Office Friendly reprofiled themselves as Business Development Specialists 18 months ago providing marketing, CSR and training support to SMEs. Jill Theobald found out how their company culture is helping other SMEs build their own effective teams.

Think Office Friendly and you’d probably think stationery, furniture and general office supplies.

The firm was established 25 years ago as a dealer group within the office products industry, negotiating price and bringing services and tools to its community of 150 independent office product resellers across the UK.

While Office Friendly continues that arm of the business working closely with the Sheffield based wholesaler VOW contributing £54million spend, the team have now turned their focus on the Sheffield City Region. The roots of the business have been established over that 25-year period and in this time have won multiple Sheffield business awards including for people development and sustainability.

As managing director Julie Hawley explains: “We repositioned our brand 18 months ago as Business Development Specialists across three key areas. We have KascAid which is our creative and marketing agency, Pioneer our learning and development arm and Weaver which is a corporate social responsibility (CSR) and social sustainability programme.

“We feel we’ve got some really good services which Sheffield City Region (SCR) businesses can benefit from.

“People are surprised that we’ve been around 25 years but much of that has been working nationally. We’re focusing on expanding into the SCR because up to 80 per cent of Sheffield businesses are SMEs. Our 18-strong team, most of which are Sheffield born and bred or live within a few miles of our HQ, means we’re an SME ourselves so we know what’s worked for us in terms of training, mentoring and business growth and we can bring those tools to them.”

And that growth and expertise is down to the company culture and staff development that Julie and her fellow directors, marketing director Katie Metcalfe and sales director Keeley Shepherd, have overseen.

Says Katie: “We really believe in nurturing talent. We’ve just taken on another apprentice after employing several over the years. It’s important to bridge and close the gap between education and business and we’ve developed strong links with Sheffield Hallam University and taken on graduates from both universities.

“We take work experience very seriously. The young people who join us are given a full induction and gain a real understanding of the entire company. As business owners you can’t complain about not finding the right talent to fill the jobs if you’re not investing in local universities and schools and helping develop the next generation of employees through work placements.”

Alongside the standard benefits such as pension, life insurance and health cover, Office Friendly staff benefit from the lifelong learning culture of training on the job with regular team or one-to-one workshops. Staff also complete e-learning courses via Pioneer – and competing with a bit of friendly rivalry as to who has the most reward badges.

The team also work with South Yorkshire Community Foundation and find their volunteering days and fundraising work with SYFC and their partners including a local football academy ‘really satisfying’.

Meanwhile every Friday the team can take a ‘Learning Hour’ which allows them the space to research and find out more about latest trends or any individual areas they are interested in.

“It’s important the culture and ethos of a company is established at the top at director level because that creates an evolving business model and encourages staff development,” says Julie. “People feel empowered to be creative and come up with their own ideas. And as businesses grow it’s important those values and culture are embedded and grow with you.”

And speaking of growth, the three directors have recently appointed former Rotherham Mayor Lyndsay Pitchley as their new business development manager who Katie describes as ‘fitting right in with our ethos’.

“She’s a real people person,” adds Julie. “She understands our culture and with her business knowledge and experience will take our brand and services further out into the Yorkshire region and raise our profile.”

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