Mark Heath, managing director of Bluefish Office Products





Contact details: 17-20 Galowhill Road, Brackmills, Northampton NN4 7EE; Tel: +44 (0)1604 706 000


Products and Services: Office product consumables, printed stationery


Territory: Central England


Revenue: Sales forecast for 2006/7 is £16.5 million ($30.5 million)


No of employees: 62


Contact names and positions: Mark Heath, managing director; Nick Soloman, sales director


Company background: New start-up in June 2000, led by Mark Heath and three senior salespeople, all ex-Arkle (which was sold to Ofrex in 1995) and Guilbert. The target was to fill the void/opportunity in the East Midlands, which in the year 2000 had no large independent dealers. Forecast was for sales to exceed £5 million within three years (the company achieved £11.2 million in its third year of trading, which ended 31 May 2003).


Stockless or stocking dealer: Stocking dealer, with wholesale/distributor back-up. Over 95 percent of deliveries are made next day, via own transport.


Dealer group: None.




Are you diversifying into non-traditional OP product areas? Which ones? How necessary do you feel this is for dealers today? Yes, we feel this is vital to maintain both a competitive advantage and preserve margins in existing accounts. As a stocking dealer making our own deliveries, non-OP makes a great impact into our fixed costs.


Print/printed stationery is the biggest part of our non-traditional sales and is targeted to exceed 10 percent of our sales this year; some of this is "brokered", some is produced in-house. Jan/san also remains a huge opportunity and we are now focusing on a full range in these areas.


In addition, we are offering a logistics service to some of our largest clients in terms of totally unique products, which again we believe is a strong long-term offering.
We are and will continue to look at other opportunities.


Which wholesalers do you use? Do you feel your relationship with your wholesaler could be improved in any way and if so, how? Spicers has always been, and remains, our largest wholesaler, closely followed by ISA. We continue to discuss innovative and entrepreneurial ideas with both of them — it can be a battle as they are "super tankers" in many ways, but we are seeing many new ideas coming to fruition. As a result, they will both experience growth with us in the coming year.


Do you source any product direct from the manufacturer? If so, what percentage? Do you plan on increasing this percentage? Yes we do and it represents 65 percent of our spend. However, much of this is in a short range of lines, and includes imported lines, customer bespoke and printed stationery.


Given the support from our wholesalers, this is not likely to increase in the short term, but the mix with direct purchases (ie imports) may change.


What would you say has been your company’s best decision and what has been its worst? The best decision we made was the time and manner we started the business. We immediately created a slick decision-making process, a philosophy we continue to adopt.


The worst would be some of the salespeople we’ve employed from competitors!


How do you cultivate customer relations to ensure you are the first point of call for your customers’ OP needs? We have an increasingly strong brand in our local area, and our "fish" was a risk that paid off. The cost of client retention is huge but, put simply, we try to make ordering office products an easy experience, identifying value and best practice to our clients. We must make it the easiest and most efficient solution at point of point, point of delivery and point of invoice.


How do you aim to differentiate yourself from other dealers? This is individually the biggest challenge we face as a business. Again, we have our "fish" and we continue to build a brand that stands for great value and great service. When competing with independent dealers, size and scale helps, but we have a downward pressure from the multinationals that means this logic squeezes us from both ends.
It is vital that we employ the best people to deliver this message, and again this forms part of our biggest ongoing challenge.


What do you feel is the secret of your company’s success? I believe we have a great value proposition supported by an extensive range, but this is only effective if our people can deliver it well, and consistently. So far we’ve done this well, but as the business grows so does the challenge.


So what do you consider to be your greatest challenges over the following year and how do you plan on overcoming them? What are your priorities? Our priority/greatest challenge over the next year is to stabilise and grow our marketing message, ensuring we can communicate our great value proposition and extensive range to both new and existing customers, at a sensible cost.


We have to maximise the methods we are already using and adopt more and different techniques to talk to clients. We also need to continue to maximise the Bluefish brand regionally, ensuring all potential clients know what it stands for.


What trends do you think will most impact the dealer community over the next five years? I believe many independent dealers will struggle to establish a level of operating costs that allow them to be profitable as our product mix continues to evolve. Margins will not continue where they have been, and diversification will only slow this process rather than prevent it.