Simon Stanford sits in his office against a backdrop of lush green foliage. Pointing to the verdant grounds circling Samsung’s headquarters in leafy Surrey, he says: ‘It’s great to be able to walk out of the office and stroll through the grounds for a bit of thinking time.’
Stanford has certainly had a lot to think about since he took on the role of UK and Ireland MD at Samsung in the wake of his predecessor Mark Mitchinson’s departure in March last year.
When Mitchinson left, Samsung was seen as an organisation still micro-managed from the company’s global headquarters in South Korea, and despite the huge strides Mitchinson made in embedding the Samsung Mobile brand in the UK consumer’s mind, it still lagged behind its competitors in the smartphone market.
But just over a year later, the landscape looks very different. Since his promotion, Stanford has presided over the UK launch of Samsung’s hugely popular Galaxy S smartphone range and its Galaxy Tab portfolio, as well as instigating a major overhaul of Samsung Mobile’s distribution strategy, a widening of its channels and a recruitment drive.
Now Stanford is preparing for a major drive into the converged space, promoting Samsung Galaxy smartphones, tablets and Samsung’s Smart TV as a converged offering.
Looking back on what must have been a frenetic year, Stanford acknowledges that change was necessary for Samsung to move forward.
He says: ‘We are a very different organisation now from last year. We were already successful in the UK but we needed to move into the smartphone space, so we have been very much focused on rebuilding an organisation that is fit for requirement.’
That drive into the smartphone market was spearheaded by the Galaxy S launch in June last year, just weeks after Stanford’s promotion. It was a baptism of fire.
He says: ‘Launching the Galaxy S was our first foray [in the market] and it was a steep learning curve that taught us we had to work more closely with both retailers and operators in order to retail our products in a relevant way and differentiate ourselves from the competition.’
Stanford wasted no time, beefing up staff numbers and developing much closer and wider relationships with operators and channel partners. The strategy is working. Samsung’s recently launched Galaxy S II saw sales hit the three million mark just weeks after its launch.
UK number one
It is clear that Galaxy S II sales are eating into Samsung’s competitors’ market share. Stanford says Samsung has held the number one position in terms of UK market share since the Galaxy S II’s March launch, with 25% of volume share compared with the 15% of its nearest competitor Nokia.
He also claims the company has the second highest value share in the UK market – recently overtaking HTC in contracts – and predicts it will become the UK’s number one Android manufacturer in the next few weeks.
Stanford is convinced Samsung will take the lead in the UK smartphone market. He says: ‘The Galaxy S II is selling incredibly well.
I would say in the three months it has been on the market, sales of the Galaxy S II have almost trebled compared with sales of the Galaxy S last year. I believe we will become number one in the UK smartphone market over the next 12 months.’
He puts the manufacturer’s success down to a number of key factors. ‘We are consistently growing in a market that is consistently declining and we are the only manufacturer achieving that level of growth. Our partners are really driving that growth in the retail space. They really share our vision.’
This is backed up by Samsung’s intensive training strategy, which includes Backstage, its online training website that is available to all channels across their call centres and retail stores.
Stanford adds: ‘We have fantastic R&D facilities, a supply chain that is number one in the market and the lowest returns rate in the market.
‘In addition, the Galaxy brand is really resonating in the UK and that is down to a synergy of three things – great hardware, the latest operating system and really exciting content.’
Stanford says content is a vital part of the winning formula. ‘Just over a year ago there was only one person in the content team, now we have 12. That’s because it’s extremely important we differentiate ourselves in the marketplace with what we put on top of the operating system. We are also focusing on our global relationships with gaming manufacturers.’
Now Samsung is turning its attention to the converged market with the launch of its latest tablet device – the slimline Galaxy Tab 10.1 – on 4 August.
In a major sales push, the manufacturer is setting up special play zones within both mobile and electrical stores where specially trained staff will educate customers on how Samsung’s Galaxy tablets and smartphones interact with the Samsung Smart TV as part of a converged offering.
Stanford explains: ‘Our Smart TVs are a huge step forward that will allow smartphone and Tab users to interact very closely with Smart TV. There have been over three million downloads of the Smart View app already.’
He adds: ‘We are the only manufacturer in the UK that can offer such breadth and quality that’s affordable to the mass market and we are the only manufacturer working very closely with our other divisions to deliver a converged offering. This is a very exciting development for us.’
Stanford says using the Smart TV is also a good way to promote Samsung’s tablets.
He explains: ‘We have to go that extra step in store to communicate the benefits of the product, and the play tables will focus on different aspects of the tablet backed up by trained specialist staff and a significant online and digital campaign.
‘That is our starting point, and by using the Smart TVs we create a theatre in the store. This is the first time we’ve had a converged offering that is available right now and that offering is set to increase as the technology increases.’
The manufacturer has also expanded its channels to back up its drive into smartphones, tablets and converged offerings.
Stanford explains: ‘We have far more channel partners than 12 months ago. We have expanded our channels in the tablet market to outlets such as Dixons, Currys, Amazon and Argos, as well as bolstering our presence in supermarkets such as Tesco and with “e-tail” [internet] partners. So we are moving very strongly into these emerging spaces.’
Stanford does not rule out expanding its b2b distribution channels as well. In a bid to corner this growing market, Samsung recently bolstered its enterprise team from four to 10 staff.
Stanford explains: ‘We have to make sure we are working closely with our distribution partners, especially in b2b, as Android is becoming much more accepted in the business environment as security improves.’
So, one year on, is Samsung UK still being micro-managed by its Korean parent company? Stanford is adamant that this is no longer the case. ‘There had to be a significant change and there has been a significant change. Samsung understand 100% that we know our customers better than anyone else. So it is more a collaboration and a shared view rather than the dictatorship of the past.’
He points to the company’s decision to launch the Galaxy S II in the UK this year. ‘That shows how important the UK market is to Samsung.'