Workplace360: Mark, welcome to Workplace360. Let’s kick off by understanding your career to date.
Mark Heath: Thanks Steve. I could be considered an industry veteran given I started as a teenager, but what I’d really like to talk about is how the industry has reshaped and reinvented itself and how I can bring my experience to bear.
I’ve been part of start-ups, scale-ups, takeovers and exits as well as wearing dealer, owner and manager hats, so consider myself to be well-placed to understand the challenges from all sides. It also means I believe I am a good problem-solver.
W360: What attracted you to Office Power then?
MH: I sold Bluefish back in 2019 for personal reasons, and then 2022 came around with the chance to write my next chapter.
I’ve known Simon Drakeford, CEO of EO Group – which includes Office Power and Euroffice – for a long time. He got me excited about what Office Power was doing and I wanted to be part of it.
W360: This is one of the few occasions you’re going to get in this interview to pitch what you do as a business. So, please explain what the Office Power model is, why it was created and how it’s evolved.
MH: We offer dealers a mix of software and services which, when combined, is immensely powerful. We talk about customer-first software and I know, as a former dealer myself, you always have a solid back-office system and then try to shoehorn a website around it.
Starting with a customer-first system totally changes the dynamic of what we develop for our dealers and, more importantly, what they create for themselves. We see Office Power as next-generation – providing dealers with a grown-up infrastructure, the ability to deliver something different and enabling them to move onto the front foot.
The software is great – that’s a given. Now include the services and the support we offer dealers in managing their business and we can honestly say Office Power is a fantastic platform for growth.
W360: Let’s dive a little bit deeper and talk about the software side first. The general perception is you test it out in Euroffice and make it available to dealers. Is that, in a nutshell, what you’re offering?
MH: Originally, perhaps. However, as we’ve acquired new dealer partners, it’s taken us in an entirely different direction. Without a doubt, the kick-off point was an excellent product that sat in Euroffice, but what we have now is rapidly evolving to cater to the needs and desires of dealers.
W360: What are some of the bells and whistles?
MH: Recently, we have added ‘sign on glass’ delivery and full punchout integration. We’re looking at stocking systems and working on services such as drivers with iPads who can check stock cupboards and sign off on customer requirements there and then. We’re also making it easy for dealers to build in diversification and extend their range.
W360: You mentioned services. Talk us through some of those.
MH: Looking back at the Office Power of old, it was one-size-fits-all. Today, our dealer partners can subscribe to as many services as they want and shape the menu to suit specific business requirements. It includes training support, marketing, customer service, finance and operations. Dealers may join the programme wherever they want, which makes it tremendously scalable for bigger partners going forward.
W360: What you’re saying is that it’s more of a menu now, and people can choose to retain elements of their own business and then hand over parts to Office Power?
MH: Absolutely. It’s the SaaS model. Take the software and apply the services and the style that suit your business. ‘Your Business, Your Way’ is our mantra now.
W360: Can you share any statistics about how many dealer partners are currently working with you on the platform and how that’s trending?
MH: We’ve witnessed a 10% growth in dealers since the end of 2021, with a swiftly rising upward trajectory. It’s always challenging to look at the overall number of partners in terms of size and scale, but we are unquestionably on a big growth track with a robust pipeline and we have an engaged partner community.
W360: What do you attribute that to?
MH: Hopefully, I’ve completed the jigsaw in that Office Power has incredibly talented people, great software development and more experience in dealer culture, which is starting to close the loop. We hold our feet to the fire to ensure we deliver what our partners require and, most importantly, understand their needs.
W360: You quite often, rightly or wrongly, get compared with dealer groups. Does that frustrate you?
MH: It definitely inspires our work. We see ourselves as the next generation of software and services, with a unique offering through a single platform and a system deeply invested in our dealer partners. It’s not just about buying and reselling products, it’s an entire business DNA.
W360: You’ve run your own business, so you’ll understand how a lot of the dealer principals reading this interview will be operating. What do you believe are the major hurdles they have to overcome to embrace a new model?
