An Interview with Capital’s MD

An Interview with Capital’s MD
Reading Time: 10 minutes

Capital’s MD, Tom Flockhart was interviewed as the SME focus in the heraldscotland March 11, 2013. The interview touches on Tom’s successes and challenges as a Scottish entrepreneur who recognised a niche market in the office equipment industry.

Tom Flockhart, Managing Director 

Where is your company based?

The company has operations in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen, Shetland and now Inverness. At the end of January we acquired Highland Office Equipment, giving us a substantial presence in Inverness and across the Highlands & Islands.

< p>We supply office equipment and document solutions including copiers, printers, scanners and print management software. We support these from our national branch network.

< p>The company specialises in advising public and private sector organisations on how to rationalise their mixed fleet of document devices, as well as control and reduce copy/print volumes.

< p>To whom does it sell?

< p>All sizes of private businesses, public sector bodies and voluntary sector organisations. We’ve also carved out a niche for the provision of our print management services in the Scottish independent schools sector.

< p>What is its turnover?

< p>Just over £20 million following the acquisition of Highland Office Equipment. Our aim is to grow turnover to £30m by the end of 2015.

< p>How many employees? 200

< p>When was it formed? 1979

< p>Why did you take the plunge?

< p>I have always enjoyed a challenge and relish tough competition. I wanted to take control of my own future.

< p>What were you doing before you took the plunge?

< p>My working career commenced with a four-year student apprenticeship at Ferranti in Edinburgh, successfully completing an HND in Mechanical Engineering.

< p>Before establishing Capital, I had worked as a copier salesman for 3M Company for nine years. After successfully covering sales territories throughout Scotland – I moved to Aberdeen in 1976 to start up 3M’s copier sales in that area. This proved an exciting challenge – thanks to the oil boom. I quickly discovered a niche market for 3M’s unique ‘magne dry’ toner/cold fusing copier process for use on offshore platforms.

< p>Machines using this process were of a compact desktop size and could be flown out by helicopter rather than supply vessel. The fact they used toner powder, rather than liquids, as was common with other equipment at that time, meant that they used a non-heat process. This meant that there was no fire risk involved in the consumables or equipment supplied.

< p>My success in this unique marketplace earned me the title of ‘Oil Baron’ within 3M. However, I couldn’t see 3M surviving in a market that was then changing substantially with the development of plain paper copier technology and the emergence of a number of new Japanese copier manufacturers. That proved to be a good and accurate assessment – a few years after I had left the company, 3M withdrew from this market.

< p>How did you raise the start-up funding?

< p>From my own savings and by the cash generated from moving from the Aberdeen area to a less expensive home in East Lothian – with no bank loans or external funding. Those were the good old days!

< p>What was your biggest break?

< p>I have had lots of them and also missed a few (hindsight is a great thing). Probably getting a dealership for Sharp Copiers in 1979 – after only two meetings with them.

< p>What was your worst moment?

< p>I can’t remember one in particular – I don’t dwell on the past – particularly on failures.

< p>What do you most enjoy about running the business?

< p>I enjoy making decisions and the challenge of continually growing a business that now supports 200 people. I’m passionate about creating opportunities for young people and seeing them grow and develop with the company.

< p>Recently, we teamed up with the City of Edinburgh Council for its Edinburgh Guarantee initiative. This scheme has been launched in order to tackle the rising levels of youth unemployment in the area. We have already recruited five school leavers as trainees in our workshop. After completing a six-month programme, they will be considered for a permanent three-year apprenticeship as service engineers.

< p>What do you least enjoy?

< p>Bureaucracy, negativity and failure.

< p>What are your ambitions for the firm?

< p>To be recognised as the best and biggest company in our sector in Scotland.

< p>Our business activities are 100% directed and dedicated to supporting Scottish businesses and public-sector organisations. We believe strategic acquisitions of “good fit” office equipment companies, like West End Business Systems in Aberdeen and Highland Office Equipment in Inverness, enable us to have the experience of a national Scottish company with the personal attention, support and feel of a local supplier and service provider.

< p>What are your top priorities?

< p>Acquisitions; continuing on the Scottish Procurement Framework; 20% year-on-year organic growth; to enjoy more sailing and fishing, and staying young at heart.

< p>We often hear about the advent of the “paperless office” and while progress towards this goal, first discussed in the mid-1970s, is slow it is nevertheless happening.

< p>Today’s technological innovation and multifunctional devices (MFDs) with full document scanning capability, enable organisations to simply convert hard documents into digital format for secure, paperless distribution, storage and retrieval.

