"Follow A Fast-Growing Industry"

Terry Jarman,  Sandham Office Services

Terry Jarman, Sandham Office Services, Sandown

I saw an amazing opportunity.
Back in the 1970's I had been a typewriter fixer for years, on the mainland. I'd come back to the Island with my young family and had started to supply customers with replacements. 

It started by luck – I managed to say “Yes” when a customer asked me to replace her broken dictaphone. 

I was trying to arrange that through the supplier's Regional Manager. He told me to ask Hampshire's main dealer, so I went to meet him in Waterlooville. and found him unpacking the latest electronic typewriters from a delivery. 

I was amazed at how advanced they were. He saw this and asked, “Could you sell these?”. Again I managed to say “Yes!”

So I brought the first modern typewriter to the Island. Sales grew because they were so popular. They revolutionised office work.

I got the Canon dealership for the Island later that year. We've sold, leased, and repaired photocopiers and later advances in office print technology ever since.

Because our products were so good, and I was quite good with people as well as machines, we've grown steadily, and 36 years has gone by in a blink. It's been such fun that now, aged 72 I feel I can step back and leave the day-to-day running of the company to the rest of the team.

Feeling For Success

Commentary by Dave SImon

Business needs more emotion than most people realise.

Enterprising is risky – little is guaranteed. You can only try things and find out whether they work. Hope is absolutely essential.

Determination in adversity and pride in achievement are obviously important.

Courage is key when you work an opportunity – because it is new, different, unfamiliar. Other people aren't going that way yet. There's few guidelines and no guarantees.

Commitment drives decisions into action. Try things to learn what works. So "...learning faster is vital for success".

Frustration is a good sign – it springs from the passion that sustains you until you succeed.

Being friendly is the only way to encourage others for more than a moment. There are two rules to know: people buy from people they like, and people help people they like. This means suppliers, staff, customers and many others: you have to be friendly.

Teamwork is usually the real engine in business. Even sole traders have support teams – often family and friends. 'Going it alone' is a misleading notion: 'leading a new team' is better.

Starting up, speeding up or steadying up – emotions drive the sustained activity that leads to success. Get Better Team Performance here.

Lucky Timing

The timing was just right for me. My entrepreneurial brain had just switched on – previously I'd been in 'employee mode'. But I had begun to feel I could do better, and I wanted to return to the Island. It all fitted together really well for me.

A consultant challenged me to set up on my own. He must have seen some initiative in me that interested him. He offered to match any funds I could put into a business.

Luck is a thing you can't control. If I hadn't had those lucky breaks, I couldn't have built from that opportunity, but I realise now that I had the ability to see the opportunity and make use of it. However opportunities don't make businesses – people do.

First Steps

Despite wanting to 'go it alone', I hadn't thought through how I was going to sell my services. These were expensive machines – back in 1982, they cost £1100. So it was just as well that the Canon products were so well designed that I could make a great impression without too much effort. I was tentatively suggesting office managers try one, and some were asking for two or more!

The industry was growing fast. Technical innovation boosted office productivity. During the transition from manual typewriters to electric, no-one could afford to get left behind. That rising tide of demand is what built my business.

Nowadays I'm sure that people buy from people. I seem to be a likeable enough guy – more luck! – and my products sold themselves in the early days. Once I had one machine in an office, I could visit and ask whether they needed more...

Growing Like Mad

Suddenly I had a new industrial unit and two employees and an overdraft the size of my house. Canon gave me a huge credit limit so I was also in debt to them while I sold my stock. I was taking an enormous financial risk but the sales kept on coming. All the same it was 12 years before I was in the black!

My bank helped. I talked to the Regional Manager who restructured my huge debt to keep my cashflow free of trouble.

I nearly came a cropper at one stage when I'd been sold a lot of equipment that customers didn't like. I couldn't sell it on, but I didn't find out until it was too late. The rep who'd sold it to me wouldn't take it back and I was stuck.

But then I had more luck. A new manager in Canon was sympathetic and swapped all that equipment out. I got replacements that I could sell, so off we went again!

Supportive Suppliers

Over the years, Canon have been very generous in supporting me. They gave me an exclusive dealership for the Island which gave me a great deal of confidence.

In turn that allowed me to be supportive to my customers. I'm a people person and a fixer, so when people have problems that I can help with, it all feels very natural. There's no hard sell. Then people feel easy coming back to me again later. I have come to the conclusion that your quality of service is remembered long after the price is forgotten.

The quality of service you should give as a supplier is what you would expect as a customer.

Ups and Downs

I worked in a narrow field and I had known products. Once I got used to selling, my conversations with customers were very steady. I didn't need to be hugely creative every day, and that made things relatively easy for a long time.

But it's not such smooth going these days. The entire sector is now slumping, partly due to the devaluation of the Euro. And Canon's technical leadership is now not so much stronger than its competitors. So there is much more of a price war developing.

This means that while the end price is lowered, suppliers want more from me than they used to. I cannot gain the same margin. The result is that our profits are much more challenged than they used to be. We have to be more practical about our sales and repairs now. Luckily (again!) my overheads are lower than they used to be as my borrowing has shrunk. People starting nowadays will have a rougher time than I did.

People First

I have to put much of my success down to the team who work with me. They are very supportive to me personally and to our customers.

Similarly, we take youngsters under our wing to nurture them and bring them on. I was an apprentice once and I know where that journey starts from. I think we should coach and encourage our young to give them the best chance. They are the Island's future.

Island Ways

I do think that being local helped me develop this business. Travelling reps from the mainland had a tougher time back then. People were cautious of strangers. Although the world has shrunk so much, Island people probably still feel safer with local suppliers.

But I do sometimes wish the Island sold itself a bit better. We have a wonderful place here, but we find so many things difficult. One of my pet wishes is that we could bridge the Medina to make a bypass for Coppins Bridge.

Last Words

I would do it all again, just the same. As a teenager, I started in a garage working for wealthy people. I got used to talking to people and developed skills that have stood me well over time. In the end, business is all about service, and service is all about people-skills.

My support of my staff has helped them support our customers. We provide great quality of service – we always help as much as we can. And so my customers are like another team who support me. We can all rely on each other. The circle keeps itself going.

I do feel a lot of satisfaction from what I have achieved. Loyalty and teamwork are the basis of all progress.

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