unLTD’s Rachel Measures caught up with Jeff Parkin, managing director, and Andrew Crowder, operations director, at AG Group Ltd Sheffield to reminisce on their last 40 years of business in printers, photocopiers and more.

Once upon a time, three friends met in a pub. Yes, that’s really how this story began 40 years ago in 1981.

Jeff Parkin, now managing director, discussed with two other friends, Steve Jordan, and Pete Williamson, about setting up their own copier company business in South Yorkshire.

Steve sold copiers and knew Canon were looking for a dealer in the area. Pete had a typewriter repair company and Jeff had a small business supplies company. From this, the vision was simple. Combining their strengths, they wanted to become the largest copier dealer in South Yorkshire specialising in Canon.

Canon is a global, market-leading technology company dedicated to helping businesses and people reimagine and push the boundaries of what is possible through imaging. Over the last forty years, Canon has been a proud partner of the AG Group – helping the organisation deliver outstanding technology solutions to its customers in the Yorkshire area.

Jeff said: “In January 1982, we became Canon accredited dealers. We started trading as Alexan Business Services in March 1982 becoming a limited company on April 6th.”

The business soon took off with Canon’s launch of new products including fancy electronic typewriters and soon after, fax machines. If you don’t remember what these are, let’s refresh your memory…

Back in the 80’s fax machines were massive – I know, I’m just as shocked as you, but before they became a dusty relic abandoned in a storeroom, they were revolutionary.

Being able to send sheets of paper to each other down the phone line was a huge novelty, and super useful. Fax machines are a symbol of a huge step forward for communication, and to think no one uses them anymore!

While fax machines are largely a thing of the past, the copier seems to have stood the test of time.

The AG Group now

In 2022, the AG Group, as the business became known in the 1990s, is the largest independent copier dealer in South and West Yorkshire, selling and servicing a range of Canon products and providing digital solutions to a customer base consisting of every type of business.

These days, the company continues the same work, and Jeff Parkin, the guy who started the company from an idea in the pub, now works closely with Andrew Crowder and Alex Parkin who joined four years ago as shareholders.

The AG Group is a local business and although they do quite a lot nationwide, they’re mostly a business for local people and that’s what they pride themselves on.

Working with Canon, they’re looking to the future of office equipment especially facing the aftermath of the pandemic.

Andrew said: “Hybrid working isn’t going to go away, so we knew we needed to assist people getting access to their devices. Using cloud printing, we created the software Uniflow Online that gives people the option to print back into the office.”

In other revolutionary features, printers are now having motion sensors installed. It’s a well-known fact that you don’t show your printer fear. They always know when you’re in a rush and this is when they choose to break. However, with the introduction of the motion sensor, the printer knowing that you’re in a rush might actually save you some time.

A motion sensor can be set up to activate from one to three metres from a device allowing it to wake up as soon as you walk up to it, ready for you to start printing or photocopying or scanning immediately.

With Canon’s products always being at the leading edge, and the AG Group being able to provide a unique service under one roof, the two have created a long-lasting relationship.

James Pittick, director of B2B Indirect Sales at Canon UK & Ireland, said: “40 years of partnership with the AG Group marks a momentous occasion for our Partner Programme. It has been an absolute pleasure to work with this respected reseller for so many years, and to see its business grow and thrive”.

As a Silver Partner within its Partner Programme, Canon works closely with the AG Group to provide bespoke business support, training and empowerment to help the organisation grow and thrive.

Looking to the future, the reseller community will continue to remain a priority for Canon as it looks to strengthen its position as a trusted partner. With bespoke resources which include sales and business development, thought leadership and training around its portfolio of solutions, Canon can support resellers in building a more efficient and profitable business.

Q&A with Andrew Crowder

Q: What’s your daily role at the AG Group?

A: As operations director I run the machine, so to speak. I look after the daily running of the business, and this includes anything from staff issues and ordering to sales and making sure everything is on track.

I work with my co-director Alex Parkin and Jeff Parkin, who is managing director.

Q: What strengths has the AG Group had over the past 40 years?

A: We’ve always partnered with Canon, so a major consistent strength of ours is that we have that unique relationship with them. You can always count on Canon being on the leading edge of technology. If there’s a change to be had, it’s usually led by them and that’s why we’ve remained with them.

Q: What has been the company’s biggest challenge over the years?

A: The biggest challenge has always been competition. It’s a very competitive market and sometimes the competition is just cheaper. We know we’re not the cheapest, but we have one of the best products, if not the best product, on the market thanks to our relationship with Canon.

Q: What is unique about the AG Group?

A: During the early 1990s, Jeff formed AG Rentals Ltd which became AG Group’s finance arm for companies to lease Canon products. This company, which also rents commercial and domestic property, is now the largest independent company of its type in South and West Yorkshire.

Because of Jeff’s leasing business, we can provide equipment, lease it and service it all under one roof. That’s rare in our industry.

The Products

When the AG Group started, all the printers were mono machines – all black and white.

The functionality of being able to print double sided through the machine in one pass was a huge novelty until the late 80s, early 90s when you could put something in the top feeder and the machine would turn it around and print double sided again.

We had machines with amazing sorting capabilities.

Andrew said: “There used to be big sorters on the end with lots of trays and you could do 20 sets at a time, and it would separate it all for you so you could have a booklet together – they were interesting.”

After this, the fax machines came out, and while nobody even thinks about fax machines now, they were massive.

In the mid to late 90s the colour machine came out. They were called CLC’s (colour laser copiers) and you could even photocopy in colour! I know – old news – but back then it revolutionised the industry and Canon were one of the leaders.

The 1990s saw an enormous technological advance. Colour took the industry in a whole new direction, as did the internet which changed the way the industry traded, and copiers became cheaper and more reliable.

Then three or four years after the introduction of colour, copiers had their own print boards fitted, so that the photocopier itself could print. One of the first machines to have a print board fitted was the IR2200.

This all progressed and led to scanners so people could print, copy, and scan all in one machine and as faxes were on their way out, printers had fax boards added too. Everything became integrated into one piece of equipment.

Photocopiers are a lot more sophisticated than the 80s Christmas parties give them credit for, with a lot more features than just a lid for photocopying body parts, or for faxing mischievous documents.

The AG Group, with Canon at the forefront, keep moving forward with the products that are leading industry changes time and time again.