Accessories distributor Activ8 has clinched several plaudits in recognition of its business during the past 12 months, but its MD maintains the company has actually been going through a period of ‘stabilisation’.
It was last week nominated for a National Business Award, which came shortly after the Watford-based company made the Mobile Industry Awards’ shortlist for best accessories distributor.
Its MD Stuart Conroy argues the nominations have come as the business is looking to grow steadily and form a solid base. He told Mobile: ‘We had our big growth spurt in the year that got us onto the Sunday Times Fast Track (2011/12), and it was largely down to me 18 months ago. Now I’ve got seven senior managers with me, so it’s taken time to bed them in. A lot of it is new and fresh so it’s been a stabilising year. I think we’ll turn over about £11m this year, which is still growing, but largely it’s been a year of restructuring.’
Despite time spent restructuring the business, Activ8 has continued to progress in several areas by hiring more staff to cope with new designs [see box] and increased demand, as well as breaking into the continental European market. He says: ‘We’ve had a customer increase, particularly in Europe, as the UK tends to be a bit ahead of the rest of the continent on accessories. Customer numbers have gone up in the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden and Norway where there are fewer importers. They like the quality of our products.
‘We’ve had to raise staff levels to a degree, and the design team is the division that has increased the most significantly. Eighteen months ago it was me and my colleague Vicky who oversaw design; that was never going to last in the long-term, so we now have a team of seven that does all the artwork and design.’
Activ8 has also been developing its manufacturing and distribution model to give customers a simpler and more efficient service. Two warehouses have been purchased in China to aid global delivery and storage, while a new online portal allows clients to view ‘realtime updates’ on stock and deliveries. This overhaul of technology was crucial to the progression of the distributor according to Conroy, who admits the Google juggernaut hampered its chances of operating on a retail level previously.
He added: ‘The reason we have been nominated for the National Business Awards is because we’ve created a very easy to use platform. Our customers don’t want to be spending time searching through reams and reams of pages on the website, or phone in and go through every single product with its sales price.
‘The whole software platform we’ve built allows the Chinese factories to have access as well. Ninety percent of the products are manufactured by us, so it becomes more realtime in terms of giving the team here availability feeds on what stuff they can sell globally, while stock availability is also portrayed on our website. It’s just giving more immediate information to the buyers.’
Production in China may be an economical solution in the short-term for Activ8, but Conroy admits that he would like to gradually transfer manufacturing operations back to these shores in the future. On top of trying to promote British manufacturing, the company’s co-founder and managing director revealed that incentives conceived by the current government contributes to making this an attractive proposition.
He said: ‘We’re working with companies like Petrona who are manufacturing their cases in Britain, using British steel and leather. In three to five years we’d like to bring manufacturing here as much as possible, as some of the things that were economical in China four or five years ago are not any more. Plus, the government are offering companies factories and warehouses rent free for a number of years while offering tax incentives. It’s something we’re keen to do.’