Two pints of lager and a packet of data, please

Posted on May 8 2018 - 4:37pm by Tayla Ansell
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Marston’s Telecoms is reaching out to technology resellers as it aims to double its turnover to £16 million. James Goulding finds out more from Operations Director Tony Ford

Tony Ford

Marston’s is well known as a brewer of premium ales, such as Pedigree, Hobgoblin and Lancaster Bomber, and for its Destination and Premium pubs, including brands like Pitcher & Piano. It is less well known as a provider of telecoms. Though this, too, is an important part of the business, as more and more IT resellers are discovering.

The £1 billion brewing and pub retailing business established Marston’s Telecoms in 2008 to provide communications services to the Group’s network of offices, depots, breweries and pubs, which now number around 1,600 nationwide.

It started out providing group businesses with basic services, such as telephony and lines for card payment terminals, before adding data communications to its portfolio. About five years ago, it took this to the next level with the initiation of an extensive Ethernet roll-out.

Today, Marston’s Telecoms has three UK datacentres and a turnover of almost £8 million, up from £500,000 in 2008. It offers a range of services, including broadband/Ethernet, managed WANs, carrier services, hosted voice and managed WiFi. And, it doesn’t just serve Marston’s PLC, but also other brewing and hospitality businesses, such as Heineken and Punch Taverns, as well as the wider business community through a network of resellers.

Marston’s Telecoms currently has about 40 resellers and aims to increase that number to 300 as part of a strategy to double its turnover over the next few years.

A demanding customer

Tony Ford, Operations Director at Marston’s Telecoms, told Technology Reseller that while Marston’s originally established its comms business for its own purposes, it quickly became apparent that in building an infrastructure capable of meeting the SLAs demanded by the Marston’s Group, it had created something highly marketable.

“Marston’s PLC is such a demanding customer, and rightly so, because when you are doing turnover of £1 billion, EPOS is critical, comms are critical,” he said.

“We found that we had over-engineered the network to such a degree that we had tons of capacity and the ability to deliver the 4-hour SLAs that are a requirement for everyone on the High Street and in hospitality. Having so much capacity, gave us a fantastic opportunity to offer a very high tech carrier-type service to other businesses.

“The comparison people make to me is Amazon, where you have so much capacity you can reach out to other businesses and say you can have this too. We’re obviously a smaller enterprise than Amazon. But it’s the same story.”

Ford points out that while comms is not an obvious line of business for a brewing and pub retailing business, it is not a million miles from what Marston’s already does.

Marston’s pub

“If you pull Marston’s apart, they are really a logistics, warehouse and distribution business. Their customer base is everywhere – on the High Street, in every supermarket – and they distribute bottles and kegs and other things around the country and around the world. What they do is not a million miles away from a service business. Comms is just another commodity, another product,” he said.

What’s good for the goose

Ford adds that, being in the hospitality business, Marston’s is in the vanguard of developments in customer engagement, much of it technology-based, which has given its telecoms arm valuable experience that it can take to other industry sectors.

“If you look at hospitality today, digital transformation really exists. The high demand for WiFi in pubs, the high demand for electronics behind customer engagement, the app, the tills, the other types of digital signage – the whole thing is very tech-driven. Other businesses are starting to evolve and see unified comms as the future, but we’ve already been there. Our whole business, from the very top to the very bottom, is driven by technology,” he said.

Marston’s own experience of digital transformation means that it is well placed to help resellers explain to companies that haven’t yet gone down this route how high bandwidth and smarter comms can transform their operations, processes and their customer experience.

In this context, Ford believes there is plenty of scope for resellers to make much more of the Marston’s name.

“The advantage Marston’s has is that we are a customer of our own network. Inevitably we take a bit more care and attention over how we service our business and how we look after our customers, because we are one of them. Resellers tend to white-label our services, but maybe they shouldn’t. Maybe they should say ‘this is coming from a place where it is used every day’. Sometimes it is a good thing to have a brand that is proven in the market.”

The next big thing

As it evolves, Marston’s Telecoms is seeking to engage much more closely with IT resellers, which Ford sees as the most likely source of future innovation in the industry.

“IT resellers today are so innovative. We have the infrastructure, but we don’t know where the next great product is going to come from, so we want to engage with the IT reseller community to a much greater extent. Telecoms resellers have a particular mindset, but the IT community is a little more open. We find that we can work on solutions together that make sense for us, as well as for them – solutions like SDWANs and software-defined architecture.”

Meanwhile Marston’s Telecoms continues to develop its own capabilities on the hardware, software and network integration sides.

“We are in the midst of becoming a Premier Partner for Cisco, which we hope to conclude around September; we are doing the same thing with Microsoft to accelerate our qualifications and capabilities on its product sets; and we are talking to other manufacturers about utilising their products on our network,” explained Ford.

“For example, IoT is a major buzzword, but no one has any experience of how it will impact small businesses, so we are driving innovation around different types of sensor and how they can take priority over the network. We are going to open up the network to take more protocols, so there will be less reliance on particular types of network – so that we can use the physical network rather than having to rely on 4G or 3G when it is not always available. We are looking at other technologies as well, to see if we can provide superior connectivity for certain types of sensor and monitoring.”

A powerfully good business

When Marston’s moved into telecoms 10 years ago, it did so primarily as a cost-cutting exercise, saving in the region of £300,000 to £400,000 in the first year alone and millions of pounds over the last decade.

Today, Marston’s Telecoms is valued not only for its ability to cut costs but as a business in its own right.

“There is a different view of telecoms now,” explained Ford. “Senior management know they can expand and utilise the skillset that we have learnt internally and the value of that to external customers. The Group’s CEO and CFO sit on the telecoms board, so they are taking a real interest in how Marston’s Telecoms could develop into a powerfully good business and that can only be a good thing.”

To find out more about what Marston’s Telecoms offers IT resellers, please email or call 0808 280 0000.

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