Always looking for development ideas

There’s one good reason why Phil Ford and Ian Stewart decided to set up their own company some twenty-five years ago.

They were working for a London-based office printing equipment supplier which was taken over, and neither of them much liked the resulting change in approach to customer service.

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Not that they perceive change per se as negative. Quite the contrary. While competitors, then largely selling photocopiers, saw the advent of digital communication, as a threat, Copyrite, the company started by Ford and Stewart, saw only opportunity. “A lot of staid companies simply threw their hands up and said, oh, we don’t know about networks, but we saw it as a chance to develop the business,” Ford explains.

When colour printers came onto the market, Copyrite decided that it was only a matter of time before they became affordable for the everyday office, so they identified a company to work with in order to produce a RIP at the right price point.

“The younger you are, the better you are at being resilient and able to cope with change. Everything is exciting. The challenge is being able to bottler some of that for the future,” says Ford.

“It’s about talking to people instead of having your head in the sand,” he believes. “We asked whether office printing devices would be able to do a lot more. The answer was probably not. So we opened an IT business with products which fit across data processing and print. It is important to have a point of differentiation, and we had become known for always doing the connecting up. In any sector, if you are only going to sell what is in the box, it’s only a matter of time before the market becomes commodified and then you’ve got a problem. We aren’t just addressing print and IT but process and workflow management. What we are selling is not product but efficiency and cost reduction. That realisation calibrated our thinking and our focus on selling knowledge.” He likes to use the expression total office technology, which has become the company’s tagline.

And then when the office supply world doomsters predicted the imminent arrival of the paperless office, Copyrite thought it through and decided that it was more realistic to talk about the paper-less office. “We realised that pure black document printing was beginning to tail off,” says Ford, “but we could see that office colour printing was improving in quality and that companies would produce their own stationery in-house instead of getting an outside print shop to do it.”

Software sales alone are now into seven figures a year, but that hasn’t been at the expense of what has been the core business. “Pursuing new ideas can result in a company taking its eye off what is established and profitable existing business because it hasn’t really got the resources to do both well,” Ford warns.

He also believes it’s easy to lose sight of the fundamentals of doing business. “You can’t go wrong if you always tell the customer how it is, and follow the approach of delivering what you say you are going to,” he says. Future growth could come from acquisition: “Organic growth is slow, and an acquisition can bring not just additional clients but new skillsets which mean you have something more to offer existing clients as well,” says Ford.

He draws a distinction between having a business and running a business. “What can happen if there is more than one owner is that one might want to kick back while the other wants to kick on. If there’s an age difference, that can account for it. But it means that one is looking towards the sunset while the other wants to invest for the future.”

What Ford and Stewart have done is to ensure that Copyrite can function strategically as well as operationally without them. They have a board made up of the key people in the business – rather like the executive committee at a corporate – which meets once a month. “It means we have a team, the executive, running the company,” explains Ford. “Have a plan – where do you want to be – and then break it down so you identify how to achieve it in terms of people, marketing, and other resources. Otherwise what you have is a living, not a business.”

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