What does Avocor do?
We make specialist interactive whiteboards. We have moved from being a distributor to manufacturing. We work with an OEM manufacturer, which makes a special range of interactive displays for us.
Why did you set it up?
We knew that while selling products for [Steljes' largest vendor] SMART, there were great gaps in the UK market that we weren't addressing. We kept going back to them and asking them to produce products that would better suit our market, but they didn't listen to us. Once they [began a strategic review], we felt that we had no choice but to change direction. We sat down with our OEM manufacturer and designed a range that was targeted for the UK market.
Who owns Avocor and how ambitious are you for the company?
I own it in the UK, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. But we are in discussions with others to open up, in time, in North America and Asia-Pacific. So we have global aspirations. It is not yet, but it will probably come this year.
Are you still a distributor as well as a manufacturer?
In a very limited capacity. We work for one other company called Nureva. They are the company owned by the founders of SMART Technologies, who left SMART three years ago. We represent them in the UK as well.
What is your channel strategy?
We want to go back to where we used to be very successful distributing SMART, which was to identify key resellers which add value and really get behind the brand and the concept. We want to keep a reasonable group; we don't want to just go out to everybody. It is much better to work with a focused group of partners.
You ran Steljes for 29 years. What were the factors behind the firm going into administration?
Last year we sat down with the senior management at SMART and agreed that they couldn't give us any future. Therefore we started to look to developing our own brands. We developed VividTouch which is a UK brand only, which morphed into Avocor, which will be a global brand. We also developed Steljes Audio and some other small divisions to try to give us a future.
SMART effectively decided to move us from being a VAD – which of course we were, with over 100 staff, probably £1m a month overheads and eight people in tech services. We were a huge support mechanism for their channel. Seventy per cent of our direct invoicing was SMART products, and the rest was supported too. It was just too big a shock for a company to survive.
Is that part of the reason you moved to manufacturing?
We decided that after 29 years, if Steljes were to survive, it would evolve its own brands and do its own thing. That was always the game plan.
How many of the former Steljes directors and staff are now at Avocor?
Fifteen of us have joined the new company.
Can you confirm that Avocor has bought some of the VividTouch stock from Steljes' administrator?
We certainly have, as well as buying stock from our OEM manufacturer ourselves. It is not just stock from the old Steljes; we have actually replenished new stock as well in the last couple of weeks.
Steljes supported VividTouch. How are you ensuring schools that invest in the VividTouch technology are properly supported?
We will take on the liability for all warranties for any VividTouch products sold over the last two generations. We will support any previous customers of VividTouch historically, absolutely.
Where does VividTouch fit into the competitive landscape, and how many other brands do you expect to carry alongside it?
Just Nureva, which is a very specialist solution. It is unique in that it has been designed around the UK market, predominately for education. But then having designed the beast, we realised it has incredible possibilities in enterprise. It is unique because it runs on a Windows 10 platform, not Google and Android. It follows the path of Microsoft's own Surface Hub, but it is only a third of the price, so it is very good value for money. When you look at the education market, most teachers have Windows on their own desktops they use in the classroom, so it is completely compliant. It doesn't require our bespoke software to operate; it is a very simple fit.
With many people talking about the IWB market being over-saturated, how would you assess the opportunities that lie ahead for the channel in the edtech space?
It is well established. Our peak period at Steljes was 10 years ago when we sold 58,000 interactive whiteboards into UK schools in one year. But those boards are very old now, so there is a massive replacement market in education. I think that is very much down to the strength of the new solutions, and an interactive flat panel running Windows 10 seems to be a very popular alternative.
How would you assess the health of the edtech space at the minute and what new trends do you see emerging?
I think it is very good. We have established the concept of an interactive device at the front of the classroom, therefore I think we are in a replacement market. I don't see much attrition; certain companies are adopting the tablet-type solution in the classroom. There is a little bit of that in the UK but not really, it is still very much teacher-based interactive devices at the front. We know we haven't replaced the bulk of what was installed a long time ago so there is some really old legacy SMART gear out there. I think that is very buoyant, but the bigger opportunity is in the business market.
Why is there more opportunity in the business market?
Because Microsoft have set about defining the whole category by bringing out their own Surface Hub. They have clearly shown that a collaborative space in the meeting room is the way forward. But their solution is incredibly expensive. It is very good, but it is very expensive. For most organisations, if they wish to deploy a collaborative interactive device in a meeting room, they will probably look to better-priced alternatives. Our VividTouch product is absolutely that. We are seeing a terrific upsurge of interest from enterprise organisations.
Since this article was published, SMART's president of solutions, Greg Estell, has issued us with the following comment on Steljes' administration:
"We were proud of our 20-year relationship with Steljes Ltd., so the abrupt manner of its administration announcement caught us by surprise.
I want to take this moment to thank our loyal partners and new distributors (Westcon and Midwich), for their cooperation, dedication and support through the development of the new model that we have now implemented. Together, we are committed to delivering even better service, support and products for our customers.
And while we're moving quickly and decisively, we are doing so in accordance with our code of conduct and code of ethics. They exist to ensure that our customers, employees and partners are all dealt with in the right way, which is very important to SMART.
These efforts are already producing positive results for everyone involved. We are seeing tremendous momentum in the UK for our products and services.
We're extremely excited about the period that lies ahead of us in the UK. We are delighted about being acquired by Foxconn. It will allow us to accelerate our strategy to bring our customers exciting new developments in both hardware and software solutions, along with enhanced service and support. These changes will excite the market, creating prosperity and a very bright future for our customers, partners, and employees."
Telco also announced series of initiatives to drive digital growth in the UK
Nana Baffour opens up on Getronics' mammoth acquisition of Pomeroy
Analyst predicts SaaS will remain the dominant segment in the market as it grows 17 per cent in 2019
NSS Labs claims vendors are refusing to have their products tested effectively and are trying to restrict its access