Keeping alive the legacy of the man who gave rise to Nimans

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Julian Niman: started out with a £5,000 loan from his father

Manny Pham discovers how the company is coping after the death of Julian Niman early this year

On the busy sales floor of Nimans’ Salford headquarters a single office remains unlit and in the dark. This was the office of Nimans founder and chairman Julian Niman.

On January 12, Niman passed away at the age of 64. The subsequent eulogies painted a picture of a man who will be deeply missed.

A people’s man who put his employees before profit. An unassuming and eccentric character who easily mixed with his 390 staff. Accordingly, Nimans’ Salford headquarters has now been named Julian Niman House. His office remains untouched as it did nine months ago. The walled corner office remains unlit on the busy floor.

Company sources describe Julian Niman as a shy character and a dyslexic who was undiagnosed as a child, at a time when dyslexia was not well understood.

Aged 10 he attended a girls school that had just gone co-ed. While he struggled with books, he excelled at maths and other practical subjects. Friends say he had a passion for tinkering, improving and upgrading things. This interest led him into amateur radio. He transformed his shed into a little studio, thus beginning his lifelong passion for technology, and studying radio and TV engineering at Salford Tech.

Mark Curtis-Wood: growth has been ‘vertical’ since the acquisition of Rocom in 2010

Sharp move

After college he got a job with the Metropolitan Police in London, before moving on to Japanese electronics giant Sharp. From working in his father’s jewellery wholesalers shop he learned how to run a business.

Niman saw an opportunity when the telecoms industry was deregulated in the early 1980s.

The GPO (General Post Office) lost its monopoly enabling anybody to deal in telecoms equipment. Nimans specialised in buying, selling and repairing fax machines.

He worked from his father’s shop repairing phones and fax machines, buying and kitting out a van to do jobs on the road.

With an investment of £5,000 from his father, Niman set himself up as an official distributor.

Niman left his company in good hands, with a board headed by finance director David Bennett. Parent company Nycomm Group racked up £121 million in revenue for the three months ending December 2017, up from £95.6m in the same period in 2016. Profit for 2016 was £17 million, up from £16.9m in 2015.

The firm has 250 suppliers on the books, with over 9,500 product lines to offer resellers.

Now the distributor is looking to hit new targets from its four bases in Manchester, Leeds, Bristol and London, serving a total of 320 resellers. The company is seeking to hit £200 million in revenue by 2021.

McIntyre: Nimans is now in a trust to protect employees

Dedicated

Nimans group sales director Richard Carter said: “He was completely dedicated to the company. He wanted to build something to boost the local economy.

“He was proud of the fact there are so many families supported by the business. That number grew over the years from just the seven of us in 1986 to 390 employees, which multiples the residual effect to thousands.”

“The business is in a trust after Julian died. His idea was to protect the employees. The company will not be sold or floated,”  said Nycomm group chief marketing officer Steve McIntyre.

Apparently 20 per cent of staff have been with Nimans for 15 years on average. Half of them have served for over five years.

“We are going to hit £200 million in the next three years; it’s a target that’s going to happen.

“We won’t be disappointed if we don’t hit it. But you will see the business will continue growing and flourishing anyway with that target in mind.”

The growth is predicted to be predominantly organic, with the company having put the motions in place to do so by increasing staff in the past few years to 390 and warehouse production by 30 per cent.

Acquisitions have not been ruled out to get the distributor to its milestone. Three acquisitions have been made so far in its 35-year history, the most recent being £14m firmPennine Group in 2016. The takeover of audiovisual specialist Videonations was in 2012.

Nimans head of networks division Mark Curtis-Wood said: “Our current growth has been on the vertical since 2010, when Nimans bought Rocom.

“Then we were a £6m business with 23 people. We have grown extensively over the last eight years. We grew 23 per cent last year due to our aggressive growth plan, we were at £94m last year, £121m now, and in three years we’ll hopefully break through another roof by taking £200m in revenue.”

In 2009 Nimans became the Nycomm Group after its first acquisition. This was the £12.5 million 2009 acquisition of Leeds-based rival Rocom. The name was changed to accommodate the acquistion of a huge rival.

Salford HQ: supplying over 320 wholesale resellers

Growth

Curtis-Wood has two goals now –  “simplifying” networking solutions and increasing Nimans’ involvement with IoT and M2M, especially as M2M connections are predicted to reach 1.3 billion connections by 2022, up from 400 million in 2017.

“We’re seeing extensive growth on the M2M side. By 2020 there will be two to three times as many machines connected as there will be people.

“So we recognise what the market is doing and that we need to enable our 320 wholesale resellers in the channel.

“We can see customers no longer buying wired handsets technology but instead buying an IP handset. There’s also a shift towards licences and cloud services. The  market is shifting and we need to adapt and look where we should be making investments and where the gaps in the market are.”

Carter added: “Our largest area of growth at the moment is the move to the cloud, the move away from on premise to PBX.

“We still have growth in our on-premise stock, but our suppliers are using us more and more rather than selling to resellers direct.

“Unified communication end points is a side of the business that’s growing 30 per cent year-on-year, such as Yealink and Polycom phones and conference units. Also, we are Sennheiser’s largest distributors in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.”

Legacy

Despite the sadness surrounding the founder’s death, Nimans retains a clear strategy to develop his legacy.

“It’s important that we stay ahead of the game for resellers. They want us to be clairvoyants and inform them what we are seeing to ultimately help them grow their businesses,” said Curtis-Wood.

McIntyre added: “The customer is always at the forefront of our approach as a business. That’s how Julian ran the business and that’s how we’ll continue to operate, with a strong emphasis on our staff, and continue to be best independent distributor in the UK. We’ll do it for Julian.”

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