Janet Bowden started her business at home but now occupies smart offices and is online to make £5m sales.
Janet Bowden often recalls the times when she used to drive a van up and down the country, repossessing photocopiers... Today, her journey to work is made in the sort of car most people could only dream of – to the landmark four-storey building where she now employs a team of 19 herself.
But the photocopiers are still very much in evidence. In fact, without them Woodbank Office Solutions wouldn’t exist… “I realised all those years ago that there was good money in photocopiers,” says Janet. “There I was, only seven stone and five foot two, driving around in my van collecting them from businesses. Everyone was so nice and polite to me, even though I was taking their photocopier away!”
The experience proved to be Janet’s ‘light-bulb moment’, and – armed with only a handful of contracts and a full-page advert in Yellow Pages – she founded Woodbank Office Solutions from her home in Stockport.
Today, 27 years on, her company is one of the UK’s largest suppliers of Konica Minolta and Kyocera digital, multi-functional photocopiers and network printers. Woodbank has been named amongst Goldman Sachs’ top 10,000 small businesses. And business is growing, with the firm on track to achieve £3m turnover this year, building up to £5m next year.
As the only female in the photocopier dealer industry, Janet is straight-taking – but she also knows that one of the keys to success has been her willingness to learn. “I’ve still got clients that I signed on 25 years ago. This business is all about people. Get the people right and everything else will fall into place. People buy from people and if you are fair, people will be fair back to you.”
Woodbank’s story really goes back to Janet’s days at Rothschild’s Bank in Manchester, where she was first an account manager and then an underwriter finding funding for businesses wanting to buy photocopiers.
Before that, she studied for a City & Guilds in Catering, but realised it wasn’t the life for her. “I learned how to cook, but didn’t really like it,” she admits. “I worked at the bank until I had my son, and that was when they asked me to work from home, repossessing photocopiers…”
Founding Woodbank, Janet’s business model was to provide an expert service for the business communities around Greater Manchester, Stockport, and North West. Starting originally from her suburban home, the business then moved to offices in the iconic Strawberry recording studios in Stockport, and by 2003 transferred to their smart Churchgate address in the centre of town.
“One of the best things I’ve done is buying this building outright – although it was against my accountant’s advice!” says Janet. “He said it was too big and expensive, but I knew it was right for us. It’s already doubled in value. We’ve got a beautiful showroom and people buy from here. It’s been great for us.”
Whether it’s providing a single desk printer, or creating a whole print infrastructure, Woodbank prides itself on not just meeting, but exceeding its customers’ needs.
The company is proud to have helped thousands of customers over a whole range of printing sectors, including legal, financial services, education, healthcare, government and charities, and undertakes everything, from simple print management cases to complex corporate printing fleet services.
“We have the same approach to all our clients,” says Janet. “We’re a business underpinned by our core values: care, trust, enjoyment and enthusiasm.
“I believe we are the best. Why? Because we listen to our customers’ needs and it’s a long-term business relationship. Our high customer retention must mean that we’re doing something right.
“For me, integrity means being a fully honest broker, doing what you say you will, staying out of questionable situations and meticulously managing expectations. There’s just no room for grey areas for any excellent, long-term business venture.”
Janet and her team at Woodbank have won many awards and industry accreditations over the years, including The Institute of Directors distinction and numerous Konica Minolta Industry supplier awards. Looking to the future, Woodbank’s plans include opening a larger branch with showroom in Liverpool, a new office in Leeds and more growth.
And what advice would Janet give to anyone starting up their own business?
“I’ve learned not to be frightened about employing people who are better than you. Employ the best people you can afford.
“If you can dream it – you can do it. I have taken so many chances, but if I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t be where I am today. The things that you regret most in life are the risks you didn’t take.”
Finally, for anyone believing that the days of photocopiers are numbered, Janet has the last word: “We make our living every time someone pushes a button on a printer. You can read something better by printing and holding it. More copies are being done today than ever before. I can’t see demand diminishing – certainly not in my lifetime...”