Grapevine at 30 – Part 3: 2011 – 2021

On a Tuesday morning in July 2011 I was sat at a table in one of the event spaces at Bournemouth University’s Talbot Campus. I was there to talk about one of BU’s business engagement functions, the Creative Enterprise Bureau (CEB), which I ran at the time. The CEB paired academic staff and final year undergraduates to work on commercial consultancy and research projects for external businesses.

A photo I took a few minutes before I first crossed paths with Grapevine

 

Amongst the varying levels of interest shown from the people I spoke to that morning, one particularly tall chap seemed very eager to learn more. I took his details to arrange a follow up meeting – Paul Lappage, Marketing Manager, Grapevine Telecom.

A few weeks later, a colleague and I met with Paul, Brian Vockins and James Spinks to discuss how the CEB might be able to help Grapevine bridge the gap between Paul’s departure from the business and whatever might come next for the company. It involved a lot more hands-on work, managing Grapevine’s day to day marketing activity, but also the potential for more substantive research and consultancy projects down the line.

Grapevine’s prior engagement with the University via the Knowledge Transfer Partnership made them a great fit for the CEB. We kept the marketing strategy Paul had put in place the previous decade ticking over while some more speculative work took place in the background.

One of the early pieces of work the CEB supported Grapevine with was communication of the relationship developing between the company and Bath Rugby.

Edward Lewis and Pete Boby with David Flatman, former Bath and England rugby player

 

Pete Boby: “Since I moved to Bath in 1988 I’ve always followed Bath Rugby as a fan but as I was also playing rugby myself I never got the chance to watch many games. When I retired from playing I started going to all the home games. This led to us taking on a box at the club for entertaining clients. Over time we took on all the mobile phone accounts for Bath Rugby. I think the club really enjoyed dealing with a local company who was able to be totally pro-active and iron out day-to-day queries very quickly.”

Edward Lewis: “In 2012 we were made Bath Rugby’s Official Communications Partner. The partnership allowed us to forge some great working relationships with some of the key people at the club which continue today.”

Watch our video case study on Bath Rugby from 2014

 

Since Grapevine had shifted their focus from high street retail to business-to-business in the 2000’s, the company had begun to consider the other ways in which they could support their longstanding client base. As a trusted provider of mobile telecoms, fixed line phone systems were a logical extension.

James Spinks: “Grapevine has always had some involvement in fixed line, including a limited number of PBX telephone system installations in our very early days as a business-to-business provider. We also had the option of adding a service for lines and calls following Vodafone’s acquisition of what was Project Telecom. However, it was Vodafone’s acquisition of Cable & Wireless that prompted a more concerted effort in developing a fixed line portfolio and, rather than limit ourselves to a single provider, we invested in our own billing platform so we could then pick and choose from the very best wholesale options available to us. This is where our partnerships with other key providers such as Gamma were born.”

Ed Shaw: “Until 2013, sending monthly bills to clients and collecting direct debits had always been handled directly by our network partners. Running our own billing platform was quite daunting to begin with, but we steadily grew this side of our business from just a handful of bills going out each month to over 200, with around half of our revenue now coming through in this way.”

Fixed line is now a key service area for Grapevine. The company’s success in its delivery of these solutions has led to Grapevine becoming one of just sixteen Gamma Technical Alliance Partners in the UK as of November 2021.

It will continue to be an area of development for the business under the stewardship of Paul Fletcher, Technical Solutions Specialist at Grapevine, who joined the company just as the venture into fixed line began.

Watch our 2014 company ‘About Us’ video, produced by staff and students from BU

 

Paul Fletcher: “When I first joined Grapevine in 2012, I was employed as a Junior Account Manager helping to look after some of Grapevine’s existing accounts, as well as being responsible for add-on sales such as accessories and insurance. Having come from a mobile retail background, this was a perfect introduction to the different world of business-to-business. Back then we were still only partnered with Vodafone for mobile but this wasn’t long before the dawn of 4G and Grapevine added the EE networks to its portfolio (EE, Orange and T-Mobile at the time). With Southampton and Bristol on our doorstep (two of their eleven launch cities) this seemed a no brainer. I remember “door knocking” and leaflet dropping at every industrial estate in Southampton with the 4G launch details. Certainly a bit different from standing in a warm shop with people coming to me!”

