[Strategy interview] Knowledge is power

Early last year, Advantia appointed Mike Heaps as chairman of its board. Nell Walker found out, in April 2018’s edition of Dealer Support, what that meant for the business

Advantia is an organisation which truly has its finger on the pulse of the industry. From supplying a wide variety of products under the leadership of the ever-positive Steve Harrop to providing expertise both directly to dealer partners and using its blog and social media, Advantia keeps proving that the market isn’t suffering nearly as much doom and gloom as some say.

As the business continues to shift, so too do certain roles. Earlier this year Dealer Support reported that Mike Heaps, a long-serving member of Advantia’s board, had taken up the role of chairman – an important change for the business and its leadership. Former chairman Bob Geens retired at the end of 2017 and Mike has since brought his own expertise – as a former dealer and chairman of Premier Office Supplies – to the position.

Mike brings 35 years’ worth of expertise to his new role, beginning at the Blackburn Typewriter Company and staying there for two takeovers. He started Premier Office Supplies 11 years later; Premier became part of OSTA and shot up from 78th biggest dealer to third in just three years. Mike and his business became part of COSTS – now Advantia – in 1998 and continued to grow, primarily through investing in technology. His determination to grow through the use of technology, and a powerful willingness to adapt to change, continued when he joined Advantia’s board in 2006 – and this has yet to waver.

Mike’s main focus is a determination to add value for Advantia’s group members, while acknowledging that this is also the most challenging element of running a business. He is very much of the opinion that dealers and distributors alike need to shift with the times and keep creating new products and services. He believes Advantia – with its business model and focus on added value – is well-positioned to take on the challenges ahead. So what does it mean to Mike to have been appointed chairman?

“I am very honoured,” he says, “to become chairman of this prestigious group and follow in the footsteps of previous chairmen who have been very well-respected in the trade. As I have been a dealer for 35 years, and a board member for 11, and have adapted not just my own business but been instrumental in the changes the group has made in that time, I can use that experience to support our head office from the perspective of all sizes of dealer.”

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Initiatives and solutions

Mike admits that some elements of Advantia’s drive towards adding value for members have been on hold while the business improves its service via a change of logistics partner; however, he reveals that the main office team – driven mainly by Beck Miller – is set to announce some exciting initiatives throughout this year. These initiatives will prove hugely beneficial to members, as Mike explains.

“We’re rolling out some technology-driven solutions that will provide real added value and we have a unique opportunity, using our links with Comgem to provide this. Merlin Marketplace is our technology platform, which is already well-known in the trade, and is central to developing the new opportunities Advantia is creating for members in different markets and different product sectors.”

The value this will add is based around allowing members to diversify, thus enabling them to thrive. They must always be thinking to the future, Mike says. “Dealers have got to stop focusing on what we sell now – which is, for some, mostly office supplies and furniture – and instead move to selling other products and services. This is what Advantia is working on, including all the sourcing, relationships, logistics, marketing, and operational/data management that makes selling the new 80% of what dealers need to sell as slick as the office supplies they currently sell.”

Communication

In tandem with implementing changes to their product offering, Mike believes dealers and dealer groups alike can always better support their customers or members, and the main way to do this is simple communication. “It’s key,” he states. “There are a lot of assumptions in the industry and groups need to listen to what their dealers require and support their aims.”

Similarly, dealers must listen to customers if they wish to evolve and keep up with current demands. According to Mike, they must look to their business models and, while they may not need to change their selling habits, they should consider what they sell, to whom and how. “The biggest strength and way to evolve is knowledge of their local areas,” he explains.

Mike sees a bright future for dealers – provided they are willing to adapt and shift with the times. It is unsurprising that he has such an optimistic view; Steve Harrop said of Mike, on his appointment as chairman, “Mike will bring a down-to-earth but knowledgeable and open-minded view… we’re at the start of something new, exciting and definitely a step forward for both the group and members.”

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