Huge UK Distributor, Steljes, Has Collapsed

SteljesFrom rAVe EUROPE and rAVe Pubs staff reports: After nearly three decades in business, one of the UK’s largest and longest-standing AV distributors, Steljes Limited, has been put into administration (for our US readers, this means the company is being taken under the management of a court appointed administrator – who must be a licensed insolvency practitioner (IP) – appointed by the courts). The news affects Steljes Limited — not other parts of the business, including Steljes Rental.

Two weeks ago more than 30 Steljes staff were facing redundancy (for our US readers, this is similar to “layoffs”) but the distributor still couldn’t meet overheads—and the finger is pointing to recent changes in its contractual relationship with its largest vendor, SMART.

With sales down 2% to £53.85m (US$78 Million) and an operating loss of £1.28m or US$1.8 million (fiscal year ending 30 June 2015), sales were slowing on their main product, interactive whiteboards (SMART could have been as much as two-thirds of Steljes’ sales). In April, SMART began supporting resellers directly in the UK and using distribution only for fulfilment: Steljes had to move from a value to a volume model for their largest vendor.

Steljes_WBIn January of this year, Steljes launched a new brand, to compete with SMART, called VIVIDtouch and we even shot a video of it at the ISE show in Amsterdam. But, it appears VIVIDtouch didn’t come quickly enough. The VIVIDtouch product was impressive, however, and it will be interesting to watch what happens with that product. Our bets is that it will return.

Understandably, the rapid disintegration of business for a nearly 30-year old respectable distributor gives some jitters to the industry. While some finger-pointing is going on, it’s long been an adage in distribution that one carefully navigates away from a business dependent upon on a sole vendor.

This is a shame, though, as Steljes had carved a valuable niche in education and made an example of value-added distribution that it had hoped to bring to the rest of Europe.

Nigel Steljes, now chairman of the company he started in 1987, had the vision and focus that led to the company being the first to market in the UK for the LCD panel, LCD projector & 42” plasma monitor.

Hauntingly, their current websites says, “Success with the SMART Board interactive whiteboard has achieved sales of over 350,000 boards into the UK. Nigel’s hands-on approach spearheaded the company’s phenomenal success, with the company being acknowledged in the Sunday Times fast track 100 companies for maintaining 100% growth for eight years in a row. Since that time, he has played a key role in securing exclusive distribution agreements that ensures Steljes is acknowledged as the true Value Added Distributor of choice for the vendor and reseller communities.”

The administrator told press they will continue trading while they search for buyers for the whole or parts of the business. While the valuable SMART contract is no longer there, the customer list and name should have value to national buyers—and perhaps even more value to overseas distributors (Europe, America). Some Asian manufacturers (maker of whiteboards as an example) might find a fit—and the Chinese are buying into the Western markets now (consider the recent acquisition of Ingram Micro) as their home economy slumps.

Meanwhile this news should send Europe’s specialist distributors scurrying to review their vendor dependencies. And some broadliners quietly clinking glasses as more UK market share loosens up.

At the time of posting this story, the Steljes website wasn’t working but their LinkedIn Page was still up.