Steve Haworth

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Steve Haworth
EVO Group of Companies
Group CEO

It’s been quite a year for UK operator EVO Group of Companies, but under the steady hand of CEO Steve Haworth, the company has risen to each challenge and seized every opportunity. Recent events have validated its top position, with business supplies reseller Banner starting the year on a roll with the first three months showing market-beating sales growth of 6.5%.

This business also pivoted quickly during the COVID-19 pandemic, adding PPE to its already broad capabilities and then, in August, acquiring the UK contract and online operations of Staples Solutions. The combined sales of the two companies – estimated to be around £270 million ($354 million) – now have Banner poised to overtake Lyreco as the largest business supplies contract player in the UK.

Banner’s e-commerce capabilities on behalf of manufacturers have been further established in the past few months with sales growing by 300%. Haworth believes the reseller will also benefit from the recently announced withdrawal of Office Depot from this market. 

With the demise of Spicers in May, VOW Wholesale became the UK’s main broadline supplies wholesaler. It subsequently invested in expanding its reseller development team and operations to ensure ongoing service provision for those dealers that were previously with Spicers.

Before the pandemic sent everyone home to work, the first quarter of this year witnessed growth at VOW and VOW Ireland of 6%. At the beginning of 2020, the wholesaler also embarked on its ‘warehouse and wheels’ strategy. This includes a reseller loyalty scheme along with direct deliveries to end users, allowing its customers to deduplicate cost, improve efficiency and really compete given the new market dynamics. VOW is gradually re-establishing its valued-added overnight delivery services.

Dealing with coronavirus, EVO Group responded rapidly to changing demand. VOW established a new Infection Control category and has introduced over 1,400 lines of additional jan/san, PPE and social distancing and signage products.

2020 undoubtedly hasn’t been an easy ride for anybody so far. EVO Group has been swift and surefooted in adjusting to the COVID-19 situation, reassuring its suppliers and customers and preparing for the future.

2019: The biggest news that’s come out of the EVO Group of Companies (EVO) in the past few months has been the appointment in late May/early June of Clearwater International as a strategic advisor.

The group – which comprises VOW Wholesale, contract reseller Banner and B2B transport company Truline – appointed the corporate finance house to review its strategic options, Group CEO Steve Haworth said at the time.

What those options may entail has yet to be revealed and has been the cause of some speculation. According to Haworth, “Clearwater’s role includes a broad assessment of alternative strategies, which could include further bolt-on acquisitions to add to the five already made in the [recent past], disposals and/or a strategic combination with international trade groups to facilitate further growth and strategic investment”.

At the same time as the announcement, EVO provided some details of its financial performance, with sales growth in a number of areas and a double-digit improvement in adjusted EBITDA.

Q1 highlights included year-on-year sales growth of more than 10% at Banner and a 4% top-line increase at VOW Ireland, with underlying sales of traditional office products across the group growing by around 2%, significantly outperforming current market trends.

The group’s adjusted EBITDA was up 11% compared with the same quarter in 2018. The strong sales results mentioned above coupled with central cost control, improvements in warehouse efficiency and the benefits of the last year’s investment in technology at Truline all helped EVO combat ongoing headwinds caused by Brexit.

2018: After some ups and downs, a certain amount of M&A, plenty of integration and the inevitable disruption that this brings, Steve Haworth – Group CEO of what is now referred to as the EVO Group of Companies – has steered his multichannel ship into calmer waters.

Having completely refocused its structure, the group now operates in the £18 billion workplace supplies market with three well-established and market-leading brands: wholesaler VOW (in the UK and the Republic of Ireland), large reseller/contract stationer Banner and transport company Truline.

Through these businesses, EVO services customers across a broad spectrum, both directly and via a network of resellers. They range from micro-businesses to SMEs and from large corporates to public sector companies, giving the group’s manufacturer partners a level of market coverage and reach that is unparalleled and highly valued.

According to Haworth, all of EVO’s companies have a unique set of assets and that is why they needed to present themselves differently and in a more segmented way: “It’s a differentiated, but scaled approach to the market that is defined by geography – in the case of Ireland – or by product range, service, customer and supply partner proposition.”      

Much progress has been made but, as Haworth says, his work is far from done. More acquisitions are on the cards, as are ongoing changes to infrastructure, systems and services, all in an effort to at least keep up, at best anticipate and spearhead the changes that are happening in the wholesale and distribution channel and in the industry as a whole.  

2017: Haworth has more than 25 years of senior leadership experience in business supplies, both in the UK and internationally. This includes stints at Kodak, Pitney Bowes and ISA. He re-joined EVO (formerly Vasanta) in 2009 as a Managing Director subsequently rising through the ranks to CEO in April 2016. Responsible for the day-to-day management of the group’s trading companies since 2011 and a board member since 2009, he knows the business inside out.

His first year at EVO – following the departure of Robert Baldrey – has seen the successful completion of the o2o integration and simplification of the group’s IT systems and operating model together with significant improvements in all aspects of financial performance and a shift in emphasis from ‘EVO Group’ to the ‘EVO Group of Companies’. The breadth and reach of its various subsidiaries have given it a unique status as a ‘one-stop-shop’ for new manufacturer to access all parts of the market via its specialised teams.

Banner is a leading player in the UK enterprise and public sector contract market taking advantage of its reputation, scale, integrated platforms and business stability over the past year to win significant market share across its target customer base.

VOW continues to be the leading and largest business supplies wholesaler in the UK and Ireland. It is investing heavily to help its dealers grow their businesses in new categories such as facilities supplies and furniture. It is also further supporting the independent reseller channel with the launch of a range of exclusive brands to help maintain profitability and loyalty to end-user customers. VOW’s ongoing schedule of training and exhibition events to support its customers has been particularly well received, added Haworth.

2016: Steve Haworth was propelled to the role of Group CEO of £660 million ($860 million) office products group EVO in April 2016 following the sudden departure of Robert Baldrey.

Haworth has more than 25 years’ experience in the OP and EOS sectors and first joined EVO predecessor group Vasanta in 2009 as Managing Director of Supplies Team and ISA Retail. As Vasanta Group Sales and Marketing Director from July 2011 and then in a similar role at EVO since November 2014, Haworth was responsible for the day-to-day management of the group’s companies, so he knows the business inside out.

One of his first priorities as new Group CEO was to complete the integration of the office2office (o2o) business that was acquired at the end of 2014 and then merged with Vasanta’s existing Supplies Team business under the Banner brand.

Banner is a leading player in the UK enterprise and public sector contract market and is aiming to shake things up with the introduction of a new seat-based procurement model. Banner Managing Director Richard Costin has also recently been handed responsibility for the VOW Retail unit.

Haworth’s message over the past few months has stressed the need for a ‘back to basics’ approach at the VOW wholesaling division, with the focus firmly being on the needs of the dealer customer and on providing industry-leading service levels.

The bokz initiative has been discontinued, but renewed impetus has been given to the former VOW+ dealer programme, now rebranded as VOW Venture. A key area for VOW Venture has been dealer development and training, with a series of roadshows being held throughout the UK.