Grapevine at 30 – Part 2: 2001 – 2011

By 2001 Grapevine, as a business, had left the high street. The team in Bath continued to work from the original location on Widcombe Parade. In Dorset staff had relocated to Winfrith Technology Centre. On both sides of the South and South West, the focus had shifted to developing existing and new business-to-business relationships. Consumer sales had fast become a footnote in the Grapevine story.

Mobile retail, by contrast to the early 1990’s, was now a crowded space. Even with a new direction laid out ahead for Grapevine, the business still faced competition from the high street it had left behind. Out of town superstores were getting in on the action too as longstanding Account Manager, Donna Fletcher remembers.

Donna Fletcher: “It wasn’t just the networks selling direct from their high street shops, the likes of Curry’s for example were suddenly selling mobiles. We had to differentiate ourselves. We were heavily into radio advertising at that time, there was no social media! We started a campaign with the tagline ‘Grapevine – we don’t sell toasters’. People loved it!”

The changes made at the beginning of Grapevine’s second decade in business weren’t as simple as opting for one type of customer over another. This was the beginning of a complete overhaul of the company, a chance to reconsider its place in the market and the potential it had to offer value above and beyond the box shifting of high street retail sales.

James Spinks: “Not having to balance the increasing demands of retail clients in a shop environment gave us more time to focus on business strategy, particularly in the business-to-business space.”

Brian Vockins: “With the move to Winfrith we set about analysing our customer base with a view to enable better communication with our business customers. Without the pressures from the retail business, we were able to redirect our resource and become more focused. It was apparent that our systems were not able to extract the information needed to maximise the opportunities within our business base. New Accounts and CRM systems were required. With guidance from Bournemouth University we opted for Access Dimensions to replace Sage.”

The relationship Grapevine developed with Bournemouth University in this decade would evolve to become influential in the future strategic direction of the business. It began with a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) that provided Government funding for businesses and higher education institutions to work together on a collaborative project with an ‘associate’ student working with the company in-house and an academic at the University providing mentorship and input.

Despite some highly creative radio ad campaign copy, the missing puzzle piece for Grapevine at this time was in-house marketing communications expertise.

Brian: “We contacted Bournemouth University and the Knowledge Transfer Partnership programme via Prof. Brian Hollocks. Brian had a wealth of experience in industry and was able and willing to assist leading to the employment of Paul Lappage who joined our team initially as a student and eventually as our Marketing Manager.”

Paul Lappage with Brian Vockins

 

James: “The KTP project was initially for two years with Paul targeted at developing a marketing strategy for the company going forward, something never formalised previously. After a successful project, Paul remained on board full time.”

Paul wasn’t the only new addition to the team in the 2000’s. A few other appointments gave Grapevine the same good fortune it had experienced in the 90’s, of employees who chose to stick around for the long term. This included Edward Lewis (now Technical Director), Nicola Boyt (now Operations Support) and Alana Denner (Sales Support Assistant).

Edward Lewis at Grapevine’s Bath Office

 

Edward Lewis: “I previously worked for around 7 years for a software developer. I used to walk past Grapevine on my way to work. Sometimes a tall person would be stood in the window staring wistfully over the road at The Ram pub front door. This was so long ago I can’t remember if it was Pete or Donna.”

“Grapevine were looking for an IT Manager and I applied. Fortunately for me, I think most candidates were terrified after meeting Pete and Brian for the first time, so after a couple of interviews in Bath followed by a presentation that I made to some of the Dorset based team, I was offered the role.”

“My previous role saw me working with some pretty large organisations and there is the old adage about big wheels turning slowly. Grapevine was a total change for me, it was free of the corporate structure and politics that so often go hand in hand with large corporate business and for me that was really refreshing. Everyone always says that’s why they work for a family business etc, but Grapevine does genuinely feel like that and the fact that so many staff have been here for so long reflects this value too. In the early days I would also have suggested that The Ram was a draw too but since we moved to the wilds of Peasedown St John, I guess that’s not entirely true.”

As Grapevine’s second decade continued, a move was on the cards for both the Bath and Dorset based teams. In 2004, Grapevine moved from Winfrith Technology Centre to its current location in Poole.

Grapevine’s Poole Office in 2004

 

James: “Winfrith had been selected previously as geographically central to the closing retail stores. The commute was not great though, taking all staff extra time and costing them more money. Given the nature of the nuclear installation on site at Winfrith, security and health and safety was very strict too, particularly in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

“The closure of the shops and difficulties in clients visiting Winfrith meant that almost all business was conducted face to face at the clients’ premises. Despite the increased annual mileage, this helped foster some great early relationships, where the client was grateful for such attentive service, when at the time they would have previously had to have gone into a shop.”

“The bulk of the new corporate clients we were on-boarding were based in Poole and Bournemouth, so when we were in a position to buy a new premises rather than lease somewhere we wanted it in the optimum position to service our best clients. The opportunity to move into a new build premises was attractive at the time too.”

