Did you know that one of the country’s largest telecoms and document solutions specialists is based in Cornwall? Business Cornwall meets the directors behind the success story that is Datasharp UK
When choosing a supplier in Cornwall, many businesses are often faced with the conundrum – do I stay loyal to local companies or do I plump for the reassurance that a large, national organisation can afford?
With telecommunications and document solutions specialist Datasharp UK Limited, it is very much possible to have the best of both worlds. In many ways, Datasharp is something of a standard bearer for Cornwall. A national company, with some 400 staff working out of the 35 offices across the country, that has its head office of 75 staff firmly based in Truro.
It is a fact that CEO Paul McIntosh is rightly proud of, although he admits it would probably have been easier to develop the business quicker in the early days had it been based up country. But he has absolutely no regrets.
“I moved to Cornwall in 1978 for a better quality of life for me and my family and although in the early days the infrastructure and communications may have slowed down expansion, in this day and age it doesn’t matter where you’re based because of the technology we have now. We have got an excellent business model, a national business working from Cornwall with a strong local presence and I’m very proud of that fact.”
McIntosh started the company himself in 1980, selling copiers out of a friend’s basement. Much has changed since those days, not least of all its product and services range which has grown to include telephone systems, hosted services, lines, calls, broadband and document solutions. In fact Datasharp prides itself on solving businesses day to day communications needs.
The size of the company has also grown, of course, with an annual group turnover now in the region of £40 million. But one thing that has not changed is its family feel and attention to detail, with a managing board of just three.
“Jane (Cockcroft), my daughter, is my operations director, and has worked in the company for 15 years” says McIntosh, “and Allan Williams is my technical director whose technical expertise is well recognised in the industry.”
Customer service has also remained of paramount importance. Over the years the company has won numerous awards for its customer care from manufacturers and suppliers.
“Our customers are everything to us,” says McIntosh. “They show us loyalty, and we show them our loyalty by giving reputation through our quality of service and our honesty. We give the customer what they want, not what we think they should have and then we look after them. And that’s how we’ve grown. I’m delighted to say we still have customers that bought from me when I was a one man band in 1980.”
It is also interesting how many staff have been with the company for over a decade and some over 20 years. “My staff are a dedicated, talented and committed group of people to whom I owe a great deal of thanks,” he says.
“From my point of view it is a pleasure to work with them and from a customer’s point of view it provides continuity of care and expertise not available from other local suppliers. My engineering and sales teams are highly qualified technicians with expertise gained over years of training so our customers feel they are in safe hands which, when it comes to supplying communications and document solutions, is absolutely vital.”
One thing that has rapidly changed down the years, is the technology now available.
“When I started out you had a very long piece of string and two cans!” McIntosh jokes. “Fortunately it’s changed since then. Back in 1980 we didn’t have the laptops or mobile phones. When technology changes at the rate it does now, it gives people like us the opportunity to advance.”
Technical director Allan Williams who has been with Datasharp since 1998 leads the team responsible for keeping up to date with much of the changes in this fast-paced world, such as the rise in popularity of digital and IP telephone systems and the long-term savings they can deliver to businesses when compared to traditional telephone systems.
Williams explains: “You can have a handset on the desk and plug your PC in the back of it, all on that one piece of cable. So your cost of these systems now can be more cost effective than trying to put a traditional system in. And your maintenance costs can be lower. We do this all the time by evaluating a customer’s business needs we can reduce their costs by thousands. We also look at the green angle as well – power supplies and power consumption being used in the past can now be reduced by about 30%.”
The story is similar when looking at the advance in the photocopier market with slow black and white copiers being rapidly replaced by energy efficient, digital colour multifunctional networked systems.
A key ingredient to Datasharp’s success is the close relationships it enjoys with its key suppliers in its portfolio such as Siemens, ShoreTel, LG, BT and Sharp.
“There are a lot of companies out there that can only buy from a middleman distributor,” says Cockcroft, “which means they don’t have that direct relationship with the manufacturer which is key to us and important for our customers as well. Because of our size importantly we don’t have to buy through a middle man, we have that direct link with the manufacturers.
“There are also some companies who will sell multiple different manufacturers’ products being more of a Jack of all trades, but we’re more interested in being masters at what we do so we’ve kept it to a core few which satisfies all our customers’ needs from say 4 – 20,000+ extensions and means we are highly trained and absolutely focused on these – knowing them inside out.
“As a result of our strong supplier relationships we get better back up on maintenance, we get better back up on supplies, and if there’s a problem, we have that all important direct support. All these benefits are enjoyed by our customers.”
And because of its size and ability to buy in large volumes, Datasharp is able to obtain the very best prices and to pass these savings down to its customers, which is an important consideration in these challenging economic times.
For a while Datasharp has felt the effects of the recession as many have, with businesses not updating their equipment being a typical example of the downsides, but it also presents opportunity.
“Everybody is squeezing prices,” says McIntosh, “but I find that squeezing prices can be good for us because of our close association with the manufacturers and the fact that our solutions provide our customers with ways to actually cut their costs without sacrificing quality in any way.
“We buy in large volumes so we can give our customers the best possible deals because of our size. For example, take our deal with BT, we are one of the top ten customers in the UK for BT Wholesale which means we currently save our network services customers over £2 million per year on their calls and lines collectively compared to their previous suppliers.
“And as Allan said, with our particular range of products we save our customers money and help make their business more efficient. We are also the sole distributor in Cornwall for Docuware – a great product that solves customer’s document storage problems and dramatically increases the efficiency of their business operation.
“When there’s a recession on, there is opportunity, and I see the opportunity as saving companies money.”
As with all industry sectors, competition in the communications and document solutions marketplace is fierce, but you have the distinct impression that it is something McIntosh thrives upon.
“The reason we have done so well, and continue to do so well,” he says, “is because we are better than our competitors.
“We have got the expertise, we’ve got the foundations, we’ve got the credibility and we’ve got the products. We are true investors in personnel and embrace change in technology.”
But despite this satisfaction, there is little chance of the company lying back and resting on its laurels, and it remains focused on growth. “You can’t stand still,” McIntosh explains. “If you do, you go down. Overheads go up, so we’ve got to look for growth. There are different ways to do that, of course, through more of our own salesmen, or by opening more offices.”
And despite having some 35 offices across the country, there is still plenty of scope for significant expansion. “In the UK there are 50-odd counties,” says McIntosh. “You could easily have six offices in London, for example, and we only have three. We have two offices in Birmingham, but we could put five there.
“I reckon we could expand this operation to 60 offices but I also want to extend our operation here in the south west. Our salespeople are very busy!”
McIntosh continues: “We are also expanding into the bigger systems and bigger markets. Until recently we have been focused on the SME market which is up to 500 extensions but our credentials have enabled us to push into the corporate arena as well.
“Document archiving and exciting communications developments such as Ethernet First Mile are also set to transform the way our customers can improve their business operations. So there are many different ways we can expand and build this company. Every customer is important to us regardless of size – it’s a core company philosophy which has served us well over 30 years. It’s exciting times ahead for us and our customers!”
With such plans, Datasharp continues to be living proof of how a Cornish company can compete and succeed on a national stage.
Tel: 01872 266666