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  3. The importance of long-term partnerships
Phil Jones MBE sat at a white table with 'together' written in orange in front of him and two screens behind, one displaying 'pride' and the other displaying 'team'.

The importance of long-term partnerships

Brother UK's partnerships encompass sporting and artistic worlds, as well as commercial. A common factor unites them: in every instance, we are in it for the long haul.

Our commitment to long-term partnerships, encapsulated in the motto 'At your side', is writ large in each relationship. In an age in which we are constantly invited to "switch", our belief in the value of sustainability could not be clearer.

Four elite cycling teams carry our logo into the biggest races on the UK calendar. We remain at the side of the world-renowned Hallé Orchestra, the jewel in the cultural crown of our home city, Manchester. And our partnership with XMA, one the UK's largest resellers, is a valued endorsement of our market-leading products and technology.

To focus for a moment only on our cycling sponsorships, Brother UK has become the most trusted supporter of elite domestic road racing. A portfolio opened eight years ago by revolutionising the standard of neutral service support – the Brother-branded vehicles in the bike-laden convoy that follows the peloton of riders - has grown to encompass team and event sponsorship.

Professional cycling has a unique challenge: it cannot charge the spectators to watch the show. Typically, the action takes place over hundreds of kilometres of public roads or on city-centre circuits closed to traffic. With the minor exceptions of VIP areas, it is impossible to enforce an entry fee.

The logos on the riders' jerseys and the team cars represent almost their sole source of revenue. It is impossible to overstate the value of the partnerships that underlie the logo placements. They hold the key to a team's business reliability; or, to put it another way, its survival.

Little wonder then that Brother UK's four sponsored teams place such value on our support. Not only does Brother UK provide cash sponsorships rather than value in kind, but the contracts, negotiated by Managing Director Phil Jones MBE, are also agreed early, often for an extended period. Reliability runs through them like a red thread.

These long-term, reliable partnerships are at variance with the sport and indeed with the prevailing culture. How often are we encouraged, in our personal and professional lives, to switch from a trusted partner to a new and unknown entity? From household utility bills to supplier contracts at work, we are continually exhorted to make a change - often for little more than change's sake.

How many of us weigh the short-term gain of an introductory offer against the long-term benefits of trust and reliability? Brother UK, however, offers the same advantage from reliability to our business partners as to our sponsored cycling teams: the opportunity for mutual growth.

We succeed in business by delivering technology upon which our commercial partners can depend. In turn, they reward the reliability we provide by continuing to choose Brother products and managed service support. Together, we grow. By delivering an uninterrupted service to our customers, we empower them to do the same for theirs. In business, reliability is everything. No one wants to explain to a disappointed customer that the service they rely upon is unavailable "while we switch to a new provider" - and certainly not if they wish to prevent that customer from becoming someone else's.

Crimson tide

Matt Hallam owner and manager of Crimson Performance talking to Phil Jones MBE outside a cafe

Brother UK's sponsored cycling teams enjoy the same opportunity for mutual growth. Matt Hallam is the owner and manager of Crimson Performance: a start-up business offering online training performance analysis to cyclists, promoted by a cycling team of the same name. Brother UK, a founding sponsor, will continue its support in 2020 as the team embarks on a critical third season with a strengthened and expanded squad of riders.

"I had a conversation with Phil Jones MBE back in July. We try to have those conversations as far in advance of the following season as possible to gain complete clarity on our budget. We don't want to have to agree the terms of a contract in December," Hallam says.

"Brother UK have always been very, very good at facilitating an early agreement. Phil has always found time to meet us and to discuss a package that works for all parties. We're extremely grateful to have a sponsor who understands our need for reliability when budgeting, as well as supporting us year-on-year."

Crimson Performance is a force for good in UK cycling. Hallam's entrepreneurial instinct and professionalism has introduced a new, highly marketable outfit into the domestic peloton. Additionally, the team encompasses a women's squad and even organises races, making good on its founding pledge to grant opportunities to riders in North West England. In addition to Brother UK's financial sport, Phil Jones MBE has mentored Hallam on his business and the commercial aspects of his team: advice from a senior business leader that must be a significant benefit to a young entrepreneur.

Reliably OnForm

Simon Howes manager of Brother UK-Team OnForm sat on the bonnet of a support vehicle in a car park with other vehicles in the background

Simon Howes is the manager of Brother UK-Team OnForm and another long-term partner of Brother UK. Last year, his elite women's team swept all before it and propelled two British riders to the professional ranks. For 2020, Brother UK has re-aligned with his Team OnForm development squad: young riders and older athletes with full-time jobs; male and female. Howes' ability to unearth diamonds is a proven fact, but he does not attempt to conceal the value of Brother UK's support in allowing him to do so.

"I've been working with Brother UK as a sponsor since 2017. I believe very strongly in the value of respect and reputation. While the agreements I've made with Phil Jones MBE have been over a coffee and a handshake, I've always considered that sufficient to communicate with riders, even before the contract is signed," he explains.

