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Old neighbours with access to the biggest names in retail
Alistair Houghton meets DAVID ROBERTSHAW, managing director of Access Point UK, in Southport
THEY were childhood neighbours – now David Robertshaw and John Ford are business partners working with the cream of the retail world.
Robertshaw is managing director of Southport’s Access Point UK, which offers promotional pitches for marketing staff within supermarkets, retail centres and car parks.
Access Point has deals with chains ranging from Sainsbury’s to Tesco and Road Chef to Ikea, as well as 400 shopping centres.
Customers include the RAC, with its orange uniform-wearing promotional staff, gym chain David Lloyd and car retailers large and small.
Access Point also sells voucher advertising space on the back of till rolls for store chains including Morrisons.
The company was founded in 1997 by Ford, but managing director Robertshaw joined two years later. Today it employs 40 people and turns over £4m.
Robertshaw, who is Southport- born and bred, says he and Ford knew from their youth that they would work together one day.
“John and I grew up next door to each other,” he said. “We’ve known each other all our lives and always wanted to work with each other.”
Robertshaw spent 10 years in the RAF before moving into marketing.
Ford founded Access Point in 1997, while Robertshaw became marketing director of a rival firm in Hertfordshire.
In June, 1999, Robertshaw decided to return to Southport to join his former neighbour as a business partner.
He said: “John had been pushing for some time for me to join him.
“My wife had a good job in London. We’d just had our first son. It was a big gamble for us, but it paid off.”
Five months later, the company landed its first major deal with superstore chain Safeway.
“That was the development that took this company from one turning over £200,000 a year to one that turned over £4m,” said Robertshaw.
Access Point UK matches firms looking to promote their services with supermarkets looking to make more use of their car parks.
The only restrictions are that the product or service should not compete with the retailer – and should, in Robertshaw’s words, be “legal, decent and honest”.
“We are responsible for making sure not just anybody sets up in these car parks,” he said.
“And the retailers insist on it. If anything goes wrong, even if they haven’t got a legal responsibility to sort things out, there’s a moral one.”
Access Point’s clients generally approach customers on their way out of the shop.
“When they’re going in, customers are just focused on the doors,” said Robertshaw.
“They come out in a more relaxed mood, ready to talk to people.
“It’s got to be a non-aggressive approach to customers. These marketing staff are professionally-trained and know if people want to talk to them.
“They make one approach to customers and that’s the only approach they’re allowed.”
Access Point takes an equally careful approach to securing new clients, working with retailers to win their trust and reassure them that their brand values will be protected. Its Netto deal, said Robertshaw, was secured after a successful trial in Yorkshire and the Humber.
“There is an innate wariness, because they’re very protective of their customer base,” he said.
Robertshaw says the till receipt voucher business is growing as recession-hit customers are becoming more willing to use vouchers to save money.
“I read some research from moneysupermarket.com showing that 25% of British people won’t eat out unless they have a money-off coupon,” he said.
“Customers are becoming more savvy and in the last 12 months they have become less self-conscious about using vouchers. A lot of restaurants are now using voucher promotions to push footfall during the quiet times.”
Access Point provides the till rolls for free and reaps the revenues from customers advertising on the back of them.
It works with stores including Morrisons and Homebase, and designs the till rolls.
“I find the easier we make things for retailers, the more enticing our proposition is for them,” said Robertshaw.
“They’re busy selling their products. We can do everything with the till rolls in-house.”
Robertshaw says trading has been strong this year, boosted by contract wins with Netto and Sainsbury’s.
As suppliers cut back their spending on in-store advertising, supermarkets are looking for new ways to boost their revenue streams – and Access Point is poised to take advantage. Robertshaw, who is married with four children, is confident both arms of his business are set for more growth as retailers seek new revenue streams.
“Our main ambition is to be the acknowledged leader in the field in what we do,” he said. “Whenever anybody’s thinking about doing a promotion like this, their first act will be to pick up a phone to call Access Point.
“There are other agencies out there doing bits and bobs here and there, but we have exclusive contracts with these retailers.”