What business qualities make an SME successful? We’ve been visiting various businesses to bring you some insightful case studies. Reflex – No 43 in the SME 100
Successful SMEs don’t always get it right, but they do learn quickly from their mistakes.
Getting undercut on a big contract is bad enough; when it involves your biggest client that’s serious. It happened to Reflex in 2006.
Reflex MD Roland Dreesden would admit that he probably didn’t have enough eggs in his client-basket when he lost that 2006 ‘reverse auction’ bidding process and saw his business turnover halved overnight.
We all know what happened in 2008, yet Reflex did not become a recessionary casualty. Today its turnover has recovered and reached a record high.
“By value we are now probably among the top 12 AV systems integrators in the UK,” says Dreesden.
Next year Reflex may not be in our SME100 listings, its turnover level and growth could well launch it into our Thames Valley 250 of top-performing companies.
“That 2006 experience was actually good for us. It made us realize we had to change our business model. Having lost 50% of our business, the recession was pretty meaningless. We were already changing.”
Reflex moved from being a volume AV ‘kit supplier’ and installer to today managing the full service provision of AV requirements in its client organizations.
“We knew we wouldn’t get back to being an £11 million company with a knock-on-doors salesforce. We needed to go down the partnering route. That became a driving force to get us back on the map.”
Supply chain links, manufacturers, consultants and contractor contacts were approached; upcoming projects researched for potential worksharing opportunities. “That took three years of hard work. We now get access to contract tenders every week. In 2006 we had very little, almost none.”
Reflex refocused on upskilling its inhouse technical ability, and improving sector knowledge, logistics and the company structure. Staffing fell to 37. Today the Reading-based business employs 54. In 2006, Reflex had two technical sales employees, no project managers. Now it employs four technical designers and five project managers.
Reflex client relationships are much closer, and soft skills have replaced the hard sell. Reflex technical staff frequently visit clients, run training seminars, or operate as part of onsite teams. “When the chips are down it’s the engineers that matter, not the product or sales guys.” The result is that repeat and contracted business now represents around 75% of the Reflex workbook.
“We also went hell for leather on marketing, improved our website, got our company and people better known.” Six years ago Reflex launched its own AV technology day. Now they are established well-supported events.
“What’s different now is that we play in the more complex, higher-technical, higher-value arena. We take the AV requirements of blue chip organizations and convert them into leading edge solutions that give them great user experiences and better value-added service.”
AV technology is developing quickly, and Reflex is aiming to be the preferred market provider and adviser. “We are there to help clients choose and use the most appropriate technology for their requirements.
Videoconferencing is king at the moment because of environmental reasons linked to staff travel, global markets, productivity improvement and security aspects, says Dreesden. At the start of this year, Reflex gained a €1m-plus international video-conferencing contract, its biggest ever.
Recording and capturing meetings, speeches or lectures is also in demand. Today Reflex is a big audiovisual player within the university sphere, admits Dreesden, but he’s quick to mention this is not a ‘one big egg in the basket’ situation. Apart from the education sector, Reflex has clients in healthcare, corporate and professional services fields.
“The key thing today is achieving better communication solutions – quicker, clearer, smarter, using different devices – whatever the audience, whatever the sector.
“The educational space, for example, is very different today in the student-lecturer relationship and the varied ways learning takes place.” Universities charging high fees will be expected to have high quality AV facilities by today’s Internet-savvy students,” Dreesden points out.
Dreesden agrees that AV and IT markets are evolving rapidly, combining in some areas, and changing the way businesses and individual employees communicate.
“The IT network is the vehicle, the engine and chassis of communication, but AV allows you to choose the style, colour and optional extras of that vehicle.
“It used to be all about training the inhouse AV or IT teams to use the equipment. Now it is very much training the employee, the end-user, to use AVIT properly.”
Reflex advice for SMEs:
- Spread your risk. Don’t be complacent. Never assume.
- Be willing to change. “I’m constantly tweaking things, but it’s always to improve our prospects.”
- Establish an open, honest and professional culture.
- Get rid of barriers to true communication. “I don’t have an office. I sit in the open with my guys. I meet clients. Talk to people. People buy people.”