Uplands of the West Country

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Uplands Multimedia is a hardy veteran of the mobile dealer channel, and a model for B2B sales in this vastly changed market place (winning best small dealer at the Mobile News Awards in 2007 and best B2B dealer in 2008; this year, it was commended in the latter category).

It has grown with the market, and appears on-message with every network on the dealer channel in recent years.

It has re-focused its energies on B2B sales, signed up almost exclusively to a single network master and concentrated on entagling existing customers in further network services.

New business, meanwhile, has been acquired because of the service levels it has in place, as well as the deals it has on the table by virtue of its close network allegiances.

Hence, it is one of a select bunch of independent dealers in the land that can offer genuine Apple iPhone stock to customers. And it is working its socks off to engender stickiness within its base by helping develop bespoke customer applications for such devices.

Uplands first set up in 1979 as a car radio shop, and has been selling mobile kit and systems since 1990. At its height it was ratcheting up a turnover of £35 million a year as one of the country’s biggest mobile dealers outside of Carphone Warehouse and Phones 4U – with international clients such as Benetton. 

Paul Hooper joined Uplands 16 years ago when he was ‘on his uppers’ and got a job running the Uplands store in Exeter. He worked his way to the top, and engineered the management buyout that saw him ensconced as the owner. “I’m still getting used to the idea that it’s my business,” he remarks.

There’s no doubt the downturn is worrying Hooper. Doom-monger economists at Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Upland’s regular auditor for the past 25 years, reckon it won’t be business as usual (well 2007 levels, anyway) for another 14 years, he says.

“We can call on its resources; its involvement is reassuring for clients. We’ve direct relationships with really good people in there – insight like that is really useful.”

Uplands’ sales in its retail and car audio business slumped eight per cent over Christmas and have dropped markedly over the last six months.

But this decrease is not reflected in either Uplands’ business-to-business operation or its web sales units. “The drop in retail sales is disappointing but not unexpected. Consumers are still spending money but in different ways and places,” says Hooper.

“It has been painful for us in the retail side, but we have other routes to market and we are fortunate retail only makes up 30 per cent of the business. Nevertheless, it remains important for the brand and heritage.”

2008 turnover was in excess of £5 million, and it is focusing most on SME and corporate sales going forward. It already manages 30,000 subscriber accounts, with ARPU north of £40 per month, with the likes of department store Debenhams and discount store TJ Hughes.

Full article in Mobile News issue 435 (March 23, 2009).

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