Ethical manufacturer Fairphone has told Mobile that b2b will be a key area of growth for the company.
CEO Bas Van Abel explained that many in the b2b space doubt that Fairphone will be able to drive sales, claiming that he needs to change the ‘reluctant’ attitude businesses have when it comes to accepting the brand in the mobile market.
Van Abel is confident that sales of the Fairphone 2 can surpass expectations, setting a sales target of 150,000, which is more than double that of its predecessor, the Fairphone 2.
He explained that in order to reach this sales target Fairphone will be adopting a different strategy. Van Abel said that the company will look to form relationships with MNOs and MVNOs, but stated that any collaboration will have to be on Fairphone’s terms.
He said: ‘We want more local demo places – not retail shops because it’s too capital intensive – I need to find alternatives. In retail you have to build up inventory and provide phones and I can do it without moving towards becoming profit driven.
‘I think the biggest step we have to make is to create more volumes; we have to grow. What you see now in b2b is that they are a bit reluctant, they’re thinking ‘is Fairphone big enough to drive sales?’ That’s one of the main questions I get from operators and distributors.
‘We’re going into different channels with the Fairphone 2 – what we’re really aiming at is b2b. We haven’t been a sales-driven organisation, and that’s a switch we have to make, We have a database of hundreds of distributors and resellers that want to work with us but we don’t have a phone yet and we don’t have people to follow up on it, and that’s what we’re building.’
Fairphone smartphones have been largely targeted at the European mobile market, with the manufacturer set to make the move to the US in 2016. Van Abel expressed confidence that the brand will break through into the mainstream mobile space, however Fairphone has not done as well in the UK as its CEO would have liked.
He said: ‘I think as a brand we will break through, but in terms of sales it’s still unclear to me why the UK is not as popular. The UK has a history of social and ethical consuming so we thought the UK would be our top market.
‘However, it isn’t and I don’t know why the UK hasn’t picked up on Fairphone as much as other countries, and that’s what we need to work on. If you look at the co-operative structures in the UK, and social enterprises, it’s really active here.
‘We’re discussing possibilities with operators, such as Vodafone and BT, but we want do it in different ways from how it normally works because we just can’t. Either they work with us in a way that we both benefit from, or we will work with smaller MVNOs that are far more aligned with our way of thinking, like The Phone Co-op.
Fixing the system
Van Abel described Fairphone as a company that doesn’t want to sell a lot of phones. While he acknowledged that businesses and manufacturers don’t always operate in an ethically minded way, he claims that this mind-set is borne from the way companies are set up.
He said: ‘I want to change the way the entire economic system works, and it is happening. What we really need to think about is disconnecting our business models from the use of resources. It’s hard to say that Apple or Samsung are bad when it’s the system that’s bad.
‘It all connects in the way that we set these things up. One year ago Tim Cook said “we’re going to invest more in sustainability and we’re going to drive change”. Apple is doing really well with that, but after Cook said that its shares dropped. Companies aren’t always in the driving seat of determining their own ethics – they have shareholders and consumers to listen to.’
‘We work with a lot of companies who aren’t necessarily ethical as a brand, such as Vodafone, but with them or any other big player we can work with them and set up a programme where they will also address things for improvement. Right now, Vodafone promotes a new phone every year, but if we can drive change within Vodafone in the way they think, then it’s another way of getting where we want.
‘Having said that, companies need to put more effort into changing, and it’s not up to Fairphone to go to these companies and say “this is how you should do things” – we need to show there is a market, and if there is it’s easy for these companies to actually change.’