Brian: “The decision to move to Poole was based largely on the availability of suitable premises to enable the business to grow and to maintain the experienced workforce that we had. The office on Nuffield Road was a new build and we were able to secure the freehold and adapt it for our immediate and future needs.”

In 2008, the team based in Bath would follow suit, leaving behind the place where it all began for Grapevine on Widcombe Parade. The company’s new longterm home for the South West would be at the Bath Business Park in Peasedown St. John.

Grapevine’s Bath Office in 2008

 

Pete Boby: “Overnight we finally had space, and lots of car parking. We always felt happier in the business to business market so moving to a decent sized unit on a business park just cemented this. It enabled us to rid ourselves of the shackles of a semi retail premises and become totally focused on business customers.

Donna: “This was a very natural process as we had been dealing with a lot of business anyway. This decade saw a huge growth period for a lot of our clients, many went from one or two mobiles to maybe twenty to thirty. We also added vehicle tracking and hands-free car kits to our portfolio, this proved very popular to the point that we employed two engineers. They would go to Poole two days a week to cover the work we had there and the rest of their time was spent covering Bath customers.”

As Grapevine evolved, advances in technology and communications continued to keep pace with the dawn of the smartphone radically changing the landscape in both sectors by beginning to bridge the gap between the two.

Pete: “At the beginning of the decade, colour displays on phones and having the web in your pocket were a big deal. By 2007, we saw the first ever iPhone launched and the world of apps was fast tracked. A far cry from the game Snake, the first major app on the Nokia 6110 ten years earlier in 1997! Blackberry was also a force in the 2000’s and a big draw for our business customers who wanted real time push email on the move.”

Comically large Blackberry on display at the Poole Office

 

James: “The acquisition of our Service Provider, Mobile Telecom by Vodafone during this time was a major change impacting us and leading to the direct partnership we have enjoyed with the network for over 20 years. Vodafone’s landmark 3G launch brought a raft of new possibilities to the mobile experience from video-calling to applications, using the Vodafone Live platform. Grapevine embraced the evolution to smarter devices, becoming a Blackberry specialist through Vodafone and supporting other manufacturers mobile email platforms early too.”

Edward: “It’s funny thinking back as one of the main skews of the presentation I gave to the team before joining the company was around the growth in mobile tech such as the Blackberry and also the convergence between traditional mobile telephony and it becoming a more IT centric product. Grapevine were ahead of the curve on this and had been looking for someone with an IT background to help this side of the business. Within a few weeks I was up at Blackberry (RIM) HQ and we were soon supplying, installing and supporting the ubiquitous BES – Blackberry Enterprise Server. Despite being a bit tetchy to install and setup, it was still a brilliant product at the time and it’s amazing to look back now and see how the brand has pretty much vanished whereas it used to be all conquering.”

The benefits of these new technologies weren’t limited to clients of course. As well as being a provider of new and emerging solutions, Grapevine colleagues were also able to fully embrace these services for their own use.

James: “Before mobile email my day would consist of travelling to the office in the morning, sorting through the latest correspondence from clients then planning my day accordingly, making visits to clients with no real opportunity to check any further messages in the meantime”.

Nicola Boyt: “When I first started in a support role in 2007 we still used a lot of paper. The team would cover my whole desk and keyboard with customer work before I arrived every morning. The printer rarely starts up these days as we move closer and closer to being paperless”.

Paul with Nicola Boyt, Nicky Vockins and Hilary Vockins

 

Despite big changes during this decade, clients continued to show their loyalty to the business, with many from the early days of the retail stores making the jump to the new business focused service provider Grapevine had become.

Donna: “There are almost too many to mention. As we’ve grown and added more solutions, our client’s businesses have also grown and the demands change. I have many accounts with two or more of our services. Over the years we have developed good relationships with our clients and are a trusted supplier. During review meetings we fact find and discover new ways in which we can offer to assist or improve their current way of working.”

As Grapevine entered its 20th year in 2011, the company wanted to acknowledge its achievements in a major way. It has survived the high street and continued trading in its new iteration for over a decade. The team selected four charities and were successful in raising £20,000 through a series of events, including a group bike ride between the Poole and Bath offices.

The Grapevine team and friends on the charity bike ride in 2011

 

Before the end of the year there would be further changes for the business. Marketing Manager, Paul Lappage, who had been instrumental to this era of Grapevine, announced his plans to emigrate to the US. Paul’s role had evolved since the completion of the KTP project which presented challenges in deciding how to move forward with the company’s marketing function.

As the second decade of Grapevine came to a close, company founder Brian Vockins made the decision to take a step back from the business.

Brian: “It was during this decade that I decided to put together a management team to take the business forward. For me, seeing our team across the board take on the extra responsibility and rise to this challenge was, and is, very satisfying.”

Brian and the future Grapevine management team, Pete, Ed and James

 

Next time, 2011 – 2021: From mobile, to fixed line, to IT solutions and beyond! The Grapevine portfolio of solutions expands as the company and its clients prepare for new ways of working.

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