Marketing: Opportunity comes easier when knocking on doors: For a growing firm in a competitive field, product placement is vital, Roger Trapp reports

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The Independent Online
THERE is a lot of glib talk in business about having the right product at the right time and knowing how to sell it. But Mel Morris knows the situation first-hand.

Fifteen years ago, he founded a software development company. It lasted for only three years because, by his own admission, he did not appreciate that goods do not sell themselves. 'The product was superb, but we didn't know how to position it.'

The experience was not a disaster. He sold the company at a profit and went to work first for ICL and then Wang, before trying again in 1985 with his new company, Minitech. Several profitable years later, it was placed fourth in the 1991 survey by the Independent on Sunday of the fastest-growing private British companies.

Based in Derby, Minitech started by helping companies plan the introduction of information technology. But constrained by the limited availability of good staff, it shifted to supplying software packages.

It has not all been plain sailing. Mr Morris's former employer, Wang, was an important customer, and its recent financial problems have left 'a large hole to fill'.

The difference between Minitech and Mr Morris's first company is that Minitech combines a sales presence with its research and development expertise. It is also working closely with hardware manufacturers such as NCR, Hewlett-Packard and Digital Equipment, to refine its products. This co-operation - part of a trend - means that products reach the market more quickly.

'We have lots of joint efforts with other companies,' said Mr Morris.

Minitech has a wide geographical spread, with an operation in the United States and representation in Australia, Europe and the Far East as well as 80 staff in the UK. Nevertheless, it is finding trading conditions difficult. The glitch in profits growth in 1991 bears this out.

With the whole computer market at a crossroads, the company is planning a series of new products for 1993. It has had a consistent R&D policy, with the same director, Nigel Mackrill, virtually since the start.

It has also kept a close eye on the debt book, even hoping to retrieve some of the Wang loss through credit guarantee insurance. But the biggest effect is likely to come from Mr Morris's new commitment to marketing.

'At the end of the day, even when times are difficult, there's slowly but surely a reduction in the competition. If your sales people keep going out they find leads,' he said.

The search is now on to find the most successful private companies in 1992. Businesses keen to take part in the third annual Independent survey, administered by the accountants and business advisers Price Waterhouse, must return entry forms by 29 January. This year, there is also a middle- market award for businesses that already had sales of more than pounds 5m at the beginning of the survey period in 1988.

Forms are available from: Julie Harwood at Price Waterhouse, Southwark Towers, 32 London Bridge Street, London SE1 9SY, or Roger Trapp at the Independent on Sunday.

(Photograph omitted)