“About 18 months after joining the company we were introduced to this strange new world of fixed line; hosted telephony, broadband and MVNO mobile. As something completely new to the business for me this was quite exciting. I’ve always enjoyed technology and learning about something that had previously been completely alien to me made me even more keen. At first we were extremely green to the solution and were very much learning as we went. Over the years the time and effort that we’ve invested to really learn the product set we adopted has helped us to become market leaders in our knowledge. Our new Gamma Technical Alliance accreditation is a testament to this.”

Learn more about cloud telephony services in our animated explainer video

 

Fixed line wouldn’t be the only big addition to Grapevine’s offering to clients in this decade. Behind the scenes, the company were continuing to work with the team I had put together at Bournemouth University. We were tasked with exploring the blurring line between telecoms and IT. The outcome of the research project was clear – Grapevine needed to evolve again to maintain the pace of the ever-changing technology and communications market.

With fixed line taking priority for Grapevine in the first half of the decade, IT remained a future possibility until 2015 when a perfect opportunity presented itself.

James: “Prior to 2015 we had highlighted the potential of IT as a new service area given the value of the business we were passing over to trusted partners, and the rapid convergence of telecoms and IT. Upon comparing options it was deemed a lower cost and less risky investment to introduce this via acquisition rather than start from scratch ourselves. When our own IT provider approached us to discuss such a possibility, we seized it rapidly.”

Edward: “To start from scratch would’ve been difficult as it would’ve meant going through both a large recruitment drive before we even had the internal skillset to start approaching clients to build an IT base. When we were given the opportunity to acquire our own IT provider, it seemed the perfect way to start what we had been planning for years. From day one, we suddenly had the staff and an existing client base to work with so, to an extent, all of the initial hurdles that had been in the way were removed in one go. This also gave us the chance to start talking to existing customers who didn’t have IT with us with a view to bringing them onboard over time. We were now in a position to look after almost the entire client estate in terms of mobile and fixed telephony, and managed IT services too”.

Mark Newton, Grapevine’s Principal IT Consultant, was working with the business acquired by Grapevine in 2015. He now leads the IT team, providing managed support services across Grapevine’s client base.

Mark Newton: “After a number of years serving in the Army, I embarked on a career in IT at 24. The majority of this time was spent working with a Microsoft consultancy specialising in ‘systems management’, centred around the Microsoft System Center stack of products. This involved consultancy, design, planning and implementation of these products to large organisations across the UK. I decided to change my work / life balance from a travel perspective (I had my own seat on the train to and from London!) and moved to more locally focused IT delivery in 2014.”

“I personally feel we have achieved so much since the acquisition in 2015. This includes the initial integration of the IT operation within Grapevine and offering IT support and projects to a wider client base, to moving our focus and expertise to offer the latest cloud technologies and the benefits they bring to our clients. I feel fortunate to have the team I work with, who are all helping to deliver IT projects and support. We still continue to add new solutions to provide an enhanced service, the latest is our firewall product which further strengthens the IT security we offer.”

Paul Fletcher and Mark Newton at AFC Bournemouth for a Grapevine client webinar

 

The addition of fixed line and IT service has succeeded in the goal of furthering the relationship Grapevine has with its longstanding clients. These new areas have completed Grapevine’s transformation from reseller to service provider.

James: “We have a core of long-term customers that love how we operate and how we support them. Many have been crying out for our portfolio expansion as it gives them a trusted and proven option to move their fixed line and IT requirements over to when out of commitment.”

Donna Fletcher: “Having worked hard at building relationships and becoming a trusted supplier for your client, you then must ensure that you’re always moving with the times, upgrading and introducing new products and solutions that will benefit their business, both cost and productivity wise.”

Mark: “When a client utilises us as a ‘one-stop shop’ where we are offering IT as well as telecoms, I feel they see many benefits. They have one organisation to contact for these needs and support, instead of getting “caught” between multiple partners. They also have the ability to talk to the experts in the relevant areas who, together, can easily collaborate to offer the best solution and services based on the client’s complete information systems environment not just part of it.”

Although fixed line and IT have been thrust to the forefront in the past decade, Grapevine’s roots in mobile are still very much at the core of the business and its relationships with clients. Mobile Support Manager, Eloise Gullis joined Grapevine in the midst of all the new activity taking place within the company.

Eloise Gullis, during a volunteering day for Autism Wessex on behalf of Grapevine

 

Eloise Gullis: “In the early days I took on the job role of support assistant helping the rest of the team take phone calls, sort stock and general receptionist tasks whilst learning the ropes of what mobile support was all about! I now manage our dedicated mobile support team. I’ve helped with employing more staff into the team and work with them to provide the same great service that I was taught back when I started. I also assist with purchasing and answering some billing / account queries where possible.”

