The Interview: Rob Meachem, BGW Technologies
Robert Meachem, BGW Technologies.
In this month’s interview, John Adams chats with BGW Technologies’ Rob Meachem about the challenges of finding new premises in the midst of Melbourne’s COVID-19 crisis.
JA: Where was BGW Technologies originally located in Melbourne?
RM: The branch was originally in South Melbourne, with the product and management team in Clayton, but the lease came up in South Melbourne and we had to move. We were looking for a place in the same area because it services the whole of Melbourne. An issue with the move was making sure we didn’t create a major drama for staff in terms of travel times. If you move out West, anybody living the other way gets affected and vice versa. The branch was previously collocated with BGW’s electrical wholesaler CNW, so we are now on our own for the first time in Victoria.
JA: What was the process, given Melbourne was in lockdown at the time – that must have been a real curve ball.
RM: When it was clear we had to move we were right at the start of the 3-month lockdown in Victoria with an expiring lease, so yeah, that was a curve ball, as real estate agents weren’t able to go out and show any properties. Online searches and driving by properties on the way to the office was the only way to do it, then as restrictions eased, I had to pounce on the properties I had short listed. The moment I saw the inside of this property, I knew it was perfect.
The beauty of it is that it’s central and the spaces are well balanced for our team. We’ve got the product guys and me upstairs in an open office – essentially with hot desks. We don’t have an enclosed office structure, we’re just one team sitting together. Over the past 12 months or so we realized we didn’t need to be in the office the whole time, particularly the product team – in part that’s what COVID-19 did to us, it forced us to change to a degree and now we see the benefits.
The rest of the space is designed to be flexible, too. Upstairs with the open offices is a multi-purpose demonstration room – it’s a training room, a boardroom and a staging area for larger projects. All the tables there are on wheels and can move around or be folded away. And the CCTV demo gear from Panasonic, Pelco, Milestone and others can be wheeled around, put into vehicles for on-site demos, or we can pull out any of the intrusion or access control kit. Then there’s the branch space at the front and the warehouse at the rear with a staging and pre-commissioning area in between.
Stanley El Komala, BGW Technologies.
JA: It’s flexible space – do you think the way distributors manage space is changing? Less stock, more training, more commissioning?
RM: I think the challenge for distributors now is that there are fewer and fewer customers coming to branches – integrators and installers are more inclined to have product delivered to them. Customers turning up early in the morning to pick up all their gear before going to the job site are less common, even with the intrusion/alarm customers. Installers and integrators are better organised because the opportunity cost for an installer to drive to and from branches doesn’t add up – it’s expensive in terms of time and ultimately cheaper to use a courier or to buy multiple items occasionally and to hold a small amount of stock.
The old way of setting up a branch would have been to have a counter with everything revolving around that. You’d have a bunch of product on the walls, some stock in the counter area, and a big warehouse. That would be your approach. What you can see downstairs here is that there’s less stock, everybody in the branch office is close together so they can communicate easily. We do have the demo boards for the intrusion, access control and intercom equipment, if customers come in – downstairs these are all fully wired and operational systems. But we also need quiet space – we can head upstairs to do training, CCTV demos and planning meetings.
Downstairs at the back is the warehousing space. It’ still a big warehouse – the idea was to have extra space so that if we were doing projects with customers, we can be a warehouse for them so as to add a bit more value. Upstairs there’s a balcony that will be good for doing camera shootouts – it has a good depth of field and there’s traffic flow and infrastructure, with the city in the distance and plenty of people moving in the park.
JA: In terms of this site, what was required to turn it into a BGW Technologies’ branch?
RM: The place was empty, with the exception of the upstairs room and the downstairs bathrooms – the rest was open space – this site had been used as a warehouse. We put all the walls in, we repainted, recarpeted, put all the racking in, we had to redo all IT networks and power cabling, lighting, the phone system, build out the kitchen and all the new demonstration boards and systems. We built the wall below the second-floor multi-purpose room to separate office and warehouse space, and did all the finishing. There’s more than 300 square metres of space in total and the branch has 3-quarters of that.
JA: You mentioned an expiring lease – was it a lengthy process or were you rushing to get in?
RM: We had a timeline – the entire process took about 2 months. There were definitely time constraints. We signed the lease in the first week of November, took delivery and started the fit-out on December 1, and finished the fit-out by Christmas to ensure we were moved by the end of December. In January we did the finishing touches – we were ready to do the grand opening in February but a changing COVID situation meant we had to postpone it a month or so.
JA: Is pre-commissioning and staging of solutions before integrators collect gear a big thing for BGW Technologies?
RM: Absolutely. We are constantly building servers and workstations and loading software. If someone buys a server from us, we will buy all the components, take it out of the box, upgrade the firmware, the software, do all the updates, then load the system software, and put together whatever configuration the customer wants. We then dispatch gear ready to go. This doesn’t happen every time, but we are really good at staging, really good at it. And it takes a huge amount of pain away from the integrator that wants to focus their expertise elsewhere.
The branch team.
JA: Is BGW Technologies a different sort of distributor compared to others?
RM: We are different. We’re a project-driven, Tier 1 type distributor, typically selling products for government and enterprise. That’s why we are more inclined to have an office-type environment in the branch, versus a trade counter-type environment. We have a very good intrusion and access control customer base as well, and the branch layout with the demo boards and loads of inventory in the warehouse keeps these customers happy. Since we relocated, foot traffic has increased markedly. The new branch is cleaner in layout – much more like an office. We still have the coffee machine and the couch, barstools and a kitchen area, so customers can come and have coffee or lunch and talk product or solutions. But it’s more about communicating than just selling boxes.
JA: Site aside, are you happy with the new location?
RM: Absolutely – the space has worked out really well, and the location is beautiful, too. We are 500m from the beach at Port Philip Bay, and we have a park right outside with a 1500m walking trail around it. And the balcony, which is great for camera demos, also means in the months ahead we can get a BBQ and have a bite to eat as a team, or with customers, while enjoying a view of the parkland and community gardens. That’s a big part of the reason I liked the site – I hope the team on their breaks can go for walks and enjoy the surroundings away from the office, which I think is important.