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Company Profile: Stronger together and staying apart

It has been a hectic few weeks for Andrews Water Heaters and Potterton Commercial business, as they move into the Baxi headquarters and merge their back offices. But, the result will be two much stronger brands. Paul Braithwaite talks to Gavin Watson, business development manager
Company Profile: Stronger together and staying apart
GAVIN Watson, Andrews Water Heaters/Potterton Commercial business development manager, agrees it has been a hectic few weeks as the companies upped sticks and moved into the Baxi Commercial head office in Erdington, Birmingham.

'But it's done,' he says. 'And now we can get on with the business of selling our products.'

He adds: 'It has also been a time of change in the back office.'

But he insists it has made the company, and the brands, stronger.

'It's like moving house. Of course everyone is edgy but there was a sense of purpose and we all stayed focused.'

Gavin has nothing but praise for Steve McDonald, national sales manager for Andrews Water Heaters, and Richard Walker, national sales manager for Potterton Commercial, and their teams.

Gavin wants to get one thing straight. The back offices of the two brands may have merged but not the sales teams. He insists: 'The brands are far too strong. They must stay separate.'

So, even on larger contracts, such as Punch Taverns or Green King, which are put in place at key account level, there is still work for both sales teams.

It is their job to talk to the contractors to work out the finer point of the installations.

If, for instance, the Andrews area sales manager is asked about boilers, he can call in his Potterton opposite number and open the door for him.

Or, indeed, if the extra products needed fall into the domestic sector, such as a small over-the-sink water heater, then he would call on other Baxi divisions to access their portfolios.

'Baxi has a group offer. Our clients need go to no other supplier. We want to make it easy for our clients to stay with us with our one-stop-shop approach.'

This is why the solar thermal system has gone down so well with clients.

They need to make the energy savings, and again Andrews is making it easy for them to do this.

Andrews has a 50%-plus market share while Potterton holds around 12% and 'Potterton is a brand we can grow,' maintains Gavin.

But, he insists, this cannot be done by discounting on the products.

'Both the brands are premium products. There is no intention to grow share just for the sake of it. A policy like this would weaken it.'

The company is already developing new products, including renewables, but Gavin says these must be the right ones.
He adds that the Baxi Commercial group has a large portfolio across Europe but some are not right for the UK - or the brands.

There are four product managers, two for Potterton and two for Andrews, which shows how seriously the company takes the business. These are backed by the technical team. Here is where Andrews/Potterton sees its new-found strength.

The technical team is trained up on both brands and sits with the product managers 'so they are always bouncing ideas off one another'.

He assures me: 'There are no weak spots. Our back office team is extremely focused.'

Growing the Potterton share would not be as challenging as growing Andrews' share. Nevertheless, it is what Gavin intends.

Yes, he acknowledges competitors are, like Andrews and Potterton, enlarging their sales forces and extending their portfolios.

But he believes Andrews/Potterton has the largest portfolio and 'we mean to offer every conceivable permutation of boiler and water heater'.

For instance, take the Potterton boiler range. Until recently, it fitted firmly into the commercial sector.

However, there was a gap in the small office/large home area.

So, whereas the Potterton range went down to 70kW, which was the cut-off for commercial, (and the domestic sector went up to 30kW) the company now offers a 50kW boiler. And it is the same with the water heaters with the Andrews' range going down in size to 42kW.

'If householders need to service two bathrooms, a kitchen and an utility room, then Potterton/Andrews has the product.'

For the present, he is comfortable with the ten-strong boiler sales force and the nine-strong water heating sales force (as well as three agencies in the north).

Gavin believes customer feedback is crucial. He spent 12 years on the road working for Heatrae Sadia, part of the Baxi Group, in Ireland. He knows 'the sales force is the eyes and ears of the company'.

So, while there is no formal feedback policy, sales meetings are the place to discuss what clients want. And, Gavin believes, this is a powerful weapon for the company.

'Clients let us know, via our sales force, they needed a condensing water heater, and we were the first to introduce this into the marketplace. Another example of this is dual-fuel boilers. Again, clients made it known to the sales force that they wanted these products.'

One example of the strength of the Andrews brand is that the company has not been represented in the North-east since last December. In spite of this, sales in the area have increased.

'Our competitors missed a chance there,' says Gavin.

But, a new area representative has started and the gap is now filled.

Gavin also praised Baxi Commercial Heating managing director Paul Hardy, who was instrumental in merging the Andrews/Potterton back offices.

As he became more involved in the Potterton portfolio, he realised the added strength of the back office combination and worked to bring about the merger and the chance for more growth.

A solar thermal water heater was added to the Andrews portfolio in September last year.

The company supplies the solar panels and a tank. Further, it has been moving to a twin-coil unit, one for solar and one for a condensing or standard efficiency boiler.

Of course, there is the chance to sell a Potterton boiler as well.

There are more new products to come.

Mark Webster has joined the company. His task is to research renewables with a view to new products. Gavin admits the companies are looking at heat pumps and dual-fuel boilers. (Baxi already has a CHP product which is called the Dachs unit.)

But, he adds, while many of these products are available across the group, it is not a case of rushing into the market just to be there.

Take the case of biomass boilers, where, he says, the cost of pellets is rocketing. He would not be interested in launching a biomass boiler - yet. It is a case of horses for courses.

He wants only products which will enhance the two brands, and cites solar again.
'Solar is doing great. We are looking only at areas where we know we have the expertise and where we can drive the business.'

The Andrews' sales team is targeting consultants in London and Manchester, who are fairly green anyway, to sell their products.

While it has been around for a number of years in the domestic sector, as far as commercial and industrial areas are concerned, he insists, solar is in its infancy here.

And even he is surprised at the number of quotations invited from firms in the north and Scotland for Andrews' solar offering.

Interestingly, Gavin and Yan Evans, the Baxi Commercial technical director, have been touring the country holding seminars for consultants, public-health engineers and private housing engineers, telling them about solar.

The back office move makes the company stronger and this makes the brands stronger.

Now, Gavin is looking forward to a raft of new products, including renewables.

When, rather than if, this comes together to help drive sales, then there can be the resource for more sales people, more sales - and the cycle goes on.
1 August 2007

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