Alister Hall, Managing Director of independent dealer Go2, has been a massive advocate of diversification – the buzzword for 2023 – for a long time. It’s one of the reasons he left the office supplies company he’d worked at for over 20 years to establish his own business – Nu Office – and explains the decision to go it alone as Go2 in 2019.
Hall admits he effectively “slapped himself in the face” by choosing Nu Office as the name due to his belief that dealers are hamstrung by the word ‘office’. Nevertheless, the name made sense in 2014. Upon leaving the firm he had worked for since the age of 18, he opted for the route of setting up a division – Nu Office – within a commercial cleaning company owned by two school friends.
Access to infrastructure, a supply chain and clients meant Hall hit the ground running, pitching jan/san and washroom products to existing accounts. The timing couldn’t have been more opportune, having launched during a period of focus on facilities supplies from the wholesalers and dealer groups. Utilising the supply chain access as a springboard, Nu Office was able to tap into potential markets on a whole new level which led to winning profitable accounts.
Despite the relative success of Nu Office, Hall wanted to break away and become fully independent. In 2019, an amicable decision was reached with the commercial cleaning company, enabling Hall to branch out on his own. He named the company to Go2 and subsequently signed up with Office Power.
Released from the shackles of the ‘office’, Hall says: “If anyone asks what Go2 is about, I say we are like Amazon Business but with reps,” adding that while he considers the online giant to be his biggest competitor, it’s also an easy win against it. “We provide all the positives of Amazon, plus account managers and services.”
Go2’s current number of employees is ten – five permanent staff and five contracted agents. Two members of the permanent Go2 team are Client Service Specialists Riley Pond and Izzy Lancaster, who help to deliver the “final mile red carpet service”. Customers have a dedicated account manager with experts from vendor partners drafted in for specific projects such as furniture fit-outs.
Predictably, facilities management represents the company’s largest category, while stationery now makes up just 10% of sales. The remainder comprises office furniture, print, jan/san, breakroom, workwear and education supplies. In terms of services, some – like warehousing – are dealt with by Hall and his team directly, while others, including managed print audits, cloud storage or cleaning resources, are negotiated deals through supply partners or arranged on a commission or fee basis.
With fingers in many pies, Go2 has rapidly grown. Sales from 2021-2022 rose by an impressive 206% – primarily through constantly adding new product areas and solutions. Hall hopes to replicate some of last year’s success through a repeat contract as a service provider to an events management client. Understandably keen to maintain the partnership – worth around £500,000 to the dealer last year – all indicators point towards the re-awarding of the contracts this year.
The expectation is for the events to be upscaled now the country is out of the pandemic, potentially adding a further £250,000 to the company’s revenue.
Having gained huge experience in events management, the appetite for additional development remains high but ultimately rests in the hands of the client. “I’ll happily provide services for several events a year as it’s a nice top-up for Go2,” says Hall, but adds he would be equally delighted if the business was expanded.
Making dreams come true
Category and vertical market expansion only partly explain the dealer’s success. In 2020, John Warne joined as Sales Director and Hall believes Go2’s accomplishments can also be attributed to the pair’s tenacity in gaining a foot in the door with the appropriate departments.
“When I speak to my peers, they’re almost being held hostage by their clients – bending over backwards for them, dropping prices, not generating margin or valuing themselves. If you win on price, you lose on price. We win and retain on process.”
It begins by talking to the financial decision-makers because they essentially want to reduce the number of suppliers on their books. Next is acquiring knowledge via the facilities managers – they know what is required, who does what, and who purchases which products. “This kicks off a simplification procedure where everyone starts to see the bigger picture and wants to become part of the solution – one which doesn’t revolve around price.”
In Hall’s world, this simply means putting in a process for procurement more efficient and streamlined than a customer already has – particularly with respect to reducing the burden and cost of dealing with hundreds of merchants and the subsequent invoices. “It’s a consultancy exercise where clients paint their dream to you, and you present it back to them,” he says.
Thoroughly prepared to walk away from clients likely to “constantly haggle on price”, Hall believes plenty of companies understand the ‘process’ and the value it can offer. “Customers have a Go2 single login and access to all the required workplace supplies and solutions. It kills any argument.”
The majority of Go2 customers are professional services firms such as solicitors and accountants. Interestingly, Hall has observed a twist in the tale of hybrid working – increased footfall to the workplace. One client, for example, currently employs more staff than before the pandemic, as they can be accommodated in the building thanks to a free-flowing hotdesking arrangement.
“This undeniably is the new way of operating, and I believe it’s starting to work. In our world, this means there remains a necessity for what we provide.”
The onset of flexible working has led to a ‘Back to Office Shop’ offering, with three specific target audiences – business owners, office managers and employees. Take-up of the service is currently limited to a few buyers, but with an upcoming website refresh designed to offer a ‘store-like’ feel, the expectation is for a jump in companies subscribing and joining the Go2 family. As it stands, 60% of all orders are directed through the website.
The secret recipe
The team is now concentrating on building brand recognition and gradually onboarding clients. “We see each customer as a medium- to long-term project, working collaboratively and growing organically with them,” notes Hall.
Without revealing the whole ‘Colonel’s secret recipe’, utilising social media communication platforms has been a revelation in enhancing relationships, according to Hall. Creating client-specific messaging groups permits two-way direct access for swift decisions to be made, including product ordering on the fly.
At present, Go2 customers are predominantly based in and around the capital, although a push into verticals such as hospitality will likely result in geographic expansion. A recent contract, for example, relates to a hotel chain with locations across the country.
Another involving a large facilities provider is being trialled in London. If there is a favourable outcome for the London pilot, Go2 will supply other branches around the UK. The hospitality sector is an underserved market ripe for the picking, states Hall, with the potential to expand into other areas, for instance, universities and residential accommodation.
Time to transform
Hall believes the company is poised for more opportunities and while the focus is on acquiring prospects, he doesn’t want to overcommit and become a Jack of all trades, master of none. “A nice solid pipeline suits me fine,” he says.
He also acknowledges that transforming the portfolio is not without its challenges. Mitigating some of the issues, particularly involving supply chain management, two contractors have recently been hired – one in purchasing, the other in wholesale
Acquiring this type of expertise will become increasingly valuable as the metamorphosis of Go2 continues. An advocate for dealers working together to remodel the industry, Hall states: “Dealers have to be strong, proactive, push back and drive change. It won’t happen any other way.”