[Strategy interview] Integrity is key

Aidan Mcdonough, CEO of Integra Business Solutions, spoke to Nell Walker in July 2018’s edition of Dealer Support about his view of the industry and how Integra is supporting its members through the inevitable shifts

Tell me a little historical background on both Integra itself and your role and responsibilities within it.

Integra was formed in 1997, through the merger of the National Dealer Alliance (NDA) and Instat. We then went on to complete two further mergers with the BCSA (a group of EOS specialists) and the Computer Office Group (COG), made up of specialist IT resellers. In 1998 I was appointed group marketing director and, in 2007, became MD, subsequently taking up the position of CEO.

I’m responsible for the overall day-to-day management of the company and the team, overseeing the financial planning and management together with defining the overall strategy for the business alongside a board of non-executive directors.

What are some of the major trends that Integra has identified in the office products industry so far in 2018?

General office products, envelopes, paper and EOS have been in decline for a number of years, as has the trend towards diversification and extending the product range. In the last few years we have focused on bringing in new suppliers across an increasingly diverse portfolio – workwear, PPE, medical supplies, education, FM, MPS and office ergonomics, for example. This strategy will continue in order to ensure we provide members with new opportunities.

What in the industry is Integra feeling positive about right now, and what is causing trepidation (if anything)?

Looking at the sales figures for workwear, education, FM and MPS, members are clearly embracing the opportunity to diversify into new areas, whether that involves new vertical markets or simply increasing their product portfolios.

The key issue for concern or trepidation remains the rate of decline of traditional office products. No one can be 100% certain what the next two years will bring but, despite this, and having worked in the sector for close to 25 years, I remain optimistic. I don’t think we should underestimate the entrepreneurial spirit of the independent dealer.

What would your advice be to dealers aiming to thrive in the near future?

I would recommend members focus on their key accounts – the 20% of customers that represent 80% of their revenue. By regularly reviewing the business needs of the 20%, dealers can determine other areas to diversify into and how they can add value and, in turn, retain and grow these accounts.

The Initiative brand turns 20 this year – how has it evolved since its inception? Where does it go next?

We have always been extremely selective with the Initiative product range – focusing on the everyday lines that present the biggest opportunity to members. We have recently extended the FM range and also introduced an aggressively priced ‘Supavalue’ range of EOS compatibles. We continually benchmark the brand, to determine the range and price point, and support members with regular incentives, price freezes and additional rebates.

In what ways do you ensure your members see you as supportive and adaptable?

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We are all about providing members with a flexible support programme without the need for them to lose their identity and independence – they remain in control. Members who proactively exploit the opportunities presented to them continue to be successful in growing their businesses. We have a highly professional team, based in Newport, and a business development team out on the road to fully support members with day-to-day issues, helping them to get the most out of membership.

What are the challenges involved in supporting those businesses and helping them operate better?

A huge challenge is often resources within a dealer’s business – finding the time to think outside the box and look at different avenues for growth. Our conference on 20 September will examine how independent dealers can innovate and grow. There is so much talk about diversifying but, without adapting the business accordingly and putting the right resources in place, it won’t happen.

When it comes to marketing we have also tried to alleviate the issue of resource by introducing more managed services into the mix – from content-ready websites to social media and email marketing support.

How do you ensure you communicate with members effectively and identify their needs?

The business development team is very much focused on supporting members with all aspects of their businesses – this may involve training, general business advice or support with purchasing and marketing. Regular regional reviews also ensure we are in touch with the critical issues members are facing.

Our website and forums are other important aspects of communication, ensuring we can provide relevant information when and where it’s needed. We have also introduced webinars into the mix in order to be responsive to members’ needs and offering easy to access information and discussions.

What kind of feedback do you receive in response to this level of care?

Like any business, we are always looking for ways to improve and work hard to meet the needs of our members – our annual customer satisfaction survey gives us empirical data to work with and provides valuable feedback for us to further develop. Behind the scenes we are continually working to improve knowledge and cross department training. Having a multi-faceted team that can respond quickly is a high priority for the business.

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