Ringing the changes - Connexis interview with Carl Jones, Shropshire Business Magazine
22nd May 2021
Article from May/June edition of the Shropshire Business Magazine.
CARL JONES dials into the world of a Shropshire communications company which is operating in one of the world’s fastest moving tech sectors.
We’re all living in changing times, but few industries can have seen a more dramatic transformation since the turn of the century than the telecoms sector. It’s evolved at a rapid rate, both in terms of the products it provides, and the way in which a modern-day business person expects to be able to use them. And yet, at its core, the key priorities have never changed . . . to keep people connected in the most reliable, efficient, and cost-effective way.
William Rowland has more than a quarter of a century of experience in the industry, and is still at the helm of Connexis in Telford, which he founded in 1998. He says: “I’ve always said that it’s an evolution, rather than a revolution. When people say that things are moving really quickly, actually they are not moving any quicker than normal – this world is consistently evolving. “However, I would acknowledge that there has been more change in our industry in the last four to six months than there has been for some considerable time.” The evidence of this can be seen at the Connexis headquarters, on the Central Park business park, which now has a room set aside for dedicated video meetings.
Technical manager Joe Newton often finds himself in there, and says: “As soon as Boris Johnson went on the TV last March and made the announcement that we have to work from home, every single customer was on the phone to us asking how we can help them to work from home.
“We saw something very similar when the second wave of Covid arrived in the autumn, as those who had returned to the office had to be equipped once again to work from home, which again involved things like diverting office calls to mobiles.”
Over the last 12 months, it’s been a case of listening to customers, to find out just how much their working lives have been disrupted by Covid-19, and coming up with ways of easing their transition to the ‘new normal’. William says: “I can’t really think of a customer that I would say has made a knee jerk reaction to what has happened over this past year and taken the view that they need to just go out and spend a lot of money very quickly.
“It’s been more a case of them asking us to simply set them up in their new environment with the equipment they already have, by means of call divert and call forwarding.
“They have waited until the dust has settled, until they know what their business looks like, and what they think they are going to need going forward.
“That’s why I think we are actually busier now than we were at the start of the first lockdown, because people can see light at the end of the tunnel, and that by and large they are going to have the same office space – which this time last year they wouldn’t have really known.
“I actually think now is a far better time for a business to be reviewing their telecoms requirements than it would have been last summer, especially with the introduction of the two-year temporary additional tax relief on capital investments offered to companies by the Government, from April 1 this year.”
The balance of power is certainly changing in the telecoms sector, with some of the traditional big players making way for new power players. Panasonic Communications, who were among the first entrants into the UK marketplace when it began to be deregulated, allowing resellers to emerge, announced at the end of last year they were shutting down globally, giving two years’ notice that they are pulling out of the market. Done, dusted, gone. Was William surprised to hear this? Not entirely. “They feel they can’t adapt quick enough to keep up with the smaller niche players. I think the larger players have been caught on the hop against these emerging companies which are really on the charge.
“What we find is that those are the types of organisations that are being more innovative, are more nimble, and are coming out with products which are better suited to the environment we now work in.
“Those large traditional organisations just aren’t fleet of foot enough to respond sufficiently quickly or effectively.”
More than three quarters of Connexis’ contracted customers are within a 50-mile radius of its Telford headquarters, and their profile has barely changed over the years – typically they will have somewhere between 4-400 users.
The company serves a broad range of sectors such as solicitors, accountants, schools, hotels, motor dealers and manufacturers. In Shropshire, they include well-known and respected local employers such as Hatchers, WR Davies, Shukers, WR Partners, Morris Lubricants, Dyke Yaxley, and Barbers estate agents.
Martin Wicks, owner of Ashdale Group Hotels, another Connexis customer, says: “We valued the consultative approach offered by Connexis and they are now our trusted connectivity supplier.”
Mark Munro of Hatchers said the fully integrated phone system set up for all three of the company’s offices had improved the team’s ability to communicate with each other, as well as with customers.
William Rowland continues: “At the end of the day, for our customers, it’s the same kit that they are buying – it’s just we are enabling them to use it in a slightly different way, to suit their individual needs.
“The good news is that everybody needs a telephony solution – but that’s also the bad news, because it means the sector is incredibly competitive.”
Connexis now has partnerships with many major telecoms players. On the systems and hardware side, they include Avaya, Unify and Ericsson-LG, and a new partnership with Wildix signed at the start of this year. Connectivity partners include TalkTalk Business (TTB), Gamma Telecom, City Fibre – the former Entanet business – and Daisy Wholesale, and for mobile, the company sells EE direct, and buys O2 and Vodafone packages on a wholesale basis.
William says: “I’ve never felt more comfortable with our product portfolio than I do today. We have got alternatives and options in every sector, which is the most important thing. “All we want is happy customers, because hopefully happy customers are loyal customers.
“We make a living, and not a fortune here. We don’t owe the banks any money, we hope that our customers like what we do, and they come back. “I do take this business personally – it’s had blood, sweat and tears out of me – so maintaining customer relationships and our reputation is really important, particularly on a local level.”
So what’s the biggest challenge for a telecoms company like Connexis over the coming months? William says: “I’d say it’s how we get the phone to ring and how to get the message out that we are a good and trustworthy company to work with.
“Maybe telemarketing and telesales is not going to work in the same way in future, and we will have to try something a bit different.
“The good news is that we have got the right people – Joe is home grown, as is our engineering team, and the best thing I did from an engineering perspective was to take apprentices from Telford College.
“The good people in our industry tend to stay put, and the not so good people are slushing around looking for jobs, with no loyalty. “Each and every time I need engineering resources in the future, the college will be my first port of call.