Avenir’s managing director, Tanny Price, sums up the state of the distribution market as ‘hard’, but she says those who are focused will survive and go on to achieve: ‘You can think “oh my goodness, what a disaster”, or you can change the business. It’s not as if we didn’t know this is the way the market is going.’
In a bid to give her business the edge, Price (pictured) is using some unorthodox management tactics. Coaching sessions might be laughed out of some distributors’ offices, but the bosses at Avenir now have monthly sessions to increase their prominence. The scheme was started by the UK branch of the Avenir group and has now been adopted by other Avenir businesses.
The result of one of Price’s ‘visioning’ exercises from her last coaching session is plastered on the wall of her office.
A jumble of clippings is stuck on a poster on her wall, and they reveal a great deal about her concerns and priorities. A few are negative (‘stormy weather ahead’) but the majority are positive: ‘Connected like never before’; ‘towards rather than away from’; and ‘there is still much uncharted territory’.
The senior appointments made in March were a sign of Avenir’s intentions to cross into the uncharted territory of the IT sector. Price says that her new commercial director, head of direct sales and head of business development are currently ‘picking things apart and putting them back together again’.
The IT backgrounds of the new recruits is an indication of the direction the business is heading, with Lee Cook, who joined as head of business development, saying his appointment is all about helping Avenir move into the IT sector.
Although Price says she is keen to cut out any ‘deadwood’, the emphasis appears to be on growth. Staff numbers have risen to 93, and the company held a recruitment day in April to try and attract more staff to the business.
New products and services
Cook says the growth of the business is all about finding additional routes to market: ‘It’s not about overloading the portfolio with loads of products,’ he says. Price agrees: ‘We’re actually reducing our portfolio, and I’m really glad that we’ve decided to focus on strategy rather than diversifying.’
Head of direct sales John Pett says Avenir’s intention is to bring airtime and hardware together.
As the margins associated with IT are usually slight, Avenir intends to use its mobile experience to bolster its income by offering a converged solution. Commercial director John Doughty says: ‘There’s nothing like an airtime contract to give longer term revenue and profit.’
Pett adds: ‘We’re not just selling them the glass; we’re selling them the water that goes in it as well.’
Price is clear about where the added revenue will come from. ‘[IT resellers] work in a completely different way to our dealers. If they sell a server they charge for managing and for adding services.’
And they are no longer relying on dealers to attract customers and generate revenue. As part of the restructure, a number of direct sales account manager positions were created, and over the last month they have been actively hunting direct business from companies they describe as early adopters.
Price says the Avenir group is acquisition hungry and is ‘always looking at something’, and she cites as an example the chain of bookshops that Avenir France bought to extend its retail presence. However, she is quick to point out Avenir wouldn’t be interested in taking over another mobile distributor.
In line with other distributors moving into the b2b and IT spheres, Doughty says that the next six months will see Avenir building an education programme to help IT resellers move into the market place.
Price is keen to emphasise that Avenir’s ‘core business’ of mobile airtime and handsets is ‘really important’ and is not something that she wants to move away from. It is a sentiment echoed by her charges, with head of client services Toby Wickenden agreeing. ‘At the moment it’s early days, but our bread and butter is still our traditional client base.
‘But what’s not realised in mobile is that the IT industry is bigger. And when they move into our market, they will do it very aggressively.’