When Hampshire-based dealer Aerial Telecom launched back in February 1986, Billy Ocean was at the top of the charts and the company was lucky to average 10 unit sales per month in its first year. Ocean may have drifted off into the realm of guilty pleasures, but the dealer has evolved into one of the largest O2 Centre of Excellence partners. Launching during an economic downturn in the 1980s has meant it has experience in trading in today’s economic difficulties, with the business citing acquisitions, recruitment and organic growth pinpointed as the key drivers for continued development.
Managing director Paul Davies started Aerial from scratch as one of the first independent mobile companies in the UK. It now has over 40,000 connections and Davies wants to grow even further. He tells Mobile: ‘We are always on the lookout for a company that’s had enough or not joined themselves up properly. Acquisitions are definitely on the radar and I’ve already started negotiations with two or three companies.’
Several dealers have fallen by the wayside after failing to diversify their products and services [see box], however, Aerial built on its strong foundation of mobile customers by developing fixed line, IT support and unified comms. Cross-selling and organic growth is a major part of its strategy. General manager David Hall adds: ‘We started to drive unified comms with a view to expanding Aerial. We’ve gone from Aerial telephones to actually delivering Aerial business communications, and that’s where we really started to emphasise the joining up of fixed and mobile.
‘We have a large customer base which presents a fantastic opportunity to sell more products because of the loyalty we’ve established. We’ve got one of the lowest churn figures within the O2 Centre of Excellence and average customer tenure is around 72 months.’
Despite dealing with Vodafone for more than 10 years since the company was formed, Aerial ‘jumped ship’ to BT Cellnet, shortly before it became O2. The dealer was named its partner of the year two years ago and finished as runner-up last year, which the company says is a sign of faith from the UK’s second largest network. Hall says he believes Aerial’s ‘personal touch’ has gone some way towards building and maintaining that reputation. Clients can liaise with personal account managers and have around the clock access to Aerial 24, a real-time portal to log faults and make enquiries. Hall adds excellent customer service was ‘very easy to roll off the tongue, but a completely different thing to demonstrate’.
Sales executive Dave Stephens was brought into the fold in 2011 from fixed line specialist M12 Solutions to restructure the sales team, which has employed eight additional members of staff in recent times. Stephens was charged with driving towards Aerial’s joined-up ethos and with a focus on selling and regeneration. He says: ‘One of the reasons I joined Aerial is because the approach is really different. It uses its mobile phone history and heritage as a starting point for unified comms. For 27 years it has been getting out and about and actively empowering its workforce.’
It’s a workforce that has grown by 12 overall in the last year, a number ‘which may grow further in the coming 12 months’. Aerial’s premises are still located in its native Portsmouth, but the operator has patrons all over the country. Customer profiles range from single users to large companies with 2,000 handsets, although typical customers have ‘between 20-100 mobiles’ as well as other products.
Hall says: ‘Historically most of our business has been done in Hampshire, but the market has grown so much. We’ve just put a telephone system down in Oban, Scotland, which our engineers will tell you is a long way.’
A spread of customers geographically has also given Aerial opportunities to discuss O2’s 4G proposition with various customers. In tough economic conditions the ultrafast network has been pinpointed as another driver of success for the durable company. Hall adds: ‘The guys have been actively promoting it where it’s available. They’ve had all the training, so we’re geared up.
‘Despite all the talk of austerity and businesses cutting back we’ve been able to defy that. We’ve found some real sweet spots in terms of driving business and working with customers to absolutely drive our products and services.’