The new Brother UK-Team OnForm squad represents a different perspective on business reliability. So keen was Howes to continue his relationship with Brother UK that he opened negotiations with Jones for extended sponsorship of his elite women's team, alongside new investment from a major insurance company. When Jones suggested that Brother UK step aside to allow a new sponsor into the sport, Howes offered title sponsorship of his Team OnForm development squad. Brother UK-Team OnForm was born.

"My preference has always been to continue working with Brother UK, so I was happy to offer title sponsorship of the Brother UK-OnForm squad and maintain our relationship. It breaks my heart to watch sponsors leave cycle sport. Brother UK has always supported us fantastically well, and I'm delighted to continue working together."

Success, orchestrated

The Hallé Orchestra and Brother UK - Celebrating 30 years in partnership

It is not only elite cycle teams who value Brother UK's commitment to long-term partnerships. Manchester's world-renowned Hallé Orchestra has benefitted from 30 years of unbroken support. Its work in our home city, especially with young people in local schools, inspired by Brother-partnered initiatives like Impresario, justifies our support by itself.

The concerts performed by its symphony orchestra underline Manchester's credentials as a city synonymous with great music of every kind. The Hallé has faced testing times, but Brother UK has remained at its side. Kath Russell, Director of Development at the Hallé Concerts Society, is clear.

"We always seek to create partnerships, rather than sponsorships and Brother UK is the Hallé's longest, consistent partner: we celebrated 30 years of partnership in May 2019. Our audience thinks the world of Brother UK because they've been such an integral part of the Hallé's history. The whole relationship is mutually supportive, with great affection on both sides," Russell explains.

"Brother UK's financial support is vital, of course – orchestras are expensive organisations to run – but is only one component of our partnership. We have a shared commitment to making Manchester a place where people want to live and work, for example, and partner with Brother UK on community engagement and schools based projects, as well as our musical activities. Brother UK and the Hallé have very strong historical and emotional links. I'd be devastated if the partnership ended."

X-Factor

Naturally, long-term partnerships are also a feature of Brother UK's core business. XMA, a value-added retailer of significant scale, has been a partner for around 20 years, according to Fergus Mathieson, the company's Alliances Director.

XMA is a major player by any measure. Mathieson reports an annual turnover of £400m and a staff of around 450 people nationwide, working from four UK offices: St Albans, Nottingham, Halifax and Glasgow. He describes XMA as "public service-centric" and with an expanding corporate sector.

A business so well established has a substantial degree of choice in its partners; a company even of Brother's scale must deliver the highest standard of service to maintain its custom. Mathieson identifies critical benefits from the long-term relationships XMA has established with Brother UK.

"Firstly, we have stable relationships with Brother UK's business managers. Once you've built a level of trust with them, you can share a lot of experience; a lot of information relevant to business," he explains.

"You can work together with customers to solve issues or to identify future solutions. There is greater scope for spotting opportunities from working with people within Brother UK. You know their product range and their capabilities, and you can marry that up with the customer's needs."

The cultivation of long-term relationships is a modus operandi for XMA as well as Brother UK, Mathieson points out. He identifies the trust that results from a relationship that is "profitable, but not profiteering" as a significant benefit, and especially when pricing becomes part of the conversation.

"Invitations from competitors to switch are generally driven by price at the outset. By building a long-term relationship with our customers, they feel confident in approaching us to discuss the offers that other suppliers have made," Mathieson says.

"Often, the lower price is for a product or service that isn't comparable to the one we provide. In other cases, it's offered as a 'loss leader', solely to win the business. The level of trust we've established in the relationship gives us the privilege of first refusal and the opportunity to make a counteroffer."

A further parallel between Brother UK and XMA lies in the value each party places on personal relationships. Mathieson believes that the human component of business remains invaluable, despite the speed and directness of digital communications.

"Personal relationships do still count for a lot because they provide a level of understanding and trust in each other's business that can generate further opportunities. If issues do arise, or if both parties want to develop the relationship, there's no need to dance around subjects or issues," Mathieson says.

"It's a case of: 'This is the situation. How do we progress?' Strong personal relationships in business allow more honest and realistic conversations, and strong personal relationships are often the dividend paid by long-term relationships."

At a glance, there is little that unites an elite cycling team with a symphony orchestra and, seemingly, still less to connect either or both with a business of any scale, never mind one with XMA's footprint. The reality is that Brother UK's partners - sporting, artistic and commercial - all rely on our long-term partnerships.

They recognise, as does Brother UK, the inherent value of reliability and a host of associated benefits that range from unbroken service to trust and friendship. By any measure, long-term partnerships represent a win-win: a chance for both parties to grow. The short-term benefits of switching rarely compare.


Find out more about our commitment to developing strong relationships with our business partners and how we can support your sustainable business transformation.

 

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