2016 is Littlehampton-based Swan Digital’s 25th anniversary year. Business Info spoke to Managing Director Adrian Adams, about the firm’s past, present and future
BI: What prompted you to start the business?
Adrian Adams: Back in 1991, the company I used to work for was bought by a bigger player and being part of a much larger organisation took away a lot of the flexibility.
The acquisition prompted me and another colleague, [Adams’ former business partner retired eight years ago], to start-up our own company so that we could continue to conduct business the way we liked to and engage and work with customers in the manner which worked best for us, and for them.
BI: What obstacles did you face in the early days?
Adrian Adams: We started out selling second-hand copiers, as in the beginning no-one would talk to us! We were a start-up with no track record and at the beginning it was tough to get things going. The second-hand market was the perfect platform for us to begin with and build on. At that time, computers were still in their infancy and we also dealt in second hand computers, which provided us with a further revenue stream. We saw this as just another way for us to sell to customers and I really had no idea where it would lead to! [Today, Swan Digital is very heavily involved in IT and provides networking and IT as a service to an ever-increasing client base.
BI: Growth was rapid and early on, how did you achieve that?
Adrian Adams: Our customers began to rely on us more and more and we very quickly had to scale up and bring in more people to cope with the additional demand for our products, time and services. The first three years we enjoyed incredible year on year growth.
Our turnover was £170k in year one, not bad for a start-up, and an acquisition we made in that first year meant we doubled in size. We bought a second company the following year and we ended up with loads of opportunities. Within 12 months we had three sales people, three telesales staff, two secretaries, admin and accounts staff and three engineers on board.
It was in 1994, three years after we launched and right at the beginning of the digital era that we entered the new printer and copier market. We secured a Sharp dealership, the recession was behind us and our expertise in IT saw a number of manufacturers now keen to do business with us.
It’s fair to say that there were teething problems in the early days of digital technology but our skill in IT meant that we were perhaps better placed to cope than other more traditional hardware-only resellers.
In 1995 we were really impressed with the Aficio brand, we partnered with NRG (now Ricoh) and we’ve never looked back. We have a great working relationship and we are pretty much single-line today, although we do also provide Develop products.
BI:What other services does Swan Digital provide?
Adrian Adams: We also provide a wide range of IT services in the background and that side of the business continues to do really well. I’d say it’s a pretty even 50/50 split across both print and IT now.
We install and manage computer systems and networks for small businesses who don’t want the hassle and can’t justify a full-time systems manager, provide digital CCTV systems and supply VoIP telephony solutions.
We are also heavily involved in networking infrastructure. There aren’t many companies who do what we do, we’ve successfully carved out a niche market and many of our customers have asked us to support them with office relocations.
We work exclusively with Fujitsu on the IT side, their equipment is superior and their behind the scenes support is excellent.
New hardware that is being and will be launched will demand new infrastructures be put in place and we’re keeping ahead of the game, ensuring we’re equipped to deliver a superior service to our customers. Our engineers have completed advanced training so we can help our customers move their businesses forward.
We’ve invested heavily in training everyone up on CAT 7 and fibre optic cabling which is different from earlier Ethernet cable standards including CAT 5 and CAT 6. CAT 7 and fibre optic cabling is the future, it is much more durable, capable of carrying more information and has a longer lifetime when compared to CAT 5 and CAT 6. We firmly believe it’s the best choice for wiring today to ensure a business is future-proofed and it will provide customers with a strong overall return on investment.
There’s also another side of the business. We rent out equipment directly to small businesses and start-ups. I remember well the days when people wouldn’t talk to us as a new business and that prompted me to engage with and support new start-ups who don’t have access to finance to buy office equipment.
Basically we fund them from our own stock. It’s proven to be a really smart move for a number of reasons: it helps us to shift some of the old stock to make room for newer models, it brings in an incremental revenue stream c£150k per year and most importantly, they remember that we helped them get off the ground and when they grow and their business needs new technology, we’ve already become their trusted business partner and they stay with us.
BI: What did you do to mark your 25th anniversary?
Adrian Adams: We invited our staff, customers, partners and colleagues to join us in Brighton for a relaxing, informal, fun-filled day at the beginning of October.
We booked the world’s tallest moving observation tower – the new British Airways i360 attraction in Brighton. From the futuristic glass viewing pod, we enjoyed 360 degree views across Regency Brighton, the South Downs and a stretch of over 66 miles of coastline, east to Beachy Head. Then we hired a Routemaster bus which took us on an hour-long tour of Brighton, my hometown. It was a lovely sunny day and all 62 guests really enjoyed it. We then laid on food and drink at the historic Cricketers Pub, the day couldn’t have gone any better. I was delighted that everyone was prepared to give up their Saturday and stay until the end.
BI: What next, what plans do you have for the future?
Adrian Adams: I love what I do, it doesn’t feel like work, which is why I am still here 25 years on! Happily our people are all in the same mindset, most of my colleagues have been with the business for ten years or longer and one team member has racked up an amazing 23 years.
There’s nothing else I would rather be doing and I plan on doing more of the same for the next 25 years!
I am a firm believer in the mantra that if something needs to change, change it sooner rather than later. We have embraced every technology change and advancement throughout the past two and a half decades and I firmly believe that this approach has been a key driver in our success to date.