Final word: Steve Harrop

Office Friendly Managing Director Steve Harrop assesses SP Richards' ABC from a very British viewpoint.


Growth is a word you don’t hear much in the UK nowadays, in either the economy as a whole or within our industry. There are, of course, many positive examples of British OP companies building successful sales, but it was so refreshing to recently listen to so many upbeat resellers, suppliers and a wholesaler that has growth at the very heart of all its values and strategies.

SP Richards certainly knows how to put on a terrific event for its key customer base – the truly independent resellers – which was effectively demonstrated from day one at its Advantage Business Conference in Washington DC in July.

As a ‘Brit’ abroad in a hotbed of revolution – it was Washington, it was July and it was the conference for independents – I think I could be forgiven for wanting a strong cuppa on arrival. I resisted with a very British stiff upper lip the many jibes and jokes at our expense because of our roots, but felt I gave as good as I got and this time I’m claiming a draw!

And so to the event. Over 2,500 delegates were treated to four days of excitement, entertaining presentations and reaffirmation that great support is available and partnership can be profitable and enduring when both parties have a shared focus. When speaking with resellers of all shapes, sizes and business specialities it quickly became apparent that enthusiasm for the industry, products and opportunities existed in abundance, and that SP Richards had a variety of solutions that touched the hearts and minds of its customers.

The format wasn’t unusual and is often replicated at conferences here, including our own event. Presentations by key figures from all sectors including dealers hit the right spots. 

CEO Wayne Beacham was particularly upbeat and focused on the need for independents to increase their share of the market from the big box players (at 15% it’s half that of the UK, but the market is of course so much larger). With 85% of its customer base independents, SP Richards is leading a charge on the importance of local service and supply, referring to the enormous power of ‘we’. It has a dealer advisory board – it’s not unique but what is unique is its recognition of the contribution these customers play in the development of strategic and marketing programmes.

Community and grass roots are vital to small local business resellers alongside the tools the bigger players have to support these main street dealers. In the UK, the high street is disappearing and the independents have few friends and supporters. We have one high profile retail guru fighting the cause. In the US, SP Richards and others are leading the charge to wrestle back the multinational corporate dominance.

So, what did I come away with? A strong message that wholesaler and resellers can work together successfully, but only if they understand each others’ business needs and can work hand in hand with passion and hunger, real investment in IT and sales and marketing; if there is accountability, leadership and a real discipline to plan, process and measure. These topics were at the heart of seminars and workshops, and of one-on-one discussions with dealers, suppliers and SP personnel. For once it was good to hear publicly that dealer groups aren’t all bad and have a key role to play in leveraging partnerships with wholesaler and reseller alike; that the power of three can have a real and positive impact.

I went to Washington wanting to learn and be impressed. I came away enthused, and better equipped with thought processes and ideas to inject into our model. I suppose I haven’t really given much away but this has been an investment to help those resellers I can touch over here. 

And growth? Well, it’s not an option and it does add momentum and morale to any business, so I guess having been ‘over there’ I now need to help members build it over here!