Hayden Willetts – Midocean
After a career in promotional merchandise spanning more than three decades, Haydn Willetts has lost none of his love of the sector. The regional director, UK & Ireland, for midocean, one of Europe’s main wholesalers and decorators of merchandise, says he feels fortunate to enjoy his job and relishes the challenges an evolving market presents to both suppliers and distributors alike.
“We sell products that people give away and some might make light of what we do but at midocean we strive to operate in a professional and ethical manner in an international arena and to become a world leader at creating memorable moments and lasting impressions of branded gifts, in a market where both product and social compliance are a given.”
This growing focus on the ‘C’ word – compliance – is one that has become unavoidable in recent years. “Long gone are the days where you could just say ‘yes everything is safe’ with a product and that would be OK,” he says. “As a large wholesaler, we have a responsibility to ensure that the items we present to the market meet all the relevant European legislation required. We offer security to both the final customer and our distributor customers that we rely on to sell our range of products and services.”
The reason this matters is because many final or end customers now demand that there is transparency in the supply chain. A negative compliance story whether it is a product or social compliance can have a huge impact on the perception of a company or brand. “Companies are getting stricter in their demands around this area,” he says. With this in mind, two years ago midocean took the decision to be totally transparent and placed all available test reports on-line for its customers and their customers. Social compliance is also high on the agenda and led to the company becoming amfori BSCI participants. This means it is committed to a set of values and principles that aim to demonstrate an ethical supply chain.
Lead by example
It is expensive and time-consuming, admits Willetts, and sometimes it would be easier to walk away, but if you choose to work with factories and give them guidance to improve, it helps to pull everybody’s standards up. midocean’s Polish logistics and print facility has been audited and achieved a high scoring audit result. “Assumptions can be made that an EU-based supplier will be fully compliant just because they are geographically located in the EU. We wanted to demonstrate the high standards we work to and show that we put in to practise fully what we expect from our manufacturing partners in the Far East and lead by example.” The lesson is that meaningful change takes time, a concept Willetts is familiar with. Starting his career in the B2B division of Parker Pens in 1992, before joining PF Concept in 2002, he moved to midocean, as regional director for UK and Ireland, in 2007.
The remit, to grow sales, was easier said than done as the company was in a heavy loss-making position. After two years of reasonable growth, the UK office was closed in 2009 and all customer care and finance marketing functions moved to the new head office in The Netherlands. This proved to be a challenging period and was not without issue, and in combination with the financial crisis of 2008, the following three years were extremely tough, admits Willetts.
However, with new owners and investment in 2012, and a centralised print and logistics facility in Poland, the business experienced impressive growth across the group, including the UK market. The company has grown to a turnover of about €125 million and hopes to reach €300m. It employs more than 1,000 and operates 300 print machines, that can brand from a selection of 1,400 unique items.
When somebody else’s brand is on those items, attention to detail, and compliance, counts. “We are securing the integrity of our customers. We have to give customers confidence so that they will come back to us again,” says Willetts.