Workplaces in Ireland 2017’ due to its working environment and training credentials, leading to a fresh influx of local job applicants showing interest. The company is proud to support charities, aligning itself with Dublin City University to be part of its outreach programme and taking on graduates of that programme for work experience when the course is complete. “Hopefully, this will help to create the leaders of the future,” says Siobhan.

Delivering expectations

What lies at the heart of Codex truly is the customer; this is what drives the innovative decisions and the desire to diversify more than anything, according to Siobhan. “If we fail to deliver expectation there is nobody more upset than ourselves and everything will be done to fix an issue – at whatever cost – to win back that confidence. We have a no-blame culture in the organisation, which makes it easier to put the customer first every time, and we endeavour to create service and technology-based value propositions. We’re proud to be able to create bespoke services which online box-droppers find too costly to deliver.”

As for the future, Codex is currently building a new shared services office on-side in Glasnevin; the business has reached the point where there is absolutely no spare space at its headquarters, so expansion is a must. It’s one of the largest investments Codex has ever made and, it hopes, shows how committed the business is to remaining one of Ireland’s best places to work.

“Codex will strive to be the best at what we do,” says Siobhan. “We believe more acquisitions will need to take place for consolidation in the Irish market, due to shrinkage in the office product space, and we would welcome the opportunity to acquire local dealers in Ireland to create a wider reach, grow all ranges and still support local communities through working together as a consortium.”

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