"So, who are we? I best start with our parent company DCC…"
It might seem strange for a near £2.5bn-revenue company to feel the need to introduce itself at the beginning of its own partner event, but, in truth, the sheer scale of distributor Exertis is still not fully understood - according to its own management team.
Opening the ‘Plug in to Exertis' event at Twickenham Stadium yesterday Paul Bryan, UK managing director at Exertis, rattled through the new-look distributor's set up following a four-year integration and rebranding mission.
Back in 2013, parent company DCC Group brought the likes of Micro-P, Gem and Advent under the Exertis moniker. Since, the likes of Computers Unlimited, Siracom and Hammer have also been gobbled up by the new entity.
Perhaps surprisingly though, parts of the channel are still not familiar with the Exertis story.
"Someone said to me the other day ‘when did Exertis buy you?'" said Bryan, who was previously MD at Micro-P. "It wasn't a buy, it was a rebrand.
"Why did we do that? There were a number of companies all with different names and it wasn't obvious we were one group. We wanted to integrate, put our propositions together and be more joined up to our customer base and vendors."
The consolidation has left DCC with a £2.44bn-revenue distributor with 2,114 employees across 13 countries. The consumer business makes up the lion share of the revenue at around £1bn in the UK, while enterprise revenue was increased to around £350m with the acquisition of Hammer last year.
Speaking to CRN at the event, UK&I managing director Gerry O'Keeffe (pictured) said that Exertis is now ready to lift the curtain on the combined business.
"So much of Exertis [and the rebrand] is dealing with internal issues and how we've brought all the systems together, and all those sort of things," he said.
"Now it's a case of going back out there and saying ‘this is what Exertis is'.
"Our concern is that sometimes… within Exertis there's a hell of a lot of specialists and we want to make sure that customers are aware of that and appreciate that so that they don't think of us as a broadliner, because we don't see ourselves as one in any way, shape or form. We consider ourselves to be a collection of specialisms."
While the makeover is now complete - with all the brands operating under one name - there is still plenty going on behind the scenes as Exertis continues its transition to a next-generation distributor, O'Keeffe said.
He explained that, with margins for both vendors and distributors tigher than ever, services are becoming an increasingly important part of distribution. With this in mind, Exertis has set itself the target of having services make up 20 per cent of all profit by 2020. The figure is currently at around five per cent.
"We as distribution need to expand the area we operate in," he said. "We need to provide more service that resellers can resell. We need to, with our scale, deliver solutions that they can leverage.
"From a vendor perspective technology is a difficult market. There's less margin in it for technology players than there ever has been in the past. What we need to do is some of the heavy lifting they've previously had to do themselves by creating better presales support than has occurred before. It's a challenge for us but one that we're very focused on taking."
But while life is becoming increasingly difficult for the vendors, the same could be said for many in the distribution space.
Exertis' showcase of its progress and vision for the future comes against a backdrop of uncertainty in distribution, with Westcon and Entatech becoming the latest to struggle amid continued consolidation led by the likes of Tech Data and Exertis itself.
In his opening Keynote, Bryan took a second to pause and outline the difficulties facing the sector as a whole - before outlining why Exertis is not facing such problems.
"It's a market which is consolidating all the time," he said. "It's a tough market; just this week a company called Enta went into receivership.
"It's tough trading times and if you're planning with a distributor it's a pretty difficult thing if somebody suddenly goes pop and isn't there anymore. This is why it's important we have a financial powerhouse behind us. We're not going anywhere and are in fact growing every year."
Despite a number of smaller UK distributors either going out of business or being acquired over recent years, O'Keeffe added that they can still have a place in the UK market, or even possibly propel themselves to the same size as Exertis.
"You have to remember it was only 10 years ago we were a smaller company, so everything is possible," he said.
"It's fair to say we're lucky in that we've had a parent that's been able to fund our growth all the way through so I've had it much easier than others, but we've grown 10 fold in 10 years. Everything is possible for anyone in the world in distribution.
But as others in the industry struggle, Exertis is not resting on its laurels.
Construction was completed on Exertis' new national distribution centre last year and O'Keeffe said that the option is already in place to expand it further.
"It's the size of five football pitches and the height of four double decker buses," he said.
"To put it in perspective, when its fully commissioned it will be 65 per cent full - that's four of the five football pitches - so we've got one football pitch to grow into and we've got the land alongside it to increase the scale by another 50 per cent.
"That's a huge investment that just underpins our growth plans into 2030. There's a lot more that we can do in terms of supporting our customers with a broader range of technologies and services."
While not being drawn on any immediate acquisition activity, O'Keeffe pointed at the activity of parent group DCC as a potential indicator of where Exertis might move further down the line.
DCC recently took its first steps outside of Europe by acquiring Shell's liquefied petroleum gass business in Hong Kong and Macau.
DCC CEO Tommy Breen is also set to step down this year to be replaced by current energy boss Donal Murphy, who has in the past headed up DCC's technology arm.
"The energy company has bought a big business in far-east Asia, so that's indicative of DCC's global ambitions which is an interesting opportunity downstream as we get used to managing businesses far afield," O'Keeffe said.
"As we learn that with regards to places like Hong Kong - where that is set up - it will be interesting to see what that means for technology. Nothing will be imminent in the near future, that's for sure, but we're not a short-term business; we're thinking about where we'll be in 2030."
The deal builds on distie's earlier promise to distribute a broader range of electrical goods
Services firm sees revenue increase 23 per cent
Execs Zak Virdi and Neil Lomax open up on the rationale behind acquisition
CEO Steve Brazier slams vendor titans at annual event in Barcelona