“From a personal perspective, Grapevine gave me the career path I had always planned for the future. When I first joined it was like a big welcoming family that you get to know personally which makes the job so much easier. Being in a company-wide role, I speak to colleagues in our Bath office as much as the people that are sat right next to me, even though they’re based miles away! The same is true with our clients – you get to know who you are speaking to on a regular basis and I really feel that is where we are great as a company. Clients learn who we are and trust what advice we give. It can be a very rewarding job role to be in when customers are very appreciative of your assistance.”

“In the time I’ve been with Grapevine, 4G masts were built and now we’re seeing more and more 5G masts introduced. I came into the company just at the time the network’s service portals were changing, allowing us to assist more and more with the information that we could provide our clients with to help on a day-to-day basis. We never used to be able to action a simple SIM change ourselves and now it’s second nature to us, taking two seconds to pop one through!”

‘Close Encounters of the 4G Kind’ – Pete, Ed L and Ed S at the launch of EE

 

For a company that was under a lot of pressure to keep up at the beginning of its third decade in business, Grapevine has a lot to be proud of since 2011. The 30th anniversary of the company this November has given the team chance to take a moment from the challenges of the past couple of years to reflect on these achievements.

Pete: “This was the decade we really developed and matured as an organisation. We’ve progressed significantly from the days of just selling mobile phones. The IT acquisition and the development of our own billing platform has given us so much more capability and expertise. To be able to offer clients the whole suite of mobile, IT and fixed services helps us to provide a seamless point of contact.”

“I think our attentive service is highly valued. During this decade we received the top Net Promoter Score (NPS) of all Vodafone’s business partners, validating our commitment to looking after our clients. In 2018 we were awarded Bath Rugby’s IT contract. Once again our ability to be hands on and nimble in our response was a benefit to the club.”

Edward: “Winning the IT contract with Bath Rugby was absolutely fantastic for us and for me was a real highlight of my time here as it showed how Grapevine had evolved over the last decade. We were a relative minnow (as in size not skillset) compared to their incumbent IT provider and it was a real David vs Goliath moment but I think we proved, during the lengthy due diligence process, that, if anything, our size was actually a benefit as we could move and adapt quickly to the club’s ever changing needs.”

James: “The growth of our portfolio has essentially added a second business outside of our mobile comms offerings and it is very satisfying and rewarding to see that this has grown to be even bigger than the original core business and continues to expand as we head into the future.”

Donna: “From our days on the high street, when an ‘additional sale’ would be an accessory, to offering a comprehensive range of business services to our clients, we’ve held our own in a very competitive market, winning, growing and keeping large, well-known accounts. Having been here pretty much from the start, I’ve seen the business grow and add staff that will continue to take the company forward well beyond my time. Grapevine is a great business to work for and it’s been a very enjoyable 28 years.”

Paul: “The last 10 years of Grapevine have surely got to have been the most exciting in the history of the company. The number of new solutions and services we’ve onboarded and brought to the market for our client base in such a relatively short time has been remarkable. We’ve gone about it in a way that avoids becoming a ‘Jack of all trades’ and actually invested time and effort in both people and products to get a real understanding to become specialists in what we offer. To have played my small part in leading the fixed line arm makes me extremely proud when looking back at our achievements.”

Eloise: “Expanding to provide IT and fixed line services has to be a highlight of the business during the years I’ve worked here. Learning about new technologies has been challenging yet rewarding both for myself and the business to provide further support to our existing mobile client base and other potential new customers requiring these services.”

 

Speaking to colleagues from across these three decades of the business, the theme of family continues to repeat itself. I found myself being welcomed in from my place on the side lines at the beginning of this period of transformation. In Autumn 2015 I accepted an invitation to collaborate more directly with Grapevine and was based in-house for half the working week. By Spring 2016 I’d joined the company full time.

Our current team is completed by the following colleagues, who have joined us in recent years. Each of them have already made their own impact on the next chapter of our story:

  • Alex Blower (Technical Support Analyst)
  • Tom Stuart (Technical Support Engineer)
  • Elise Davenport (Account Manager)
  • Chloe Elliott (Mobile Support Advisor)
  • Oliver Spriggs (Technical Support Manager)
  • George Complin (Senior Engineer and Consultant)
  • Cameron Finnie (Technical Support Analyst)
  • James Carter (Technical Support Engineer)
  • Rachel Alexander (Administration Assistant)
  • Mitchell Jarmey (Business Development Executive)

 

Next time: A look to the future for Grapevine..

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