< p>Greater environmental awareness is now also having a positive impact on people’s working practices. We are all becoming more responsible for reducing our dependence on, and use of, paper.

< p>However, in spite of this, we are all bombarded with an ever increasing mountain of emails and other documentation – thanks to the explosion in information readily available – and many of us still like to work on hard-copy documents.

< p>What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

< p>Reduce red tape and bureaucracy.

< p>What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

< p>During my time with 3M, the company sent out a national mailshot in the form of a folded A5 card with a sachet of aspirin attached – with the message “Let 3M solve your copier headaches.” This campaign was successful; however, many commented: “We already have one of your copiers – please send more aspirin!” It has always served me well in reminding me to be careful in all marketing communication.

< p>How do you relax?

< p>By attending RSNO concerts; spending time with family, grandkids and friends; salmon fishing and sailing.

What does it produce, what services does it offer?

We supply an extensive range of office equipment and document solutions including copiers, printers, scanners and print management software. We fully support these products with comprehensive maintenance and training from our national branch network of 70 field engineers and teams of customer training officers, document audit and professional IT services consultants.

The company specialises in advising public and private sector organisations on how to rationalise their mixed fleet of document devices, as well as control and reduce copy/print volumes through significant improvements in processes. Through this exercise, clients can realise savings in excess of 30%.

To whom does it sell?

The business caters to a diverse range of clients. We provide office equipment and document solutions to all sizes of private businesses, public sector bodies and voluntary sector organisations across Scotland.

We’ve also carved out a niche for the provision of our print management services in the Scottish independent schools sector, providing staff and students with the ability to produce output from any multi-functional device or printer throughout the campus from a PC or mobile device.

What is its turnover?

Our turnover is currently standing at just over £20 million following the acquisition of Highland Office Equipment. Our aim is to grow turnover to £30m by the end of 2015.

How many employees? 200

When was it formed? 1979

Capital Document Solutions Offices in Scotland

Capital’s branches throughout Scotland

Why did you take the plunge?

I have always enjoyed a challenge and relish tough competition – the copier/office equipment marketplace certainly provides plenty of that. I wanted to take control of my own future and knew that I could look after clients far better by running my own business.

Before establishing Capital, I had worked as a copier salesman for 3M Company for nine years. After successfully covering sales territories throughout Scotland – I moved to Aberdeen in 1976 to start up 3M’s copier sales in that area.

This provided an exciting, demanding and fast moving challenge – thanks to the ‘Oil Boom.’ I quickly discovered a niche market for 3M’s unique ‘magne dry’ toner/cold fusing copier process for use on offshore platforms.

3M’s cold pressure, toner, fusing technology proved ideal for offshore installations for a number of reasons. Their copiers were compact desktop size and could be delivered by helicopter rather than supply vessel. Therefore, urgent requirements could be shipped out much more quickly. More importantly, the fact that these copiers used toner powder rather than liquids, as was common with other equipment at that time, meant that there was no fire risk involved in the consumables or equipment supplied.

My success in this unique marketplace earned me the title of ‘Oil Baron’ within 3M. However, I couldn’t see 3M surviving in a market that was then changing substantially with the development of plain paper copier technology and the emergence of a number of new Japanese copier manufacturers – i.e Sharp, Konica, Canon, Ricoh etc. That proved to be a good and accurate assessment. A few years after I had left the company, 3M withdrew from this particular market.

During this time, I developed a different and long term approach to copier sales compared to others. I became convinced that I could build a long-term copier sales and service business founded on three principles that I had learned from my years serving the demanding oil and gas industry: sell only the best products; give sound, ethical and professional advice on all products and services; deliver the very best in terms of client service and support (so that they keep coming back for more, and tell their business contacts personal things about their experiences in dealing with my company).

Today, these three basic principles continue to be at the heart of everything we do.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

My working career commenced with a four-year student apprenticeship at Ferranti in Edinburgh, successfully completing an HND in Mechanical Engineering. I then worked with 3M UK, achieving UK top copier sales status during my latter three years with them, based in Aberdeen during the ‘Oil Boom’ (1976-1979).

How did you raise the start-up funding?

From my own savings and by the cash generated from moving from the Aberdeen area to a less expensive home in East Lothian – with no bank loans or external funding. Those were the good old days!

What was your biggest break?

I have had lots of them and also missed a few (hindsight is a great thing). Probably getting a dealership for Sharp Copiers in 1979 – after only two meetings with them.

