Peter Stokes, operations manager at Micro Plus Computers, talks to PCR about how services have benefitted his company and the margins in the education market.
What spurred you to create your own business?
The company owner, Chris Innes, started Micro Plus back in 1991 after working for another IT company during a summer break from university. Rather than going back to university after the summer, he enjoyed it so much he decided to start his own business. Back then he was mainly selling home computers, software, accessories and just a few business systems, Amstrad word processors and early Sage software, that sort of thing.
I joined the company in 2006 from PC World with the specific brief to improve the company profile around business customers, especially around services.
Have you always had a services offering or did that come later?
Offering services started pretty early on for us – probably around the time that we started building our own PCs – offering workshop repairs for PCs and printers was a natural progression and, even back then, the margins were so much better on services than hardware.
“Offering workshop repairs for PCs and printers was a natural progression and, even back then, the margins were so much better on services than hardware.”
Peter Stokes, Micro Plus Computers
Are services essential for survival?
Absolutely! And especially managed services rather than traditional break- fix. Our workshops are very busy with traditional carry-in repairs and we have technicians out on the road responding to customers issues, but we are increasingly moving schools and businesses to monthly support contracts which work great for both sides – the regular recurring revenue for us and the budgeting and cost savings for the customers. We use some great tools that allow our support desk technicians to look after hundreds of users on a daily basis.
Over the past few years we have also extended the managed services idea to our domestic customers and we offer a number of monthly subscriptions which cover the customer’s home PCs/laptops for all repair work – either labour only or hardware and labour depending on their subscription – the cover also includes virus removal, malware removal, Windows re- installations and more, so the customer gets very comprehensive cover.
How did your business develop and grow to encompass two premises?
Our first premises were town centre shops so space was always an issue. We took on our first out-of-town unit as soon as we had more technicians than we had room for and I guess each move since has been for the same reason. For example, as soon as we started installing networks for businesses customers we just needed more physical space to set everything up before delivery – we’re now on our third out of town unit and it is already feeling too small – our next move is to get a mezzanine floor installed so we can expand upwards.
We have a close partnership with Samsung and we supply and maintain their whole range of printers under managed print contracts right up to the large A3 models and some of those take up a lot of space!
How does working with education differ from other areas of IT?
It’s very different; the end users often have a better idea of what they are looking for as I think schools share ideas better than businesses that compete with each other. Margins are obviously tighter in education but at least we have confidence that we will be paid on time.
We recently ran our own Technology Showcase where we invited over a hundred schools to come and see the latest educational solutions from the likes of Epson, Lenovo, Samsung and Microsoft. We found that schools were actually recommending products on the day to other schools and this has proved to be great success for us.
“Our growth into managed services will be the platform for future stability for the business.”
Peter Stokes, Micro Plus Computers
What do you consider the best part of your role at Micro Plus?
The company has changed dramatically over my time here and we have a much better mix of customer type now so that we are not reliant on one sector or another. It is the constant change that is exciting and this year the many changes in the industry around new Microsoft software, touchscreen and tablets generally means that this could be the most exciting year in a long time.
Our recent Expo has given us a much bigger profile over a larger geography and we now need to make this count. Our growth into managed services will be the platform for future stability for the business; this is such a massive area for us in 2013.