With its recent round of television adverts, Sage has taken the marketing of accounting software into the realms of celebrity endorsement. John Stokdyk shares some of the wisdom of Sage’s new brand ambassador, TV Dragon Peter Jones.
To hear Peter Jones and Sage CEO Stephen Kelly tell it at a celebratory seminar in London last week, Sage’s “ambition” campaign grew from a meeting of minds.
Professing that he was “Sage for Life”, Jones recounted how he bought his first Amstrad computer not because it was made by Alan Sugar’s company, but because it cost £200 and came with an accounting package, Sage.
“I’ve been with Sage ever since,” he said. “You won’t usually see me align myself with a big brand, but with Sage it comes from the heart.”
The company he founded was the Peter Jones Tennis Academy, set up in his teens when he realised after a 6-0, 6-1 beating by Ille Nastase’s nephew that despite all his talents on the court he wasn’t good enough to become a champion.
The academy because a success and once he’d achieved his original business goal by acquiring rusty Alpha Romeo car, Jones’s ambitions continued to grow until he overextended and recession hit in 1990.
With a failed company and failed marriage behind him, Jones got back on the business ladder with a marketing job at Siemens and rose to UK managing director before jumping ship to run his own consumer electronics company. In spite of a tough economy, he built up a multi-million pound business selling personal assistants (remember them?) and mobile phones direct to consumers form newspaper ads.
“If I’d done that two years later, I’d be out of business. The networks came in and said, ‘We’ll give the phone to you for nothing.’ That’s why one of my 10 golden rules is to evaluate timing. I was already talking to manufacturers and looking at their roadmaps. The networks were coming in and were going to buy my lunch, so I diversified out quickly,” Jones said.
As part of his ambassadorial duties, Jones will be spending a half day with Sage Ambition competition winner Sam Charles and her Falmouth-based SEO company.
“She wants to go for bigger clients on national scale and will get business advice and mentoring from Peter,” said Kelly.
Jones and Kelly both dispensed useful advice to entrepreneurs at the London event. Jones testified to the value of staying on top of your finances with a lesson from his tennis academy days.
“I started not to get into detail about things that were happening in the business. The global recession didn’t help. I didn’t understand what was happening and extended credit to companies that didn’t pay. Ultimately I lost everything,” he said.
Based on this painful experience, Jones now pays close attention to different success measures for the companies he invests in. Not all of the 38 businesses in his portfolio are driven by cash or purely financial metrics. “In certain businesses, we know the value is much higher when we scale it in terms of market presence,” he said.
“We have a clear understanding of distribution, where the margin is so tight. We’ve implemented Sage X3 and have our current dashboard linked to our distribution business so we can get live information. That’s really important. We have £25m in stock holdings and that needs to be projected and moved down. We’ve saved £3m as a result by reducing purchase orders.”
For his publishing company Wonderland, which produces ‘Man About Town’, the measurement of success is on based on the brands that advertise in the magazine.
One of Jones’s biggest challenges came when he acquired the failed Jessops camera shop chain from administrators in 2013.
“Our measure is nothing to do with the cameras we sell,” he said. “Jessops has always been a retail camera business, but when I acquired it that wasn’t the future. We’re an imaging company, so the metrics are quality of service and training - things that are margin-enhancing.”
When he first expressed an interest, he approached his bankers, who also looked after Jessops. Their first response was, “Are you serious? We spend two years in recovery with Jessops and lost millions of pounds. You’ll never make a penny.”
Jones went ahead and acquired the brand anyway. Manufacturers were keen to support Jessops because they still wanted to sell cameras on the high street, but Jones focused more on reproduction services and training. “The thing I believed was that it’s always going to be about the image: the image in your pocket, in the photo album or printed on a cup. We changed the model.”
The company set up a services arm and introduced the Jessops academy network, offering £199 courses to teach people how to use their cameras. “Five years since we were warned off by every investor, we’re reporting £100m in sales and £3m in profit. All our services have skewed what Jessops is about,” said Jones. “We’ve have changed the model and become wholly profitable.”
For a final piece of advice, Stephen Kelly asked Jones what he saw as the key attributes for a successful entrepreneur.
Remembering his tennis academy days, Jones answered, “A lot succeed without a plan because they’re lucky.
“For a dream to become reality, it’s about making it real enough to believe in. Those dreams won’t ultimately come true unless you have a very clear vision and plan about how that will come to be.”
About John Stokdyk
AccountingWEB’s Head of Insight has been with the site since 1999 and likes to spend his time studying accountants’ technology habits. When not nerding out, you can find him exploring obscure indie music and searching for the perfect organic sourdough loaf from his base in Brighton, UK.