Wasp's Hugh Furness on recession and the future

Creating a buzz

Wasp has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a family-run firm to a global player in the inventory solutions market. Its path to international status began when it recognised a niche in the inventory market. While most companies were chasing big business contracts, small-to-medium enterprises were being left out of the loop.

In response to this, Wasp developed an out-of-the-box solution for those companies that wanted to increase efficiency, without breaking the bank. Over time, Wasp has gone from strength-to-strength and now, with the recession eating in to margins everywhere, efficiency is increasingly a prime concern for everyone.

How has the recession affected your clients and through them, your business?
It didn’t really affect us until November last year, which is when we started to see a downturn. But December – usually a quiet month – saw a big pickup in business. It was our asset and inventory products that were selling a lot more than others. Our phone activity doubled and that continued into the New Year.

We’re finding that people are becoming increasingly aware that they need to be efficient with their stocktaking, inventory control and asset location, so we’re seeing a very big boost within that range. While our normal products – scanners and printers – are slightly down, our big kit – like asset and inventory are up which is great.

How important is stock tracking to businesses during a downturn?
It’s essential. From our point of view, we’re seeing an increase in end users wanting to keep track of stock and assets; they want to make their business more efficient. We’re also starting to find that our resellers are saying the same thing, so we’re finding demand from both sides of the equation; from our partners and the end user.

So in effect, the recession has had quite a positive effect on your business?
Everybody hates to say the word ‘positive’ in this kind of environment, but I would say that on the whole it has had a positive effect on our asset and inventory control lines. We are aware, however, that we were slightly removed from the effects of the recession because the products we produce are all about improving efficiency. As a company, the aim is to be more cautious and measured about what we do. We’re being cautious but the sales are still very good.

When we last spoke to you, Wasp was looking to further develop its working relationship with resellers. Would you say this has been successful?
We’ve increased our Wasplink membership – our partner programme – and we’ve actually expanded the team here to assist with that. We’ve improved and expanded our technical support team to become more efficient and give support to the reseller programme when needed and we’ll be introducing new programmes this year.

One of these is a programme called Wasp Protect, an extended warranty programme where anybody who is looking to extend their warranty can additionally get all the support and upgrades they need for a nominal fee. We’ve tested this in the US and it seems to have worked very well.

When we spoke to you last (July 2008), you had 250 resellers listed. Has that list expanded since then?
We actually finished last year with around 500 resellers. We had doubled the number from around 250 to 480; we’re actually now up to around 850 resellers in the UK, which was fantastic news from our point of view.
I would say that the top ten resellers are still the top ten. They’re still very active and still hunting for business. We work very closely with those because some of them are the big contracts with NHS, Government, MOD and education. We picked up BP through our reseller programme.

Previously, you said you were ready to come out ‘all guns blazing’ in 2009. It sounds like this is still the case, but have you needed to do so?
We were ready to hit 2009 really hard. Our strategy is still that we should do this, but on a corporate level we do need to exercise some caution.

On the other hand, we’ve improved our tech support, we’ve introduced new memberships for the Wasplink programme, we’re introducing the new training programme and we have the staff to support it and we now run training programmes twice a week. We also have Wasp Protect coming, we’re launching our Time and Attendance hardware later this year and we’re doing a lot of activity with distribution and the VARs to really help them. So I would say we’ve come out and hit the market hard, but we’re doing it cautiously and sticking to the original plan.

It sounds like the key for Wasp at the moment is in adding value. Is that right?
It is. We’ve increased our Wasplink membership, but in doing that we’ve also increased internally with the mechanisms and staff to actually support everything and our online activity has doubled in recent months.

What can we expect from Wasp through 2009?
Well, at the moment, we’re still hitting our targets, but as I said we’re proceeding with caution. We’re not going to be chasing big numbers, but what we are doing is looking at what we did last year and improving on that. You’ll see a continuing growth in our market presence, you’ll see us expanding our VAR network, we’ll probably take on more staff and you’ll see the launch of two new products – Time and Attendance and Wasp Protect in the next three to four months.

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