Name: Francesca Lukes, commercial director, Wanstor
VAR 350 ranking: 257
How important are the retail and hospitality sectors to Wanstor's business?
Retail and hospitality are core parts of our business, accounting for about 40 per cent of what we do. We include amongst our clients high street and online retailers, as well as hospitality businesses which are quick-service dining and fine dining too.
How tough has the last few months been for MSPs and other tech suppliers serving verticals as badly hit by lockdown as retail and hospitality?
There's no doubt this has been a challenging time for business, especially those working closely with the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic. MSPs and tech suppliers to retail & hospitality sectors have had to respond with agility to the changing requirements and demands placed on them as a result of shifting priorities and government recommendations. It's also been a refreshing opportunity for businesses to re-evaluate their priorities and strategies, in many cases accelerating the digital agenda to drive enhancements to efficiency, productivity and the customer experience.
Our team has really stepped up to the plate and it's been an opportunity for Wanstor to demonstrate our capabilities, agility, and strengthen our customer relationships. We've enabled clients to transition to remote working in a matter of days, mothballed sites, delivered strategic transformational projects, launched new site concepts, and now have scaled the operations back up again. We've demonstrated our commitment to our customers in these sectors with a flexible commercial model that has ensured that their services have been right sized to what they need.
To what extent have you had to make use of the government's furlough scheme?
The furlough scheme has been very helpful in helping us to respond proportionately to demand. At its peak we had c.20 per cent of our workforce furloughed. We took a very measured approach that was in line with customer requirements - reviewing demand day by day and week by week at the beginning. Most of our team have now returned to work and we're hoping to have our full team in play by August.
Recent research found that over 85,000 UK businesses have launched online over the last four months. Has that shift to ecommerce happened among your retail and hospitality customers, and - if so - what kind of help have they needed from you?
The shift to online has certainly been accelerated by the outbreak, but many of our clients have been establishing their digital presence over the last few years. This meant we had expertise in supporting and getting solutions up quickly. Specific projects we have supported with include integration of the likes of Uber Eats / Deliveroo with our customers' POS systems; assisting in the build, site set-up, product mapping and end-to-end testing.
For our retail clients the growth of online sales places a strain on the supply chain and their focus has been on maximising the efficiency of their operations with the rollout and development of their ERP systems.
Shops opened on 15 June, and pubs and restaurants in July. What kind of opportunities has that generated for Wanstor?
Our team has collaborated closely with our hospitality and retail customers on their reopening plans to restore and thoroughly test all on-site technology in order to maximise the success once trading resumed. Most of our clients also took the ‘downtime' to deliver strategic projects such as the rollout of ERP solutions to optimise supply chain efficiency, delivery integrations, point-of-sale upgrades, and the development of new site concepts leveraging Kiosks to minimise face-to-face interaction.
As restaurants and retailers accelerate the use of digital instore, be that through pay-at-table apps, kiosks, or delivery integrations, the connectivity on site become increasingly important. Performance dips or lack of availability have an immediate impact on turnover at a time when sites cannot afford to lose trade. The development of high-speed low cost FTTC and FTTP services have helped retail and hospitality customers deliver their own services, as well as instore customer WiFi. We've seen success with our SD-WAN solution that maximises the availability of any trade-critical applications by prioritising that traffic.
How have you adapted your proposition since 23 March, and has COVID-19 forced you to evaluate the technology and services you offer for the longer-term?
There have been a few positives from Covid-19, one of them being the opportunity and imperative to reflect on our services and longer-term strategy. Our team has been working hard over this time to develop new services, improve the delivery and customer experience for our existing customers, and evolve our commercial offerings to provide flexibility for customers in the new normal.
Cyber security has become an increasingly prevalent concern. Phishing attacks alone have risen 667 per cent since the start of lockdown, as cybercriminals are taking advantage of the disruption and anxiety that the outbreak has caused. Wanstor have developed a series of services to address these issues amongst our clients and support them to lay a solid security foundation. These include security scanning and vulnerability management, consultancy towards accreditations and compliance frameworks such as Cyber Essentials and ISO27001, and adaptations of our proactive IT support services to emphasise the importance of key security controls.
In a period of significant disruption and change across all of our customers, not just retail & hospitality clients, we have invested in developing a flexible commercial structure that is based on a per-site or per-user model, so that retailers and restaurants are able to flex their services and cost month-to-month in line with their business. This has proven very popular so far, as has the introduction of our hardware-as-a-service offering to enable organisations to invest off their OPEX instead of eating into their tight budgets.
Overall, have sales been lower or higher than normal in recent months?
We've seen increase in demand for some of our services such as hosting, and from our customers in verticals which have been less badly impacted, however net sales have been down. We supported our worst hit customers with ‘contract holidays' proportionate to their drop in demand for our services which in some cases was 85-95 per cent. The cost to the business has been mitigated greatly by the government furlough scheme and we are now bringing back many of our staff.
Whilst net sales dipped, we have had several success and new business wins. As a business we are not entirely focused on hospitality, and this has been a help. Amongst our retail and hospitality customers, the diversity of types and geographies of business has also been a mitigating factor for us.
We had a very strong start to the year so on the round we're still targeting growth on last year, albeit not to the extent that we had hoped for.
What will be the blueprint for success for tech suppliers in the retail space in the 2020s?
The retail and hospitality sectors were already shrewd operators, but disruption on the scale of the global pandemic we are experiencing makes it even more important to maximise the value of every investment. There needs to be a laser focus on the results that technology investments will drive; maximising trade through network performance and availability, quicker speed to service using point-of-sale and kitchen display systems, or cost optimisation through supply chain visibility. Businesses in this sector will work with tech suppliers who can demonstrate strong understanding of the realities of working in the industry, experience integrating the ecosystem of technologies and software's vital to it, and the agility to respond and implement solutions quickly. Our expertise in both the operations and technology that drives retail & Hhospitality businesses is what stands us out in the crowded MSP space and why some of the best restaurants and retailers in the country continue to choose us as their technology partner.
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