Marketing: Toshiba looks to standard in UK success: A maligned British standard is part of a winning quality recipe in the copier free-for-all

FEW management initiatives have been as maligned as the quality standard BS5750. But the Japanese electronics group, Toshiba, is convinced that the standard is central to its recent rise to third place in the UK photocopier market.

The company acknowledges the well-publicised limitations of the standard - in particular, that since it is essentially a means of measuring performance, it does not of itself improve quality. Nevertheless, Toshiba has used the BS5750 as a means of improving levels of service in a business in which the after-sales effort is seen as more important than the product itself.

Angus Drever, director of the copier / fax division of the company's UK operation, said: 'Most people do not know the make of their copier. But they do know when it doesn't work, or when it takes a long time for an engineer to come out.'

Focusing on this aspect has helped Toshiba increase market share from 3 per cent in 1986, when it bought out its distributor, to 9 per cent. As a result, it has climbed to third place as the sector has declined through the recession.

Toshiba claims particular success among large accounts, such as banks, local authorities and leading companies. In this part of the market, which has remained fairly stable at about 35 per cent of the total during this time, Toshiba has seen market share grow from 3.4 per cent to 7.5 per cent.

Mr Drever is conscious that Xerox and Canon are, as in the rest of the world, the market leaders by some distance. But he believes the gains have been made from all the competitors - even though both Xerox and Canon have good reputations for the quality of their products. 'As far as I know, we are unique in having a quality distribution channel,' he said.

This has been achieved through linking the BS5750 programme - which now covers half of the 60 dealers, accounting for about 80 per cent of sales - to the company's own standards. Among these are a commitment to an ethical code of practice, using quality supplies, carrying out preventive maintenance and giving proper training to engineers.

In the past year, though, it has gone a step further with a programme called Quality Plus. This switches the basis of bonuses awarded to dealers from sales to quality targets. Different standards are given different weights, so achieving BS5750 accreditation, for example, reaps 25 per cent of the bonus on its own. Achievement of all the standards wins a full bonus.

In addition to BS5750, customer satisfaction is a central plank in this, and surveys carried out by the company give it a 92 per cent approval rating.

But, as Mr Drever points out, since the attitude and abilities of the workforce are critical factors, the company is now shifting its focus in that direction under the Investors In People scheme.

'We recognise that people really make the thing work. You can have a great system, but everything goes wrong if somebody gets a stroppy response when they phone up,' he said.

The initiative will be run at the dealer level. But the company is adamant that it represents the latest step in a long-term strategy to raise the UK copier arm of the company to the position it enjoys in the rest of the world.

'We thought about the strategy that would drive us as the last major manufacturer to set up in the UK. We decided that the quality route was the best way to do it. Although it was long-term, it was felt it would be more effective than, say, spending a lot on TV ads.'

(Photograph omitted)