BGW Technologies: A Fighting 10
In October security distributor BGW Technologies turned 10 – in this month’s interview, John Adams speaks with the company’s general manager, Robert Meachem, to get a feel for the BGW Technologies’ plans for the future.
JA: BGWT launched back in 2010 – the business has just turned 10 – how big an achievement is that, given the challenges of the past decade?
RM: Starting a business from ground up and achieving a 10-year anniversary is a massive credit to everyone involved. The security distribution market is tough, highly competitive – even more so in the last decade. With so much change and the ongoing challenges, it is a credit to the owners to have persevered – those challenges make our success and our 10-year anniversary that much sweeter.
JA: BGW is a big organisation with deep roots in the electrical and plumbing trades but that doesn’t guarantee success in the electronic security market, does it? What do you put the company’s success and longevity in electronic security down to – does it come down to culture, relationships, and management – something else?
RM: You are right! While the electrical and plumbing wholesale trade business are similar in terms of selling and distribution products to the trade, that is pretty much where it stops. It’s the realisation of the uniqueness of the security distribution segment by Brian, John and Laurie (owners and management), that has allowed this business to forge its own path. Our success is all about people. This includes everyone from our owners, management, staff, suppliers and customers.
We haven’t always got it right, but we are always trying to insure everyone understands our values, behaviours and what we are trying to achieve. When this happens, we typically get alignment with our goals and more importantly, with all stakeholder’s goals. These values, behaviours and goals create a culture where trust and relationships can flourish over the long term.
JA: Looking back 9-10 years what struck me in BGWT’s early years was the company’s ability to get key brands on board and to retain them for the long term – do you think this distributor-supplier loyalty is a key part of the BGW Technologies’ story?
RM: I certainly think continuity plays an important part in anything a successful organisation does. The business has worked really hard on our supplier relationships and we feel lucky and genuinely privileged to have the suppliers we do. Suppliers are a critical part of our overall business and we think very carefully before we partner with a new supplier and we always refer back to our values, behaviours and goals to ensure these are aligned on both sides.
What’s more, we know that business is cyclical, which means things don’t always go to plan, sometimes people make mistakes and sometimes things get tough – this goes for us and our suppliers. BGW Technologies has had wonderful times and some tough times over the last 10 years, as have our suppliers, but what allows us to get through is having a shared understanding, so we can work through any issues that arise to ensure we come out the other side stronger. Like any relationship, the true test is when things don’t go to plan.
JA: Is it possible to distribute too many products? How important do you think finding the right suppliers and the right balance of product is for your installer/integrator customers?
RM: Yes, it’s possible to have too many brands and products and getting that balance right is really important. I think this a great question for suppliers and for security integrators, too, in terms of how they view their distributors. My experience tells me that if you have to carry too many brands and too many products, then suppliers feel like they don’t get adequate attention and staff get overloaded with too much to do. As a result, customers can’t get answers, because everyone is a generalist and no one is an expert.
Of course, as a supplier and distributor it depends on your strategy. That old saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none” often rings true and unless you have huge resources and crystal clear structure and process, which very few do – the Jack of all trades saying tends to ring true in lower quality and lower value. We have tried to take the path of ‘less is more’ and to align ourselves with high quality suppliers, supporting these products through expert people and high-quality service. This sometimes means we have to give up the promise of short-term growth for more sustainable growth and predictable value.
JA: BGW often highlights that it is Australian-owned and that it’s a family business – how important is that family connection in an intensely relationship-driven market like electronic security?
RM: I think that working for an Australian family-owned business gives people a great sense of pride. The owners’ values and behaviours are ingrained in what we do, and having BGW group being in business for 30+ years, you know those values are carved in stone. Beyond this, the more practical element of an Australian family ownership are that they understand the market, they understand what makes Aussies tick, the profits stay in Australia and the taxes go towards supporting this country. And over time, I certainly think the COVID-10 pandemic will highlight how supporting local is important to us all.
JA: Technology has been running wild over the past 10 years – trying to keep up with it and trying to position the business to take advantage of the slowly unfolding digital paradigm shift – how challenging has that been to manage while ensuring the business remains profitable and the team remains focused?
RM: It has always been challenging and I don’t think it is any harder this decade vs the last. It all comes down to having good people, being agile and being prepared to invest in training. Much of the BGWT team has been involved in the analogue to digital, and digital to IP technology transitions, so we think that experience keeps us in good stead to deal with it. Of course, some might argue this statement just demonstrated how old some of us are!
JA: In your mind, what are the most important areas of the BGW Technologies’ business – where does your future success lie in terms of product spread and verticals?
RM: We have always focused on and been known for the Tier 1 project CCTV space as our core business. We have a high-quality access control product, and in the last 3 years, we have entered the intrusion, smart home, intercom and commercial access markets. We have experienced good growth in all these areas, yet we believe there is still significant growth potential in our core business and the more recent segments we have entered.
