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30 Digital Champions: The company whose products you hold without even knowing it

Having set himself the goal of having a business turning over £5m within seven years, entrepreneur Joe Fogel tells us how a wide range of digital tools have helped he and VaioPak Group become so successful.
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Our 30 Digital Champions initiative with Microsoft is all about giving you a bit of inspiration when it comes to implementing new ways of thinking. From running your company in the cloud to having a better understanding of a sales team, our next business is a standout example of picking a niche and dominating.

(1) Please give us a brief introduction to the business?

The VaioPak Group comprises a group of companies specialising in providing plain and bespoke branded food and beverage retail packaging. We are leading the way in providing cost effective solutions for all manner of takeaway packaging needs. One of VaioPak’s greatest strengths is its ability to see a potential new opportunity and grab it with both hands. We all take a real, active interest in the industry and will always look for new ways to expand and introduce new concepts into the market.

(2) What have the significant growth milestones been in the last few years?

From inception, the business growth has just been really constant, building a strong client portfolio. The business started out as Addcup Media, which was a platform for larger brands to purchase cups with their design, and deliver this marketing through a targeted network of smaller independents (who got these cups free of charge). As the business developed however, it capitalised on the huge demand for food and beverage retailers wanting their own branded packaging to develop their business. Now in our eighth year of trading, we have seen big year on year growth of both turnover and have hit our £5m turnover target for year seven. This resulted in a healthy profit result, and growth has been achieved without the need of any borrowings of financial backings from day one.

A luxury watch retailer selling thousands of timepieces a month

(3) What inspires you as an entrepreneur, and how does that come across with your company?

As an entrepreneur, I think it is extremely important to be passionate about your market. I was inspired to deliver a fresh approach to what can sometimes be regarded as not the most exciting of industries. It is extremely rewarding to know that every step we take in the business is driven by the team’s, and my own passion to bring fresh ideas to the industry and make a positive impact. I ensure we offer a flexible and “can do” approach to enable our customers to capitalise on this vision.

(4) What kind of obstacles are you encountering as you grow your enterprise?

As with most businesses, the competitiveness of the market plays a big factor in growth. Since starting the company, there have been quite a few competitors pop up realising the market growth potential. This has kept us on our toes and made sure we constantly look forward and diversify as the market changes. This ensures we are always able to offer something unique and maintain our growth.

The other key obstacle is that as our client portfolio has grown and larger contracts have come on board, storage and distribution have become more of a key consideration. We have built some really strong relationships with transport and distribution partners in the last few years to enable us to meet the demands of our clients.

The healthy food brand now putting technology at its core

(5) For a company that isn’t technology based, how has a digital approach helped you to carve out a bigger market and acquire new customers?

While we are not a technology-based company, technology has become absolutely critical to every stage of our business. The reality of how the majority of people network and converse now is via digital platforms. We still of course have face to face meetings and phone calls with our clients, but the huge majority of interactions (both for new and existing customers) either come through our website or via email. From there on in; the design and proofing stages, the invoicing, the order confirmations; they are all dealt with via digital platforms. It allows us to keep clear and consistent records for every customer, and streamlines the time taken to complete these processes.

We can quote, design, proof, invoice and send to manufacture an order within just hours of an initial digital based interaction. Where we work with a lot of branding/marketing agencies for example, which are usually on extremely tight deadlines, the speed of this processing from start to finish is absolutely crucial to both securing the business for the agencies and ourselves.

(6) How is technology helping you to overcome hurdles, and what are the challenges of implementation?

The biggest benefits of technology to us are the fluidity, simplicity and synergy it offers. Technology has hugely helped us overcome communication and networking barriers that otherwise may have existed. We can now contact and communicate with our production facilities and customers in other countries very easily and cost effectively, and instantly share ideas and visuals very simply by tech such as Dropbox, WeTransfer and Skype.

With other elements of technology-based systems such as design software, inventory and accounting software, the only real challenge of implementation is keeping up with the pace of change. Quite often when we change a working system to a newer, more feature rich version, the next development is already on the horizon. I think it is key to understand and assess the cost-reward benefit to gauge what is right for your own company.

The hospitality service that started with the arrival of Airbnb

(7) Do you employ any kind of flexible working, and how does technology fit into this?

Technology fits in hugely to flexible working with us. Whether we are in the office, out of the office for a client meeting, or at home, technology lets us operate remotely where necessary and solve challenges quickly. While there is no requirement for the team to work outside their hours, technology allows us to have that flexibility and a very adult working relationship.

If a member of the team needs to leave early or take a day out of the office for a family commitment, I know that the flexibility we have due to technology and remote login systems allows them to still keep abreast of what’s going on and take any necessary actions. Gone are the days of having to be office tied to do business, which has got to be a good thing.

(8) What kind of technology tools can you not work without?

There are a lot of technological tools we cannot work without on a day-to-day basis.

I would say more than 95 per cent of our business is done via email now. Where both the team and customers have instant access to emails day and night if they choose to, it is without doubt the most efficient communication method for us. A lot of our clients are running independent coffee shops and food outlets during the traditional “office hours” so the ability for information to be there and waiting for them at a time is convenient to them is invaluable.

Our graphic design tools are also critical to our work. A lot of our independent customers don’t have access to professional designers or expensive design programs when they start out. They have the basics of their branding and a concept, and rely on us to be able to support them through the process and help ensure a professional image for their packaging. This support and guidance for our customers is something we hugely pride ourselves on, and it would not be possible without good software.

(9) What kind of technology would help you better compete with larger rivals?

Some technology we are working on currently is an online based “self-design” platform for paper cups. The platform would let customers create their own artwork composition on a 3D render right before their eyes. While some customer artwork is extremely complex, and maybe not suitable for self-design, a lot of work we do for promotional events is relatively simple in terms of design. A lot of marketing/promotional agencies also have in house designers who could very easily use an online platform given the opportunity. The technology would streamline the process for both the customer and ourselves in a lot of cases, and provide an instant visual for sign off. This is something our competitors aren’t offering.

(10) Where do you want to take your business in the future?

The business aim for the future is to continue to streamline the process for bespoke branding packaging, whilst offering as much flexibility as we can to deliver solutions that really fit our clients needs rather than simply solutions that already exist in the marketplace.

By developing online design platforms such as those mentioned previously, I want to make VaioPak the company of choice for a hassle free customer experience coupled with unrivalled product quality.

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About Author

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter Ruthven is the editor of Real Business. He is also the editor of Business Advice, a title focused solely on a section of the business community currently underserved – micro companies. Alongside this, he is part of the team that hosts the Growing Business Awards, First Women Awards and Future 50 initiative.

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