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Frequency happy to ride wave as it goes with the market flow

Paul Lipscombe
August 22, 2019

The accessories distributor, founded in 2002, says it has the ability to move quickly amid change

It has been nearly 10
years since Mobile News ventured out to Chessington to visit
Frequency Telecom, the accessories distributor established in 2002 by
Gareth Limpenny and Andrew Cain, along with John Whitlock and Paul
Slaven.

In the mobile industry,
this is equivalent to a human lifetime.

When we last visited
the company – based at Barwell Business Park – it was in the
process of moving to a much larger facility to match its growth
ambitions across Europe, having previously opened offices in Germany
and the Netherlands.

On this occasion, we
met Limpenny, who provided an update on the business and an insight
into the beginnings of Frequency.

Beginnings

Limpenny’s journey in
the telecoms industry began in the mid-1990s, when, after a stint at
Yellow Pages, he joined distributor European Telecom. There, he
worked with Whitlock and Slaven, with whom he would later join
together to launch Frequency Telecom.

Limpenny’s time at
European Telecom, which taught him valuable lessons about the
industry, is one he reflects on fondly.

“I had a fantastic
experience,” he says. “I was able to work with a lot of talented
people such as Warren Hardy and Clive Smith. We learnt a lot while at
European Telecom, when the industry was booming.”

It was during his six
years there that Limpenny, along with Frequency’s other eventual
founders, gained the experience and confidence to start up their own
operation.

“Being able to work our way up at European Telecom gave us the foundations to start up the business,” he says. “We took the different experiences we learnt there and used it to create our own company.”

HQ at Barwell Business Park

Accessories

Frequency Telecom began
life selling handsets to the UK B2B market at a time when Nokia was
the leading brand.

Then came BlackBerry
and Apple, which changed the dynamics of the industry in a way that
led Frequency to venture into the accessories market.

“We saw a gap in that
market. We noticed people were using their phones more than ever, and
this is where we began to concentrate our efforts,” says Limpenny.

Frequency’s initial
focus was on selling cases and screen protectors. Audio and power
accessories were later added to the line- up, with headphones and
powerbanks proving popular.

The company works with
manufacturers including Samsung, Huawei and Energizer, as well as
designer brands such as Case-Mate and Case FortyFour. It serves a
range of customers, including mobile wholesalers and resellers, as
well as retail stores.

Limpenny, meanwhile,
highlights that the size or name of the brands that Frequency works
with is not as important as it once was.

“For us, it’s more
important to have brands that our customers are able to make money
from,” he explains. “Our job is more to ensure that our resellers
have the products to sell confidently and profitably.”

The numbers

Last year, Frequency
Telecom made £13.8 million in gross revenue and profits of £3.39
million, though the turnover was down on the previous year’s figure
of £15.7 million.

But Limpenny isn’t
too concerned, saying Frequency is on course to achieve a target of
£16 million this year.

“The decrease in turnover was down to a change in the market conditions and product mix,” he says. “We’re not too concerned by the number dropping. At the same time, I don’t get too excited if the number goes up. I prioritise volumes and margins.”

Limpenny also believes there are good opportunities for accessories distributors, despite the device market becoming saturated in recent years.

“In the last few
years, the overall market has become saturated for a number of
reasons. In the UK especially, people are holding onto their devices
for longer, with less of a rush to upgrade than they would have
previously.

“This means they’ll spend more money on protecting their devices, which gives us an opportunity to attach additional products that can prolong the life of their phones.”

One particular market that Limpenny and Frequency are watching is the emerging move towards foldable smartphones.

With their respective
Fold and Mate X devices, Samsung and Huawei are the among the leading
vendors due to release foldable phones this year.

“If this segment of
the market does take off, then we’ll have the capabilities in place
to supply and provide products to protect these,” says Limpenny.
“However, this is all dependent on the price points of these
products. It’s hard to say if they will be popular with the mass
market just yet.”

Lower buzz

Limpenny also notes
that the excitement and buzz of iPhone launches has cooled in the
past few years.

“There was a time
when people would get more excited about Apple launches than any
other. We would see huge queues and people would genuinely feel
thrilled. I can’t remember the last time the industry got excited
about any phone launch, let alone one from Apple,” says Limpenny.

In fact, he is more
excited about the prospects for Cel-Fi devices sold by Frequency that
boost phone signals indoors – with the booster the only one that is
Ofcom licence- exempt.

“This is an area of
the business that is very productive for us, and we’re looking to
increase our customer service and technical support for it. People
accept that they won’t be able to get a mobile signal in certain
places, and we have a solution to solve this.”

So far, the company has
sold the signal boosters to civic centres and hotels, and even to the
NHS.

The service, which can be scaled from coverage of single-room offices to large enterprise buildings means that Frequency has a large customer audience to target, and it even provides an installation service for the booster.

Limpenny says Frequency focuses on ensuring resellers can sell its products confidently

Frequency focus

Limpenny is reluctant
to describe the company’s position relative to other distributors,
instead choosing to focus on what Frequency itself is doing.

“We don’t compare
ourselves to others,” he says. “We want the best for us and our
customers. There are established distributors with different
objectives, but for us our only focus is on what we do for our
customers.”

The ongoing uncertainty
with regard to Brexit is, however, a source of annoyance for
Limpenny.

“We really need
someone to hurry up and make a decision either way on Brexit. The
volatility of the exchange rate has not been helpful and the
uncertainty around Brexit has not been good,” he says.

“We have no control over it, but we need to best estimate what is likely to happen and deal with any shocks as best we can.”

Despite the company’s growth on the continent – with offices in Sweden later being added to those in Germany and the Netherlands – Limpenny says the UK remains Frequency’s number-one territory.

“The UK is our home
market and our most important one. But we also focus on our European
markets too, supporting them from the UK.”

At its Chessington
base, the company’s workforce is currently 40 strong, while six
employees operate across Europe.

A different approach is required to support the needs of customers on the continent to that used in the UK, says Limpenny.

“European markets are
different to that in the UK, so it’s important to understand them
first,” he explains. “For example, Germany is less
brand-orientated, which is why the range of products is wider there
than in the UK.”

Looking ahead

So what next for the
accessories distributor?

Last time we met
Frequency, the company was preparing to move from 30 Barwell Business
Park to number 44, an office three- and-a-half times bigger.

For now, there are no
such plans in place for further expansion, says Limpenny.

“We’ve been at
these offices for the past eight years or so and have no immediate
plans to leave,” he says. “We have a good working space here,
along with our warehouse which allows us to monitor our products.”

Similarly, the
headcount isn’t likely to grow in the near future, with Frequency
taking a wait-and-see approach to its strategy as it sees how the
smartphone market continues to evolve.

“Our flat structure
gives us the flexibility to make decisions quickly,” says Limpenny.
“We’re in an industry that is continually evolving and at a point
where we will continue to explore opportunities in accessories. We’ll
continue to move along with the industry as it changes.”

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