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Midshire Tries Wales with Rugby International

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A Stockport-based national business systems company is to expand into Cardiff – with a 41-time capped ex Wales International rugby hero as part of the team at the helm.

The Welsh venture came to fruition after an approach from two of the nation’s senior industry practitioners.  Both were interested in applying the same thinking to a Welsh venture, putting local knowledge at the heart of its offer.

Midshire has built its business by future-proofing its clients business services, saving customers time and money.  It supplies hardware and expertise around office print, copier, telecoms, IT and support marketing.

Heading Midshire Cymru are Emyr Lewis, the former Wales international rugby union player who attained 41 caps for Wales between 1991 and 1996 and also captained the national team and another industry professional who shares his love of rugby, Alam Thomas, whose sons are active in the sport.

The Welsh venture launched with the announcement of a new contract win, Ysgol y Preseli, a large comprehensive school that Midshire Cymru will supply with multi-functional machines and software for accounting and administration.  Alam said he and Emyr would be delivering and installing the machines themselves.

Indeed Midshire Cymru’s aim is to rebalance the Welsh market by offering a return to values that have fallen by the wayside as smaller independent business systems suppliers have been acquired and changed by larger players.  Says Thomas: “Wales has a very distinct preference for personal service and likes to do business within the Welsh commercial community.  That’s been missing from the mix for some time. Emyr and I met as the independent companies we worked for – and believed in – were taken over and amalgamated.  Under the new arrangements we could no longer be as accessible or as responsive and found we were apologising to our customers instead of helping them.

“Neither of us were happy with that.  We knew Midshire was an independent company with great values which had grown on the strength of building lasting relationships and making sure it stayed proactive on customers’ behalf, so we called MD Julian Stafford.  We wanted to do what Julian has done in England, in Wales, but do it in a much shorter timescale.  So we were delighted when he agreed to us having Midshire’s backing and offered his experience for a 100% Welsh-rooted and focused company.”

One of the new company’s burgeoning business areas is schools and there are plans to add Midshire’s schools’ IT infrastructure and support offer, and telecoms packages for businesses.  As part of Midshire Cymru’s commitment to schools and sport in the community it has already signed a sponsorship deal for rugby kit with Penallta RFC in Mid-Glamorgan.   A partnership that will be highly valued in some part thanks to Emyr’s sporting credentials.

Said Midshire MD Julian Stafford: “After retiring from rugby Emyr has worked in the industry in Wales.  He’s well known and a sporting hero; both he, and Alam, share our company values.

“Emyr’s profile in Wales is huge and his reputation is excellent, he’s trusted and people are very open to discussing their business needs with him.  We don’t believe in entering new territories with pre-conceived ideas and one business template to suit all.  We’ve seen big organisations in the same industry make those mistakes – we are far more sensitive to local conditions and believe we should bring something the local economy will welcome.”

Lewis was born in Carmarthen. A flanker, he played club rugby for Cardiff RFC as well as for Llanelli RFC and Carmarthen Athletic.

After retiring from the game at 35 Lewis went to work for a friend whose company produced rugby and football kits. He then worked for a local photocopier and print company which was later bought out by a much larger company.  Lewis still commentates for the BBC and S4C, something Midshire is keen for its new Wales director to continue with.

His face is well known across the business and sporting communities – which have traditionally worked well together.

Said Lewis: “Buying photocopiers and printers is not like buying a car.  Each machine is different.  You need to rely on someone to translate for you, to make sure you’re getting what is right for your business, and that’s usually the salesperson.  So in our business, particularly when there has been some miss-selling in the industry, reputation is everything.”

Lewis’ reputation on the field cannot be denied, he’s a trusted commentator on the Welsh people’s national game but he was also, before rugby turned professional, a serving police officer.

“Salesmen in general have a bad reputation for taking advantage of their customers and in some cases it is completely justified. We’re not like that, we believe a customer is for life and, so, of course you have to treat them properly and supply them with a service that they are happy with,” he said.

He continues: “What’s important in the marketplace here is understanding the culture.  Wales is ‘relaxed’.  Not your normal relaxed, more like Jamaica.  We don’t pressure sell, we just have a chat then so be it, if something happens, it happens.  It’s the way we are.  Fortunately the rugby is a good icebreaker, and everyone always wants to talk about it.”

What his early rugby career gave him, he says, is the ability to encourage people to work together.  In those early days he would be dealing with a team made up from every walk of life, from firemen to insurance salesmen, so building the Midshire Cymru team is something he’s looking forward to. “A successful business is based on good team ethics and man management skills,” he says.

“I joined the police because I wanted to go out and meet people, I don’t like just sitting in an office, I like to be out and about.  It is early days here at the moment but the company is a good one, the approach is right and we’re talking to people.  What is for sure is everyone makes mistakes, and we’ve seen big companies come here and make them. I understand what the businesses in Wales want and what they expect from their accounts manager with customer care being high on the agenda. When customers have issues you are judged at how quickly you put things right and how you deal with people afterwards.  Big companies aren’t built to work like that; they have ‘a process’.  Wales has a thriving economy.  It’s entrepreneurial, there are lots of SMEs and Midshire has taken the trouble to listen to what will work in a country where, for most, the first language isn’t English.

“Midshire already services businesses across the UK, but has invested in a Welsh base after a detailed evaluation of what would suit the market needs.”