John Street, operations director at IT services company Agilitas
John Street, operations director at IT services company Agilitas, tells BQ how exporting has helped the company grow into scores of overseas markets...
What does your company do?
Agilitas is the leading European innovator of customer driven inventory-as-a-service solutions. Passionate about delivering first class IT services for customers, we specialise in helping major IT companies extend their service capabilities and improve quality of service to customers.
We manage spare parts inventories across server, storage and networking technologies, delivering complementing technical services to customers across 26 countries and to over 12,500 locations throughout Europe. These services include cloud services, technical training, technical support, product repair and specialist engineering resource.
When was your company launched, who by and why?
The company was originally founded in 1990 as Computer Parts International Limited under the guidance of Acal PLC. In 2014 though, our CEO Shaun Lynn led a management buyout which saw the company rebrand as Agilitas IT Solutions and stand on its own feet.
How long has the company been exporting?
Agilitas first exported IT services almost 20 years ago. Back then it was just France, but since the company has gradually grown its export footprint exponentially across Europe.
What do you currently export, and where to?
Agilitas currently exports IT services in support of inventory management. The company helps maintain the uptime of client computer systems by ensuring that the right spare parts are in the right place at the right time to be installed by an Agilitas trained engineer supported by Agilitas’ remote technical experts, 24x7x365.
What motivated you to start selling overseas, and how long did it take?
To enable the business to grow we needed to expand our reach. Also, more often these days’ global businesses are looking for a services partner who can provide a single point of contact for their requirement. We could see the potential in being able to meet this demand.
How much of your business now amounts to exports?
International sales contributed to 26% of our annual revenue in our last financial year (2015/16).
What is most challenging thing about exporting?
The fear of the unknown is always a challenge, knowing the questions to ask and whom to ask them too. What hidden costs would you find when dealing with customs regimes and other legal obligations applicable when trading internationally can produce challenges. For the IT market specifically manufacturer's rules regarding the shipment of goods within and across territories also brings its demand. To overcome cross border restrictions requires us to develop additional supply chains and adapt to new cultures.
Have language barriers, currency changes, etiquette and culture ever caused you any difficulties? How did you overcome them?
We often find that the people we engage with accept the differences we bring and welcome us in trying to build the business relationship. By engaging with DTI, Chamber of Commerce and EMITA, we meet with likeminded professionals, attended seminars, events and most importantly actually make time to visit people. We also invest in professional advice with regards to customs duty, import and export records and VAT. This removes a lot of concerns, knowing we are legally compliant which above all allows us to give clearer timelines to our customers for project implementations.
Did you get any support when you wanted to trade abroad? Who from, and was it helpful?
Agilitas is reliant on DTI and the Chamber of Commerce to support its international success.
Both agencies have been used to introduce Agilitas to relevant trade shows, prospective clients, in addition to providing funded language training for a number of our team members and export advice when trading with non-EU markets.
What advice would you give to someone just starting to explore overseas markets?
Firstly, believe in the product or service you are trying to export, without this you will fail as there are often setbacks or difficulties therefore you definitely need the passion to succeed. Respect the people you come into contact with, do your research on culture and by doing this people will be more open. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again – the word innovate is used often these days, but it may be that you need to think of a slightly different approach to get where you need to. Deliver on your promise and never disappoint a new customer. Finally embrace the changes that brings new markets and customers, be bold enough to give it a go.
Where next? What markets are you looking into and where do you see the company in five years time?
This is an exciting time for the Agilitas business. We’re currently in negotiations with a customer to deliver global support. If successful, we’ll be extending our services into North and South America (Canada, USA and Brazil) in addition to parts of Africa, Asia and Oceania in the next two years.
In five years’ time I expect Agilitas to have a full international reach, running multiple global operations.