- Category: Leadership
B2B relationships can often be fleeting, even transient. But not at VIPS International – the business is continuing to go from strength to strength, with an impressive history of client retention.
The Australian company boasts big-name clients including retail household names Estee Lauder, Nestle, Sportsgirl and Sussan, who have all been partnering with VIPS International for at least a decade.
Since taking over the company in the 1990s, executive director Douglas Dick has turned the business around, expanding to South Africa and New Zealand in recent years.
He purchased the business after spending time working in the company, saying it gave him a better understanding of the business model and its inside workings.
“I worked within the business from when I was about 28 years old, then bought it about 20 years ago in the mid-1990s,” he said. “When the opportunity came up, I decided I could probably do a good job with it, which is why I went for it.
“Despite it being quite a big decision at the time, I wasn’t apprehensive because I’d worked in the business and knew it back-to-front, as opposed to someone from the outside buying it without knowing what was underneath the covers.
“At the time, the business was erratic and lacked direction. It’s going well today, as we’re in a good position with new technology. We’ve definitely got a lot more focus now.”
Since its foundation, VIPS International has provided centralised hosting of business applications for small to large organisations, specifically beginning to collect data from the field around 12 years ago.
The company also provides online and offline access to various Android and Apple devices, implementing a mobile strategy to connect and conduct business transactions from convenient locations. By creating customised business mobile applications tailored to each client’s needs, VIPS International improves collaboration and productivity of mobile employees.
Between the 1990s to present-day, technology has changed in leaps and bounds as the mobility market transforms, with the internet, social media and smart devices revolutionising the industry at a rapid pace.
For VIPS International, that means adapting to the latest device and network innovations as they are created, ensuring the future growth paths are established for their clients and eliminating the hassle of regular re-investments.
The company’s focus on rapid implementation leads to dramatically decreased start-up costs compared to its competitors, with rapid increases in speed as well.
“Technology has changed immensely when you compare what we were doing then to where we’re going now,” Mr Dick said.
“The internet and smart devices that have come into the market have changed everything incredibly. All this has happened at a very rapid pace, so we need to be able to read a lot more as there are so many different things around these days.”
Today, VIPS International provides a customised subscriptions-based solution, which is available for clients on smart phones and tablets.
The outsourced service provided gives businesses a chance to focus on core business activities, according to Mr Dick.
“We do a number of different applications; one of the main apps collects information from field forces,” he said. “For example, one of our clients is one of the largest food companies in the world – we collect information on payroll and compliance from different stores on their behalf.
“All software is created and written in-house as it gives us greater control and the ability to add extra enhancements and solutions. We’ve found that out-of-the-box solutions do not work for clients, as they’re all so different and varied – we’d rather develop and customise solutions for them.
“Currently, we are looking at expanding the business, but more through providing customers with additional tools so they can automate their experience and do a few things themselves.”
When it comes to working with clients, VIPS International goes back to the basics of customer service, doing the groundwork to establish a strong base for every single professional relationship.
This is evidenced by the company’s stable of long-term clients; Mr Dick is especially proud of their relationship with Estee Lauder, which has spanned more than 17 years.
“We set ourselves apart by developing good relationship with clients early on and going the extra yard to give them exactly what they want,” Mr Dick said. “Having a sound foundation early on leads to strong business relationships. There also has to be a bit of give and take from both ends as well.
“Many of our clients have been with us for more than 10 years – the secret to retaining clientele is making sure you look after them. In our situation, that means bringing new things that we’ve developed and showing the clients that we have a constant path forward for them. Constantly reinventing yourself gives them the opportunity to stay with you long-term.”
While VIPS International is constantly challenged to reconceive and envision new, innovative solutions, keeping up with the changes in the small business sector is another hurdle that the company constantly faces.
Running a small business is not without its challenges, especially in the current economic climate, according to Mr Dick.
“One of the big changes in our small business itself is the sales system – the way you sell today is completely different,” he said.
“In the old days, you would ring a company up, secure an appointment with them, go into a presentation and that would be it. Today, customers are more educated and have more knowledge thanks to the internet – putting ourselves out there against our competitors in a new enlightened age has been the biggest challenge so far.”
He also credits his team of 14 staff members for maintaining the company’s enduring success with its client relationships and mobile solutions, and aims to keep them as content as possible.
“My number one business philosophy is to always treat my staff well as we can’t do anything without them,” Mr Dick said.
“I also treat them the way that I would like to be treated myself, which is evidenced by the fact that we’ve had staff members who have been here for 20 years – some of the younger programmers have also been here for seven to eight years, which I’m quite proud of, as the younger generation tends to move on from a job more rapidly.
“We’re providing a good environment for them to work in and making sure that everyone is accountable.”