Procurement 2 November 2015
How I made the switch from pen and paper to technology and fast-tracked my business’s growth
For John Griffin, founder and MD of furniture assembly service Unflatpack, embracing technology-driven systems proved vital to achieving fast-track business growth. He told Business Advice how he did it and what challenges he faced. According to recent research, carried out by professional services network?Bidvine.com, sole traders and micro-businesses are lagging behind when it comes to embracing new technology. Although 20 per cent of the 630 firms’surveyed have lost money as a result of using traditional pen and paper based systems, they are still finding the transition to technology a tricky one. Despite plans to phase out cheques by 2018, 44 per cent of small businesses are still accepting them while less than a quarter take web payments and six per cent accept mobile payments. Ilaunched Unflatpack ten years ago, running itout of an office in London with a duplicate pad and paper-based system in place to process single orders. All customer communications took place over the phone and, from the outset, the focus was firmly placed on customer service. I soon realised that technology would be the only way to fully facilitate customer needs, provide a reliable service and, ultimately, grow the business. The turning point came when I invested in a sophisticated management system that allowed technology to look after the administration, so a growing team could concentrate on customer services. We were one of the first businesses of our kind, so making our service simple and straightforward was key; we recognised early on that wecould only grow with a happy customer base.I still view Unflatpack as a great customer service team that can build furniture. Technology allowed us to build and store a customer database. It also meant we couldmanage a comprehensive pricing system across a wide range of products enabling us to offer a simple flat-pricing system that competitors simply couldnt. Word spread and our services were soon being extended to Brighton, the outskirts of London and Birmingham. We steadily grew from a small startup reliant on the skills of a single fitter in London into a nationwide outfit. We now manage a network of over 100 furniture fitters across the country, communicating with each other and customers via a web portal and text messages. We are now working on an app based system to further improve our work flow and customer experience. The move from traditional methods to more modern processes was a gradual but crucial one. A telephone number has and will continue to be available for customers who prefer a more old-fashioned approach. A fifth of initial enquiries still take place over the phone, although we expect this figure to dwindle as mobile technology takes over. Online interactions now account for 75 per cent of our business which is why online lead generation services like Bidvine are so important as they turn customer interest in our service into tangible enquiries which provide us with another stream of work.