From the mobile industry’s smallest businesses to the major players, all are feeling the effects of the UK’s financial crisis.
Even the top tier is feeling the pinch. Operators are seeing a decline in customer spending and an increase in sales of ‘value’ products such as Sim-only.
The effects of this are felt across the rest of the industry – and distributors are no exception. Their customer bases are declining, while the fall of the independent dealer and retailer has had huge consequences for all those involved in distribution.
But one business bucking the trend is Shebang. The company has consistently doubled its turnover for the past four years and the MD, Iain Humphrey, is quietly confident over the prospect of future success.
He says: ‘We have gone from £6m, to £13m, to £30m, and we are getting close to £100m. We are capable of maintaining that trend, our customers are flourishing. Our growth is their growth as well. Every aspect of the business is expanding and in a credit crunch, we are going against the trend.’
Shebang, which was established eight years ago, has now developed into a well-oiled machine with three key focus areas for the coming year.
In 2010, Shebang will concentrate on prepay handset fulfilment and connecting more contracts. It currently does 7,000 per month and Humphrey wants to increase this to 10,000, which he believes will happen by January.
The final area Shebang will work on is continuing to develop the piece of software that kick started the business.
Sellfone 3G is at the heart of the distributor, where all other branches of the business have stemmed from. Humphrey is clear that despite its success – it is currently used by 500 stores – the system is only operating at around 60% of its capacity.
Humphrey is also keen to clarify that Shebang is more than a ‘box mover’, a tag often associated with distribution.
He explains: ‘We see ourselves as more of a fulfilment partnership rather than a distributor that just moves boxes. We are the glue between fulfilment and customer experience.’
His confidence in declaring this difference derives from the software. Shebang believes its programme enables retailers to give their staff the right information at the right time, to make the best sale and provide comprehensive customer service.
With customers such as Tesco, Amazon and Orange’s indirect retail channels, Shebang is looking after some of the most lucrative contracts in the industry. Humphrey is keen to maintain these relationships.
Shebang relocated in November to a bigger site that will house all parts
of the business under one roof. The move is a key part of the continued success of the business.
Shebang’s sales director, Julian Burton, says: ‘I used to love taking potential customers round the old premises because it was so small. It used to blow people away, but there is always a point at which you need more space.’
It is early days but in the coming months, the new premises will start to take shape. Humphrey says: ‘The third phase of this build is to open in September 2010. It is going to be a really nice environment and will have dedicated space for the key partners.’
These relationships are Shebang’s key focus, which it continues to develop and strengthen. The distributor is in charge of the new Orange franchise scheme and for providing after care for customers that buy prepay handsets through the operator’s indirect channels.
It has recently secured a pre-sales and post-sales customer service deal with Tesco customers.
Shebang’s own, direct, businesses are also growing and through them, it is trialling new products.
The company now has 48 ‘Go Mobile’ retail stores and with a new concept store just opened, the retail horizon is bright. After securing the Orange franchise scheme it opened the first store in Bridlington in August 2009.
However, retail is not the only priority for Humphrey in 2010. Shebang is to launch a new approach to online retailing and gift offers thanks to the development of its Sellfone 3G software.
New fraud prevention measures coupled with nine months of research have led to Humphrey’s desire to change the way online shopping and offers are implemented.
One of Shebang’s websites, Affordablemobiles.co.uk, will offer instant delivery of gifts, such as games consoles that are bundled with phone contracts, to consumers. Traditionally, customers have had to wait until they are around six months into a contract before receiving an added free gift from a mobile provider.
Humphrey says: ‘There are too many companies relying on non-redemption. The majority of online retailers are working on that basis and it is an absolute issue for the industry.’
The move to provide instant gifts highlights the key philosophy behind Shebang’s business. It wants to educate the retailer – by leading the way and demonstrating the best approach to sell to customers – and to ensure that the customer has a good experience throughout their contract, says Humphrey.
Shebang has a lot of juggling to do and dealing with all its propositions is likely to prove challenging, particularly as it is keen to add more to its portfolio in 2010.
Humphrey explains: ‘What we try and do is understand our clients business to help them grow. The core of our business has still got growth. The more difficult decision is choosing which of the big retailers to work with.’
Shebang is determined to ensure that the business continues to stand out and part of that strategy is to pick its relationships carefully. As a business with potential partners lining up quickly, Shebang will be one to watch in 2010.
The different arms of Shebang’s business
Shebang’s software is currently being used by independent retailers JAG, Intek and its own chain of retail stores, Go Mobile. The software allows retailers to see which products are available to be sold with a phone.
Its retail chain was sold to JAG in 2008 but has since been taken back by Shebang. There are currently 48 stores.
Go Mobile has its own retail website and Shebang is revamping and relaunching Affordablemobiles.co.uk.
The company remains clear that its key customers are in retail, but would like to expand into b2b.