A fresh drive towards improving margins and services for resellers and retailers alike makes 2008 a crucial year for Centerprise. Rob Power takes a look at what's going on at the diverse company?

Cool, calm and Centred…

Some companies are like icebergs – you only see the very tip of what they do, the rest of it remaining hidden from plain view right up until that moment you need them.

Centerprise would, in iceberg terms, have enough under the water to sink the Titanic. It has grown to become a hugely diverse business, with interests in everything from IT distribution – where most PCR readers will be familiar with them – to dealing with the Ministry of Defence, to bespoke manufacturing for everything from retail to casinos.

Celebrating 25 years in business this year, Centerprise has plenty to be happy about. With a fresh new focus and drive at the heart of its distribution arm, the industry can expect to be hearing a lot more from the company, as head of distribution and industry stalwart Les Billing discusses: "Basically the business is a big IT solutions provider now.

From a distribution point of view I’ve spent the last 20 years in the industry, and in particular with IT components so I’ve been in the industry for a long time. I’m now heading up the distribution side of things, working alongside Rafi."

Rafi is Rafi Razzak, Centerprise founder and managing director, who started it all off back in 1983. A former IBM employee, Razzak established Centerprise with a tiny amount of capital – only £100,000 – and through sheer hard work and persistence, as well as a keen awareness of an ever changing and diversifying market, transformed Centerprise into the multi-talented and well-respected company it is today.

"I’ve known Rafi for many years, and I’m currently doing interim management and consulting," continues Billing. "I had a look at the business and made some suggestions, so now I’m implementing some of those ideas for Centerprise. It’s a refocusing and expansion of the distribution side of Centerprise’s business."

This refocusing includes adding value to the company’s current offering through combining elements of the business’s various different interests in order to gain the maximum benefits for everyone.

Recent changes at the company have meant that a restructuring of its distribution division has had to take place, with Billing keen to take the reigns and reinforce Centerprise’s fresh determination to the industry.

"Centerprise has recently undergone a massive change in its distribution business – it’s no secret that all the staff turned over, so there’s a lot of people that left," says Billing. "We’re a full team again now, and are re-engaging with the industry. The intention is to increase the customer base into a broader range of customers, more value-added customers.

"What we plan to do is bring some of the value-added offering from elsewhere in the Centerprise group into the distribution offering, whether that is disaster recovery, managed services, bundles of product, system configuration, server build – we want to add value rather than just concentrate on volume distribution."

Thanks to its wide ranging portfolio of products and services, making that extra value package a reality in the marketplace is something that Centerprise has well in hand.

Through understanding the current market dynamic, and reinforcing the need for every part of the supply chain to turn decent margins in order to provide those key services that can make all the difference, there can be no doubting that the company is looking in the right direction.

"Centerprise is a massively diverse IT solutions provider," continues Billing. "The reseller channel is looking for ways of making more margin. There isn’t a lot of money in shifting tin, but there is in providing other services.

Many of the guys have got excellent customer relationships and the customers are looking for new products. The products that we need to bring to the customer base are the ones that resellers can make more money on. We’ve got some interesting products coming through in everything from disaster recovery through to document retrieval and storage that will back this up."

From the outside looking in, it is easy to forget just how many pies Centerprise currently has a finger in, and through bringing those diverse interests together the company looks set to be able to improve both the margins and the ability to provide complete solutions for customers across the board.

"The people that look at Centerprise as a distributor often have no idea the extent of businesses Centerprise is involved with. Equally, the company hasn’t necessarily brought those businesses into the distribution marketplace, so we are looking for partnerships with resellers so that we can both benefit. Centerprise provides a lot of products for local government, national health service, etc, so working with some of the resellers that are adding value, between us, we can all maximise our business."

Essentially, it boils down to a simple equation that ensures that resellers are in a better position to do the very best for their customers, whilst remaining profitable. With service as one of the most important aspects that any company can concentrate on, Centerprise aims to make reaching those high levels of customer care more achievable in reality.

"People think of service as being different to product, but relatively it’s just a different product isn’t it?" adds Billing. "Mind you, you have to of course deliver the service! Buying an item from somebody who made it somewhere else in the world and selling that item for what it is, that is relatively straightforward – job done, you’ve got what you wanted.

Delivering a service is somewhat different, which is why you have to make more money – you can’t deliver a service on low single digit margins. You have to be able to provide it in the long term – it can’t be the end of the story just because the product is sold. That means it is a case of working with partners in order to make sure everyone makes enough to be able to provide the right service levels.

"I think we’ll be dealing a lot more with resellers and building the business and relationships on a much broader level. It’s a case of engaging with more resellers, not necessarily all retailers, more likely people who are supplying software, or solutions providers where we can bring something to the party. We have a big activity in branded systems, so it’s a case of getting the group’s capability out into the marketplace.

There will be some marketing required and some brand building, etc, but in all honesty the best way of doing that is through the sales guys talking to resellers and understanding what business the resellers are in, and where we can add value. It’s a relationship thing. There will be some stuff on retail, but a lot of it will be through resellers."

For Centerprise, with the focus very much on bringing service, product and customer relationships closer together, the end benefit for the company’s customers is unquestionable. "We’ve got a new sales team, so we’re getting them trained up. We have a mixture of new guys and more experienced sales guys, who are all keen to learn, so it’s a process we’re going to go through," concludes Billing.

"It’s all about building customer relations for us this year." Building those relationships looks set to keep Centerprise at the top of its game for another 25 years to come.

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