Legend has it that when giant Fionn mac Cumhaill was coaxed into battle by the challenge of the colossal Scottish beast Benandonner, he built the Giant’s Causeway across the Irish Sea to pursue him. Opportunities in the Scottish market have enticed Northern Irish operator Connect Telecom to attempt a similar journey in the coming year.
Connect has looked to the mobile world’s own fallen giant, BlackBerry, to recruit its former UK and Ireland commercial manager Robin Johnston, who has been charged with overseeing the company’s Scottish expansion. Founder and director Matthew Brown says: ‘It has always been in the plans to move into Scotland and when the opportunity arose to get Robin on board we realised it would be good for us. I’ve known Robin for some time and when it became apparent that he was thinking of moving on it seemed like an excellent fit for us. He’ll be our manager in Scotland, growing the team and building the sales team in Scotland.
‘Next year I want to be established in Scotland, and then we’ll be looking at another region and seek to grow into that as well.’
Johnston had been with the Canadian manufacturer for two-and-a-half years, and brings with him over a decade’s worth of experience in the telecoms industry. It’s an exciting time for Connect, founded by Brown and his brother Robin in 2007 [see box], with a recruitment drive and a steadily growing connections rate. Unlike most operators that either started as solely mobile or only fixed line, the Vodafone Gold Partner launched after discovering a gap in the market, and started offering business customers several products and services, including mobile and fixed line, ‘under one roof’.
Brown says: ‘Convergence has been talked about for years, but we genuinely manage SME sector comms and offer a high standard of service and a better proposition. We want to make sure our customers are getting the right comms for their business at the right time. We bring everything together rather than just bolt on costs that are only looked at once a year. We integrate everything with what our customers are trying to do.’
It’s been a busy year for the Belfast based operator. Over ‘4,000 new connections’ were added to the existing customer base, while moves were made to enter the market in the Republic of Ireland. With a presence in Wales as well, Scotland became the next ‘obvious step’. Connect is also in the phase of launching a recruitment drive to increase its workforce from the 20 members of staff employed at time of writing. Brown adds: ‘We are recruiting ground sales staff that will be located in Scotland, while the additional telesales and customer service support will be Northern Ireland based.’
The SME sector remains the ‘sweet spot’ for Connect, teaming up with partner Vodafone to sell its OneNet business to local organisations. Service proposition, Brown said, was the operator’s unique selling point, emphasising face-to-face account management when ‘the rest of the industry is seeking a move away from it to desk space account management’.
The dealer’s relationship with Vodafone continues to be important for both companies. Connect Telecom remains its primary route to the enterprise market in Northern Ireland, while Brown revealed his excitement about Vodafone’s 4G network reaching the nation. He says: ‘We have an excellent relationship with Vodafone. We’re key to them in Northern Ireland as we’re the only Gold Partner here. We’ve delivered on the numbers we said we were going to deliver and that’s why I think they’re excited by our growth plans.
‘Obviously 4G is going to be fundamental. We’re dealing with SMEs that require greater access so anything improving that in terms of speed is going to be a fundamental part of business comms. Vodafone 4G hasn’t hit Northern Ireland yet, but it will be soon and we know it will make a difference.’
Further revenue and customer growth is the target for the coming 12 months, although Brown wants to achieve this organically rather than purchase the connections of smaller companies. He adds: ‘To be honest we’re probably not going to go down the acquisition route. We’re seeking to build from the ground as we did when we started in Northern Ireland.’