Midwich seeks to be the best in Europe

Stephen Fenby, MD of Midwich at Diss, distributers for audio visual products. Picture: Denise Bradle

Stephen Fenby, MD of Midwich at Diss, distributers for audio visual products. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: Archant 2013

Tucked away at the end of Vinces Road in Diss, Midwich is not what you expect.

The EADT/EDP Top 100 company is the UK’s largest distributor of audio-visual equipment, which means it is the firm supplying tens of thousands of items from printers, office projectors, and camera equipment to suppliers across the country.

So when you arrive at the office you half expect to find a giant warehouse.

But the reality could not be further from the truth.

At its bustling two-storey operation rows of teams – there are 260 staff based at Diss – sit at computer terminals drumming up the deals which connect the manufacturers with suppliers.

The warehouse is in fact in the Midlands, and what you see instead is a high-paced target driven environment, and that focus which has taken the firm to the top in the UK, is now helping to give it a larger presence overseas and particularly in Europe.

Heading up the operation is managing director Stephen Fenby.

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A Yorkshireman and trained accountant, who started his career with Ernst and Young and later Deloitte, he is also a keen triathlete. After joining the firm more than a decade ago as finance director, he has since overseen a growth strategy which has seen Midwich acquire specialist firms in Ireland, France and Australia.

Midwich was originally founded by husband and wife team David and Ruth Watson, but has since undergone several changes of ownership. It started off assembling BBC Computers and distributing computer components in 1979 and then moved on to printers. In the mid 1990s it then got into audio-visual products at the start of the office projector boom in the UK, which was when Mr Fenby came on board.

Today its sales are about £211m including £25.9m overseas sales, a growth rate of 116%, which has seen the firm recently listed in the Sunday Times International Track 200 league table which ranks Britain’s private companies with the fastest-growing international sales.

“We have grown up in that market place and we are now the largest specialist audio-visual distributer in the UK by quite some margin,” Mr Fenby said. “In 2009 we bought Square One Distributions in Ireland. That business has done pretty well and we are quite pleased with that and we’ve got a good team running it. The reason for buying a business is to get expertise or a business’ reputation in a market. We don’t want to dilute what we have bought.

“We want to keep what makes them special.”

With turnover largely flat in the UK in the last couple of years, Midwich has instead looked overseas, buying a French firm Sidev. It also has ambitions to move into Germany.

“The plan was always to become the biggest distributor of AV in Europe,” Mr Fenby said. “Having grown the business in the UK, we want to grow it in Europe. Sidev was a business whose parent company had got into trouble. We probably made life difficult for ourselves buying a foreign company out of administration, which was quite an experience, and it took quite some time to see the benefits. But we were very happy to re-invest the money to grow jobs and make it a stronger business.”

He said the firm funds its acquisitions through its retained profits, but also has a supportive relationship with its bankers at Barclays.

“I am open-minded on opportunities,” he added. “The Australian opportunity came up through a mutual contact. We’ve investigated the market and want to help the business grow out there. It’s a lovely place based outside Sydney, and we have a long queue of people want to go on secondment there! “One of our guys has gone down there with his family on a two-year secondment. As the business has grown, staff have seized on the opportunities and we are going to develop that. We can grow our people, not just here, but with overseas opportunities.”