Photo gallery: Lifting the lid on Norwich’s quiet business success story Anovo

CEO Kevin Coleman and production lines at Anovo in Norwich. Photo: Bill Smith CEO Kevin Coleman and production lines at Anovo in Norwich. Photo: Bill Smith

Friday, June 20, 2014
9:55 AM

If you have a mobile phone which needs fixing then Norwich-firm Anovo will probably sort it out - but you are unlikely to know it. But chief executive Kevin Coleman told business editor Shaun Lowthorpe of his determination to raise its profile.

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Production lines at anovo in Norwich. Photo: Bill SmithProduction lines at anovo in Norwich. Photo: Bill Smith

It is one of Norwich’s best kept business secrets – but the chances are if you are a mobile phone user then at some point you will have come into contact with Anovo.

It’s just that you may not have realised it.

In Norwich, the business, which is French-owned and part of a global entity employing more than 5000 staff, operates across two sites on opposite sides of Vulcan Road North.

Step inside the main building and you are inside a hi-tech facility where hundreds of white coated staff are analysing, diagnosing and in most cases repairing phones which have been returned.

Production lines at anovo in Norwich. Photo: Bill SmithProduction lines at anovo in Norwich. Photo: Bill Smith

The company, one of the city’s largest employers, is the national repairer for Samsung, whose phones are among the handsets sent along the rows of production lines to be looked at.

While a separate specialist team of experts pores over giant microscopes to pinpoint the more complicated circuitry problems.

If you are an O2 customer and have phoned your mobile company seeking help with a phone that has gone wrong, then it is Anovo staff in Norwich who you will be speaking to as it also manages that call centre contract.

And if you are looking to get rid of your handset after getting a new phone, Anovo may also be involved in the process, operating the buy-back platform for Asda Tech Trade-In, as well as its own platform, Love2Recycle.com.

Across the road are call centre staff, which includes a large European element as the business includes Anovo’s operations in Germany and Poland.

Kevin Coleman, chief executive officer, is well aware that most people do not have a clue that any of this activity takes place in Norwich.

But heading up a UK business that last year with Germany and Poland delivered nearly £85m in revenues, he believes the time is right to spread the word about what goes on here.

“We have got 850 people in the building,” he said. “It’s one of Norwich’s largest employers, but no-one knows about us. it’s the best kept secret that Norwich has got. Most people don’t actually seem to know what we do.”

The site was previously home to another business, Radiophone, which was bought by Anovo in 2000.

It was a company which started with four staff - the fourth being Mr Coleman, who has worked his way up from an engineer role to his current CEO post and knows the technical side of the business inside-and-out.

“What we do is pretty hi-tech,” he said. “It’s a business that’s grown from a pretty small base to more than 800 people across two facilities.

“I felt it was time to tell people we are here – it’s a good news story for the city.”

So what does Anovo do?

“Anovo is an international business - there are four sites in the UK together with sites in France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and China, employing 5500 staff including 1500 in this country.

“Anovo bought the previous business, Radiophone in 2000. That in itself was an operation which started off with four employees – I was number four.

“The business is a key part of the supply chain providing repair services, recycling and buy back. We provide systems for non-retailers to control their supply chains, we provide returns management, screening and repair of a whole range of devices.”

In Norwich, the focus is on smart phones, but at other centres, Thetford where there are 60 staff, Coventry and Enfield, the business also deals with tablets, laptops and set top boxes.

Thetford is the UK distribution hub for Nokia, while another key part of the business is the diagnostic service – where trained staff can go through potential problems with customers and ideally have these addressed over the phone without the need to send their devices back.

One of the big misconceptions about mobile devices is that they are thrown away – they are not as they are simply too valuable, with their true cost obscured by the subsidies used by manufacturers and mobile phone operators to keep them attractive to customers.

But at Anovo, the business is expert at making sure that no component is wasted.

In the last month the Norwich operation saw 165,000 mobile phones passing through. These are tracked every step of the way by serial number, processed and repaired by staff and then returned to you within 48 hours.

“We operate around the clock on the three shift system to get these devices back to the customer,” Mr Coleman said. “When you think you are talking to Samsung or O2 you are talking to Anovo.

“We do the whole thing, once the product gets back to Norwich we either repair or replace it.

“If you phone up O2, it will end up here in Norwich. If you have got a Dell computer it will end up in Coventry, a set-top box will end up in Enfield.

“If you have insurance through your bank, for 90pc of banking customers it will end up here. If you buy a phone with Sainsbury Mobile, it will end up here.

“We will repair or replace it, turn 
it around and get it back in your 
hands within 48 hours. You are absolutely right – we don’t shout about 
it that much.”

It was the mid-1990s and the advent of pre-paid phone contracts which saw mobile phone usage take off fuelling the growth of today’s business.

But it is a competitive sector with tight margins which has seen a lot of consolidation – from 35 companies in the 1990s to three now.

The firm adheres to strict key performance indicators (KPIs) – to ensure that it meets the expectations of its customers and business partners to stay ahead, and with the smartphone market constantly innovating, staying on top of the technical challenges is crucial to its success.

“What we have to do is stay ahead,” Mr Coleman said. “From a technological perspective we need to make sure that our capabilities are always up to speed.

“I think the core business will continue to develop around the new products that are launched. Today most people have a smart phone and a tablet, but in five years time I can see that there will be just one device.

“We have been fortunate to have been in the leading position during that time. But the thing about the mobile device industry is the speed at which it works. Things can change overnight and you have to keep pace with that.”

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