The Interview: Rob Meachem, BGWT
BGWT’s Rob Meachem is one of electronic security distribution’s most experienced leaders. Now tasked with taking BGW Technologies to next level, he discusses the company and the opportunities and challenges facing the distribution market. In the Interview this month, Rob talks with SEN editor, John Adams.
JA: How does it feel to be back in the electronics security industry, Rob? Are you enjoying yourself?
RM: It feels great but to be honest, having so many strong relationships and friendships in the industry, I hardly felt I ever left. Certainly, a lot has changed in 2 years and I’m loving being a part of helping to grow this young business.
JA: Tell us about BGWT, it’s a bigger company than many people in the local security industry realise, isn’t it?
RM: BGW Technologies (BGWT) is still very young in its evolution as part of the electronic security industry when compared to other distributors yet we’ve already established a very solid base in terms of our products, people and customers. BGWT operates as a separate division of the BGW Group of companies, which is a proudly Australian family-owned business.
When it comes to our size, the locations of our branches and the depth of our capacity to serve customers and support suppliers is probably underestimated. The BGW Group of companies has more than 1000 staff and more than 100 branches across Australia and Asia, and has a history going back more than 40 years. BGW Group’s core business is based around wholesale electrical, technology and plumbing supplies to the trade. In terms of BGW Technologies, the electronic security business, we have more than 20 dedicated customer-facing staff with branches in Brisbane, Perth, Sydney, and Melbourne.
JA: What about BGWT’s people – who are the key members of the team?
RM: The owner Brian Webb and CEO Laurie Murphy share a strong focus on people which makes up an important element of our culture. I also share this value and that of a team approach. I believe our customers want to deal with a distributor that has people able to answer questions and provide information at a very technical level. We have a great pool of these people and continue to recruit additional people that meet this need. Examples include the last 3 people to join our team – Mark Shannon, Aaron Colley and Paul Felton. All are highly regarded for their industry knowledge and deep technical ability.
JA: What would you say is BGWT Australia’s greatest strength – what does BGWT bring its customers no one else can offer?
RM: I reckon this is a great question for the customers to answer, but I believe one of our greatest strengths is our inherent business DNA and our ownership structure. Let me explain – at every level in our business we understand the fundamental needs and wants of our customers. From the owners, executive team, and management all the way to customer facing staff – we simply get it.
A great majority of our people in all areas have a strong technical and trade background – for instance, I’m an electrician and security technician by trade. When your customer knows you’ve been in their shoes and shared many of their experiences (good or bad) this typically means trust and relationships become more meaningful. I still believe trust and relationships in a trade-based industry (let alone any business) is a key to building loyal repeat business.
In terms of our ownership, we are a very entrepreneurial business and the team is encouraged to think this way. We are not governed or driven by external factors like share price or a heavy-handed corporate mentality. We have structure and measures but our focus is always on customers, people and partners. We are encouraged to ask this question: ‘How does this benefit the customer?’ and to be outwards focused, not internally focused. This type of positive culture is very energising.
In terms of what we can bring to our customers that no one else can, I think it’s a combination of many things, whether it be great people, unique products, our down to earth approach, financial strength and our understanding of the customer. What we offer is the sum of all these things – the capabilities and characteristics that we integrate are what set us apart and what keeps customers coming back for more.
JA: What are the biggest brands in the BGWT stable? What about the most successful electronic security products? Which products are going well for BGWT right now?
RM: Almost every product and brand is on an upwards sales trend in our business and we feel very proud of the brands/suppliers we represent. Pelco and Panasonic would be what you call the big brands, but our product portfolio has many other well-known and respected brands from quality security and IT manufacturers. Importantly, we not only support and promote well-known brands but we are also working hard to highlight brands and products that are establishing themselves in the local market.
JA: The electronic security industry has been going IP for some time and that’s accelerating with cloud services and remote access of systems. This is not a new area for BGWT but have you noticed as a distributor that there are installers who can handle analogue and networked solutions or are there distinct layers in the installer market?
RM: The improvement of the knowledge and skills around IP based products has been pretty good across the board in the industry. With more IT skilled people in the industry and the ease with which the products connect and configure, we have seen a reduction in technical support, especially with smaller systems. Large scale enterprise and complex networks (fixed and wireless) still require a good degree of support and this is why we have skilled IT professional in all our branches and in support roles.
JA: Where do you think the profitable future of the industry lies? Is it partnering with installer/integrators customers, providing a technical edge? Or do you think the core fundamentals of product quality and reliability backed with strong warranty and service are unlikely to ever change?
RM: From a distributor perspective, I feel the answer to your first question in relation to a profitable future, we need to deliver all of the things you mentioned – partnering, technical support and service – and we need to do it with absolute consistency. The largest, most profitable and successful business (by a quantum) in the electronic security distribution space in Australia was built on all those qualities you mentioned above. It was a model built on value, and a deep and wide solution that its customers wanted, demanded and were prepared to pay for. It survived and grew despite technology and channel disrupters over several decades. I take the view that strong businesses are built on understanding of customers and partners, and delivering what they want. If you fail to understand and deliver, you get the opposite result – I think this is an observation that has been repeatedly proven.
JA: What are the local plans for BGWT? What new technologies and products can we expect from BGWT in the next 12 months?
RM: We will continue to strengthen our security product offer in depth and breadth to provide more complete solutions to our customers. We know this is important and evidenced by hiring a head of product management and having focus on this. We will build on our technical expertise and add complimentary products and technologies that our customers are asking for. Our recent announcements of the addition of the Auriga IP based Public Address and Alert messaging system is just one example. We will also be working hard to improve the sales and profile of our current brands and products and our capability to support the customers.
JA: Does BGWT have a plan to increase its physical footprint in the Australian market over the next 12 months? And more broadly, where do you see the company going in the next 5 years?
RM: As demand grows we will absolutely grow our footprint. Geographic expansion into South Australia and ACT would be our first point of expansion when the time is right. Beyond the plans I’ve mentioned, we do intend on expanding our offer into Asia via our JV businesses. I think 5 years is a long way off, but with the entrepreneurial leadership and culture within the BGW Group we will have an eyes-wide-open approach to our future.
JA: Looking much ahead further – 10 years – where do you think electronic security technology is going? Will the same general technological delineations and market segments be maintained or will there be significant and unusual advances and segment integrations? And in which areas?
RM: Wow – 10 years – that’s a long time in this industry! I do think segments will overlap further but I also think specialization will always have its place. I think the desire to access information, use it to predict behaviour and then influence or control the outcomes will be underpinned and made possible by advancements in core technologies, such as processing power, resolution and compression in conjunction with a growing ability to analyse data in order to predict events or outcomes. Today’s technology is mostly reacting to an event or outcome. The ability to make accurate predictions will be where the game changes in security electronics. It also goes without saying that the need to be able to control/monitor our home and business environments anywhere at any time at the micro level will further advance symbiotic integration.
JA: What do you think are the key business challenges distributors face in the current market? Do you worry about telcos intruding into the market, DIY, grey imports, the fall of the Aussie dollar, or are you more concerned with global financial conditions?
RM: I think distributors typically face the same challenges today as they did in the past. Maintaining a value proposition, changes in channel strategy, upskilling to stay ahead of new technology, new entrants, the speed of obsoletion, to name a few, are all ongoing challenges. The other things you mention have been challenges to watch for more than a decade now and while some see them as threats, others see them as opportunities. My preference is to be mindful of threats yet spend time and energy seeking out opportunities, taking some risks and having fun along the way. These are values ingrained in the BGW culture and they are the reason I joined this company.♦