Most recently, Capital Document Solutions was appointed as an approved supplier to the Scottish Government’s National Framework for office equipment. Since the Framework was put in place in June 2009, we have won over 30% of the public sector contracts awarded. In addition, a Scottish Procurement survey of customer satisfaction, conducted in May 2011, placed Capital ahead of the other six approved suppliers in terms of quality of contract management and service delivery.

What was your worst moment?

I can’t remember one in particular – I don’t dwell on the past – particularly on failures. Thankfully, I’ve survived many and am all the wiser for it. It’s important to learn from mistakes to avoid repeating them and continually improve what you do.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

I enjoy making decisions and the challenge of continually growing a business that now supports 200 people. I’m passionate about creating opportunities for young people and seeing them grow and develop with the company.

Recently, we teamed up with the City of Edinburgh Council for its Edinburgh Guarantee initiative. This scheme has been launched in order to tackle the rising levels of youth unemployment in the area. We have already recruited five school leavers as trainees in our workshop. After completing a six-month programme, they will be considered for a permanent three-year apprenticeship as service engineers.

Recognition for Excellence – In October 2012, our company was awarded the Best Service Award at the Government Opportunities (GO) Awards Scotland in recognition for the high level and quality of our services to end users in the Scottish public sector.

I also enjoy supporting a number of charities. We are a long-standing supporter of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and I am now involved in helping them raise £3m towards their ‘new home’ in Glasgow.

What do you least enjoy?

Bureaucracy, negativity and failure.

What is your biggest bugbear?

Time wasters and procrastinators. “A lot of clucking and not a lot of laying of eggs.”

What are your ambitions for the firm?

To be recognised as the best and biggest company in our sector in Scotland – providing our entire range of products and services to all types of organisations across the whole country, from the Borders to Shetland.

Our goal is to be a truly national supplier to both the public and private sectors across the whole of Scotland, providing a level of customer response and service that is far superior to that available from UK-wide dealers or multinational manufacturers/suppliers.

Our business activities are 100% directed and dedicated to supporting Scottish businesses and public-sector organisations.

In addition to our existing significant capacity, strategic acquisitions of “good fit” office equipment, like West End Business Systems in Aberdeen and most recently Highland Office Equipment in Inverness, enable us to have the experience and capacity of a national Scottish company with the personal attention, support and feel of a local supplier and service provider.

What are your top priorities?

Acquisitions; continuing on the Scottish Procurement Framework; 20% year-on-year organic growth; to enjoy more sailing and fishing, and staying young at heart.

Additionally, we often hear about the advent of the “paperless office” and while progress towards this goal, first discussed in the mid-1970s, is slow it is nevertheless happening.

Today’s technological innovation and multifunctional devices (MFDs) with full document scanning capability, enable organisations to simply convert hard documents into digital format for secure, paperless distribution, storage and retrieval. This process also enables easier and speedier information exchange.

Greater environmental awareness is now also having a positive impact on people’s working practices. In a similar way to us all being conscious of our vehicles’ fuel consumption, emissions and operating costs, we are all becoming more responsible for reducing our dependence on, and use of, paper.

However, in spite of this, we are all bombarded with an ever increasing mountain of emails and other documentation – thanks to the explosion in information readily available – and many of us still like to work on hard-copy documents, in preference to “off the screen.”

Whilst the percentage of information that we now commit to paper may be reducing, the paper consumption on offices throughout the UK is still on the increase due to this information explosion. So, after over 40 years in the office equipment industry, I don’t see us achieving the “paperless office” in my lifetime – more the “less paper” office.

What single thing would most help?

Losing three stone!

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

Reduce red tape and bureaucracy and loosen up on employment law. There are a lot of practical steps that could really help kick-start the economy.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

During my time with 3M, the company sent out a national mailshot in the form of a folded A5 card with a sachet of aspirin attached – with the message “Let 3M solve your copier headaches.” This campaign was hugely in terms of the number of responses received; however, many commented: “We already have one of your copiers – please send more aspirin!” It has always served me well in reminding me to be careful in all marketing communication and to go that extra mile to ensure that all our customers are completely satisfied with our products and services.

In the early days of Capital, in what was then a fast-growing emerging market, we had to challenge the established major players and prove that our highly responsive  service was more than a match for these competitors. We also had to prove that the style and quality of our sales approach set new and higher standards for the clients.

How do you relax?

By attending RSNO concerts; spending time with family, grand-kids and friends; salmon fishing and sailing on the Clyde and around the Western Isles.


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