What levels of loyalty and dedication do you expect from youres Wickes, we look at how the distributor will face the future. staff?
I think you only get back what you put in. Over the years, we know we have done our fair share of motivating people and winning their loyalty.
At the moment, we are on a peak in terms of loyalty.
We invest in people and get back a commitment from them. We provide the sales team with every possible tool to improve their effectiveness and hopefully a structure in which they can win.
It always seems to me that Ideal staff are driven and move as quickly as they can. But someone once described this as a 'fire-ready-aim' approach.
It is definitely not a fire-ready-aim approach, I completely refute that.
Everything we do is well planned. I think there was a time when we were a little bit over-reactive in the way we behaved. Everything we do now is planned.
In terms of the motivated culture of the sales team, we're not the sort to lock people in at weekends to get them hyped up. But we do want to work in a positive company full of positive people and it's easy to be just one or the other.
If you're going to be successful you have got to believe you're going to be successful, and that has to run through the whole business. I cannot see the point in working for a company for 12 hours a day without actually feeling part of it and wanting it to be successful.
But that must mean that people are under pressure to sell and to reach set targets?
We apply pressure in the run-up towards financial year ends, like any company does, but we turn it into a bit of fun as well. Everyone gets a kick out of it.
We put ourselves under a lot of pressure - the whole company does, directors and senior managers are under pressure, and that translates.
What we try to do is run the business on common-sense and if we have people strolling into the office with an improper attitude towards work, then you're not going to get the best out of them.
If you can demonstrate to people that by working between certain time lines and by doing certain things they can improve their own performance, then that has got to be a good thing.
Do you try to instil the idea that you care about your staff as individuals and also about what they are going to achieve?
One thing we've been extremely bad at over this period of rapid growth is recognising people's achievements - and we've asked them to achieve a lot. We've tended to compensate by paying bonuses but haven't been very good at recognising achievement.
That has changed over the past year. If you're going to ask people to perform, you have to be in a position to say, 'well done, you've done a fantastic job' and then keep saying it.
So how has Ideal's attitude to work changed over time, and why has it changed?
It has changed because we recognise that people need to be thanked for achieving their goals. It has become more important to recognise people's success and it's something we are really building on.
What do you think other companies in the industry think of Ideal Hardware?
I know, to a large extent, what our customers think of us. Distribution is generally regarded as a necessary evil by customers - it provides a service, but is not good at communicating what that is. That's something I would like to see change.
Have you worked hard at communicating this?
Yes, but we are still a million miles from getting there.
Do you think resellers will ever change their attitudes towards distributors?
I hope so. We are all seeing shrinking margins because we're all trying to do the same things we've done for the last five years.
We're all shifting more volume and margins are not as attractive as they used to be because we're not looking for new opportunities. The channel needs to be involved in looking for new opportunities - that's where the money is.
There is also a certain amount of frustration within Ideal because we see a lot of the opportunities, but because of the credo of not selling direct, we can't do anything about them.
Where are those opportunities at the moment?
There are a whole range of opportunities at this moment in time, from online and offline editing in the film and broadcast industry, the way that market is opening up, the opportunities for providing corporates with Web presences are also completely untapped. Not to mention storage area networking and NT.
But these aren't traditional areas of business for your existing customers, are they?
Well no, but so what?
So, do they have to learn to get into them, then?
Yes, and where distribution should be playing a part is in providing information to help these companies do that. That's what we are attempting to do, but with little feedback from the market. We need to be told what we need to provide in order to provide it.
Why do you think resellers are so unresponsive generally?
Because in our business we take orders all day and that means that we are reactive. By nature, therefore, margins are lower.
But there isn't enough money in the business to allow resellers to be active.
You have to start getting active to get margins and it's the active resellers that make all the money.
But so far, active resellers have had little impact on the market.
Distribution has been unable to communicate its value to its customer base after many years, and I think that's a real shame. It gets me down, especially when I think we've done a cracking job. And then you realise that a lot of it hasn't been translated into commercial benefit for the reseller - because either us or the resellers have got the wrong end of the stick. That's always a great shame.
What methods do you use to motivate your staff?
In the past, we've had posters of rival MDs put around the sales office to remind people that there are competitors, and while they may be wasting time in the office, there will always be a competitor eating away at their accounts.
But what about retaining motivation. How do you achieve that?
People start arriving at Ideal at about 7.15am and the reason that we (the management team) continue to be motivated and involved is that we have a long way to go. At the moment, Ideal is mostly selling within the UK and I can't see any reason why we can't do more than that in the future.
What future ambitions do you have for Ideal?
I want Ideal to be a world class distribution business, an international company on a virtual basis. I see no need for any physical expansion across Europe, or anywhere else for that matter, with the benefits of telecommunications and the internet, and we're already seeing that in terms of the business we are doing in Europe right now.
MAKING THE MOST OF THE INTERNET
Wickes is excited about the internet because he believes it can break low margin business away from the real value add. 'When I buy something from the manufacturer in volume, the only value I can add is providing the banking service to the customer and giving a good delivery service.
Having that business flooding in is clogging up the company as we can't add the reseller value we would like to.'
Resellers, he says, are mainly reactive and this creates an endemic low margin in the channel. The internet can break the circle by providing a near-automated ordering channel for lower margin products, leaving the rest of the business to develop services.
'I look at the internet as a way of cutting the bottleneck between our customers and us - increasing the human interface. I see it as a way of allowing us to communicate more effectively, but not as a way of reducing costs. Ideal Hardware plans to customise its e-commerce system to the individual customer. The salesman will put together the customer price list detailing products that the customer specifically wants to deal with via the internet. This will allow the salesman to focus on helping the customer develop its business.
WHAT MAKES WICKES TICK?
What has shaped your approach to business? And what have you done to continue educating yourself in this approach?
Serious competition in the distribution business has shaped Ideal because we grew at a time when other distributors were already quite a way ahead of us, so we had to offer different services. The IT business doesn't stop moving and you have to keep yourself apprised of trends in the market.
That's something we do throughout the company - it's continual learning and training.
What do you really care about? What do you want to achieve in business and in life? How would you like people in business to remember you?
It's always been important to me to be successful. I have this incredible fear of failure. I'm very frightened of being unsuccessful.
What's the point of being in business? Is it solely to make money or are there motivations beyond that? When you went to the market, did that change things for you?
There was a very uncomfortable period of time because I realised I had achieved something I always wanted to. But when it actually happened I thought: what do I do now? And for quite a few months I really was questioning my motives. But the fact is I enjoy doing what I'm doing, there's so much more to achieve in what we're doing. Being successful, doing it your way and doing it properly is what is important.
What motives were you questioning?
It wasn't a case of should I or should I not continue, but when something you have been aiming for slips away, you have to reinvent yourself. You have to hit the reset button. I just had to decide in my own mind that I was going to be determined to continue.
If there was one piece of guidance you could give to resellers to advise them on how they should survive and succeed over the next few years, what would it be?
It is an uncertain world in every way. I think it's important to have a positive attitude and to see things as opportunities, not as threats.
Decide how, as an individual or as a business, you can add value to that situation. The opportunities in our industry are monstrous.
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