We have a chat with Exspect's commercial director, Neil Meredith

Onwards and upwards

It has been quite a year for Exspect so far. You’ve taken on 14 new staff members, acquired an office in Hong Kong, begun selling across the EMEA region, and moved to a new head office in the UK. What has driven this success?

It’s been down to a couple of factors really. Gem has been very clear in its investment objectives in the accessory space, and we have utilised that investment and desire to its optimum. Without that investment and support we couldn’t have enjoyed the growth we have.

That said, the people we have generate lots of opportunities that customers like so it’s a potentially low risk/high return investment. The changes in the market have generated lots of opportunities and customer demand has played a major part. Market conditions have generated a little bit of insecurity for some companies, which in turn has enabled us to capitalise on the opportunities that have presented themselves. Having a great team and access to money with exceptional logistics services has allowed us to grow very quickly.

Within our division we are very fortunate that we don’t need senior people dealing with the bank or a warehouse manager because Gem takes care of all of that, so all of our time and attention is spent on customer development and business development. So in that respect, we are pretty lucky.

Will you be looking to take on more staff in the near future?

We have a couple of new starters planned before Christmas, but outside of those I think we will have a pretty much settled team. Even so, we are always on the look out for talented people and our move to Stoke has helped us to attract better quality people due to its more central location. We seem to be the kind of company that good people are attracted to. We are secure, we are growing and we work hard and play hard.

How will you be building on this over the coming months, in the run up to Christmas?

Our order book looks positive for this season. We have worked really closely with our key partners here and abroad, and our main priority is making sure that those loyal customers get a great service from us.

The new Apple announcements have been great for our business because, as we have done for the last three hardware changes, we have worked closely with our channel partners to maximise the opportunity. Mike and Danny have coordinated the activity really well with everyone throughout our supply chain and customers are delighted with what we have done.

Our Hong Kong office is playing a big role in our performance as it is helping us become more efficient in consolidating our export customers’ orders if necessary. I know it sounds simple, but it means product is getting to the market quicker, which can mean two extra weekends of sell-through which builds momentum and leads to bigger replenishment orders. If there is one thing we all feel confident in at Exspect it’s that if our products get on pegs in retail or our product images on e-tail websites, then it sells. We have been working really hard on speed-to-market initiatives and its starting to pay huge dividends.

You’ve signed a partnership with Sony for the PSP range – will you be looking to sign more deals of this type with other vendors?

Yes. Licensing with household names has always been part of our strategy and that will continue. We have some exciting plans due to come to fruition, and we are looking forward to announcing that. That said, though, the key to licensing is to always make sure that it’s relevant and adds value.

We are therefore quite particular in who we try to develop relationships with. In Exspect we have a very strong trade brand so we do not want to do anything that dilutes that.

What have been the biggest challenges over the past year?

Just general growing pains really. Not having enough time to get done all that you need to, just the basics that every growing business faces. The global economy and foreign currency rates haven’t helped, but that’s the same for all our competitors so we just have to deal with it and constantly look at ways to differentiate our offering on both products and services.

What do you expect the biggest challenges to be during 2010?

The accessories sector is always a tough, competitive market and when the economy isn’t good the market tends to turn to commoditising rather than investing and developing exciting products. Unless you are developing great products you have to work twice as hard to stand still due to price erosion, so our biggest challenge will be to continue to develop great products and educate our channel as to why our products will give them a better return on investment than other products from elsewhere. It’s been like that forever, so no change really.

Will you be looking to diversify into any other product areas?

This is a natural progression of the brand, but we must retain the focus on our successful sectors. In the iPod and gaming space we have worked really hard to become a respected partner and we will not lose sight of that, but a bigger part of my role going forward is to step outside of the day-to-day and look at acquisitions or partners in new markets, so I think there will be some developments in this area for sure.

The obvious developments due to our success in the Apple sector would be iPhone accessories and expanding our notebook ranges. Trade and end user demand for a wider range of our headphones is really positive at the moment. You can definitely expect some new developments here.

Where do you see Exspect in a year’s time?

Still growing, still developing great products and still loving doing what we do. The team will have another year’s experience under its belt and will therefore be more knowledgeable and able to cope with the demands of the market. Our new strap line of Life and Soul is all about what we feel we stand for. We will continue to try and keep design-led accessories and having fun at the forefront of what we do.

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