MH: For any dealer right now, it’s about successful diversification while retaining control of their business. Don’t chase shadows.
W360: That leads us nicely to the reason why we’ve created this publication. What do you think are the challenges facing our industry as we embark on or continue the journey into being a broader workplace supplies environment?
MH: I think an issue over the past 12 months has been the realisation that the historical market is behind us. Everyone has been comparing their sales to pre-COVID times and many now recognise what their lower level of revenue is – essentially their new baseline, even if they don’t like it. We can start building business models armed with this information and ensure we have partners and a supply chain that are more durable.
What dealers provide is an excellent concierge service to a me-too product, and I’m a firm believer that, as long as you’re adding value to your partners, opportunities still exist. We talk about recession, not depression – no one dealer has an enormous market share, so the possibilities are huge.
W360: We’ve experienced a lot of macroeconomic headwinds over the past few years, but people continue to buy product and services. Employees may not be in the office five days a week, and there are many other issues at play, but we still have a reasonably buoyant opportunity.
MH: I thoroughly agree. There is enormous headroom for a business that applies itself logically and strategically, harbours ambition and works hard. At Bluefish, we used to have a saying that if you can tell me when it was easy, I’ll reduce your targets. It’s never been easy. As it stands now, it’s just a different sort of difficult.
W360: Let’s talk about some of the broader issues. A recent headline suggested people are back in the office on average one and a half days a week. This obviously has had a substantial impact on our industry but are we overexaggerating it?
MH: Looking at Google mobility data, for example, roughly 30% of people are at home at any point and it’s tough. Clearly, there’s been a huge recalibration, but the good news is we now understand it which means we can work with our partners to develop flexible businesses that suit the new ways of working.
W360: What about other headwinds like the cost of living and energy crises?
MH: I think we tackle them head-on. The cost of living is an interesting one and it’s vital to support and look after your team as best as possible. Some people are talking about more inflation in the system this year, although admittedly, it hasn’t been completely detrimental to our sector.
With the level of downturn in overall volumes, increased prices have helped somewhat. Paper is a prime example – maybe it was too cheap for too long, but the reversal has been profound.
W360: As an industry very reliant on the wholesale community, I’m interested to hear your views on some of the events we’ve seen happening over the past couple of years.
MH: If you go back to the end of 2019, we had a wholesale industry that wasn’t sustainable, over-servicing people and filling gaps that it likely didn’t have to. I heard it described recently as a knife fight in a phone box. There needed to be healthy reformatting, although it was quite painful for dealers and probably a little dramatic in the way it happened.
We have got to be supportive of the channel but hold them to task and ensure they’re doing the job they’re expected to do. Equally, we must give everybody enough room to breathe – dealers and wholesalers have both been guilty of knee-jerk reactions in the past. If you divide the wholesale relationship into commercial and logistical, then we require continuity and consistency in both areas.
W360: The issue of content and data rears its head frequently. I think the UK is reasonably well-serviced, particularly with the FusionPlus Data model. How does that dovetail with what you do at Office Power?
MH: It constitutes a really exciting part of the next chapter for us if we can get the data right and offer the market the service and the full range dealers want. We’re having conversations with manufacturers regarding the thousands of lines in the UK that they’re unable to get to market effectively. Unfortunately, this leaves the door wide open for Amazon to step through.
We’ve got to turn the tide. It boils down to an extended range, marketplace and product access – the most successful dealers are already doing this well. I believe Office Power is well positioned to grab this opportunity by the throat and become the best.
W360: What’s the outlook for the next few years for this sector – assuming there are no more wild things to come?
MH: I derive great comfort from what I said earlier – a good business can diversify and build an even better business; it just needs the tools and the desire to do so and that’s why Office Power’s flexible software and services model combined with the partner community is so well-suited to today’s and the future market. The next few years will be about winners and losers. But then life always is, isn’t it?
W360: Thank you, Mark, and good luck in this new chapter of your life.