JA: When it comes to expertise within the team, which areas do you think are most important right now?
RM: That one’s easy – technical know-how and understanding the customers of each segment we play in. We pride ourselves on having very technical people who are not only qualified but have also had experience in the field. Many of our people have been technicians, installers, service techs and project managers. It goes to the heart of our entire company and understanding and our culture of helping customers.
Our owner is a sparky, I’m a sparky and security technician by trade, and this theme runs through the BGW Technologies business. COVID and the resulting economic climate puts massive stress and pressure on our customers and their staff and our having better firsthand experience and being very technical makes us easy to deal with. I am very grateful to have such a great crew of people in our business – they are at the very core of our success.
JA: BGW Technologies attracts good staff and hangs onto them in a way usually seen with smaller niche distribution businesses – how does the company manage to achieve low turnover of key people?
RM: I think our culture, a family business mentality and focused market segment approach is probably the reason we have attracted and retained people better than most in the industry. Nevertheless, we have lost a few people over the journey, many of which have been good people, so it hurts when this happens, and we certainly must keep working on this.
I hope our strong people retention is due to us caring for our people and each other, good job security and everyone knowing their part in what we are trying to build as a business and a team. We also have a few staff benefits at BGW that are rarely seen in other companies. I guess the other thing is that we have a long-term strategy which means we are not constantly changing direction when things don’t go to plan. We see some companies change strategy from quarter to quarter……that isn’t us.
JA: Where do you see the business going in the next decade – what is electronic security distribution evolving into, in your opinion?
RM: I still see the fundamentals staying the same; supporting our suppliers, providing good service and developing long term valued relationships with customers who see value in their distributors. I do see some level of systemising our engagement via a quality online strategy in the form of website and customer portal. I think some customers like to be able to serve themselves, so we need to invest in this. Our electrical and plumbing businesses have a done a great job of implementing this and the feedback from their customers, including their admin and operations teams, has been very positive. We will launch this to our customers in the next 12 months.
But I do believe a greater majority of customers will always want personal engagement and, as such, we will keep enhancing this as it seems to have been a major competitive advantage since starting up 10 years ago. The reason I say this is because for 20 years now, some people have been saying customers aren’t loyal, customers just want the cheapest price, online will take over, margins are too small and distribution is dead, yet look at what we and others have achieved.
JA: BGWT has a strong client list of excellent integration businesses – given the pressures on integrators around price and partnerships, would you argue it’s harder for distributors to retain customers than it has ever been – what’s the BGW Technologies’ secret?
RM: We do have some wonderful customers who have become loyal over time, but we have had to earn it. Our experience is that customers are loyal if you are doing the right thing/s consistently. In other words we don’t think customer loyalty has changed but many distributors have forgotten what created loyalty – it was trust, quality, support knowledge, service, relationships, value, etc. When customers lose too many of these things then they have no reason to be loyal – I guess it’s cause and effect.
JA: How tough has the COVID pandemic been for the team – Australian states have had different experiences – but how has the business handled the challenges, how have the majority of your customers fared?
RM: COVID has affected people, businesses, and industries in different ways and everyone has a different story. As of today (mid-October) I have been amazed at the resilience of our people, customers, suppliers and the entire industry. I’m grateful our business remains in good health and this has only been possible due to our customers and suppliers doing the same.
The customers I have spoken to have in the main prepared and managed the issues over the last 6 months or so really well. But you can hear in their voices they are tired, and concerned about what is to come, as the propped-up ‘economy by government’ winds back. Obviously, Melbourne people have felt this more than anyone and the stress is acutely higher here. All we can do is help each other, be prepared to ask how people are going, listen and offer up support.
I’m an optimist and as such I think the security industry and Australia in general will navigate our way through this COVID crisis, as I see that as the only option, right?
JA: Agreed – and on that resilience you mentioned, do you think in a way COVID has highlighted the power of our industry’s solutions – underlined their ability to support complex business operations from anywhere – will this make electronic security an even more important investment for end users in the future?
RM: I think we were heading that way already and I’m not sure yet if COVID will accelerate it, but I certainly think electronic security will be used in operational, safety and business intelligence more than ever before. Unfortunately, I also think that with tough economic times ahead, base-line security needs will have a bigger requirement due to crime increasing.
JA: Which achievement do you think the BGW Technologies’ team should be most proud of looking back over the last decade?
RM: Simple, starting a business from scratch and now employing over 30 people! We have built something; we have created a business which creates opportunities for people and their families. To have achieved this through the actions that have been taken over the last 10 years should give all the people who have been involved a great sense of pride in being a part of it all. I hope our customers and suppliers are also proud to have been a part of this good story.
JA: What message would BGW Technologies like to give the Australian electronic security market on its 10th birthday?
RM: That’s another easy one; we’d like to say a big thank you to our suppliers and to the customers who have stuck by us, supported us and been patient as we have become more valuable to them. Now – let’s get cracking on building our businesses and hiring more people over the next 10 years and beyond!