chris interview

Interview with CDS CEO Chris Bartram

Interview with Chris Bartram, Managing Director, CEO and founder of Crystal Display Systems Limited conducted by Meghan Mudge, Head of Marketing January 2024

  1. How did Crystal Display Systems Limited (CDS) start?

I worked for several display and multi-national distribution companies in various capacities including sales management, product management and Supplier Business Management across Europe, USA, and the Far East before setting up the UK office for a multinational German Group as a minority shareholder. After excellent growth from 2002 to 2009 I sold my shareholding back to the German parent company at an incredible profit, which gave me the funds to establish CDS as a totally customer focused company with excellent technical support and customer care. CDS is all about what the customer needs and our team do everything to try and make that a reality, which is why our percentage of returning customers is so high, and we thank them for that.

But if we cannot help a company, we try our best to refer them to one of our competitors that may have a particular product that meets that company’s requirements. We try to help wherever we can.

2. How quickly did it grow and what were your major milestones?

As with any startup the early days are very difficult as you are unknown / untested and companies are understandably cautious and it was 2 years after selling my above shareholding, so we could not hit the ground running.  But I had some very good relationships and people knew I was true to my word and delivered for them and so slowly our team were given opportunities and once we delivered, they came back, and our reputation grew.  I would really like to thank those companies (they know who they are, and some are still customers 12 years later!) that had faith in us in those early stages as we know a high percentage of startups cease trading after only 18 months!

Once we got over that initial period, which was tough, we grew exponentially and added excellent people to the team to develop one of the strongest display specialist teams, literally in the world.  Yes, some companies have bigger teams but none as specialist and focused on customer service and delivery as our team.  Clearly, some potential customers may question that, but we simply say to them “give us a try” and some have done exactly that and have not gone back. The proof is in the pudding (not the rhetoric) as the saying goes.

I also speak fluent German having lived there for 6 years so this has helped us also grow our business in German speaking countries, as we bring speed and flexibility whereas some of the German companies are more bureaucratic, which although has its strengths, can cause customers problems in the ever faster paced world of digital electronics.

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3. How did you go about changing your operation to facilitate the increase in sales?

To boost sales, we initiated a multifaceted operational overhaul. We began by identifying and refining internal processes, utilizing automation tools for efficiency. Employee training heightened our team’s product knowledge and communication skills, enhancing customer interactions. Embracing data-driven decision-making, we analysed customer behaviours to tailor marketing strategies.

Strengthened collaboration between sales, marketing, and support teams ensured a cohesive customer journey. This holistic approach, integrating streamlined processes, enhanced skills, data insights, and cross-functional synergy, successfully facilitated a substantial increase in sales.  We also completed our first acquisition this year of the for decades established display Craft Data Limited which has expanded our reach into different products and markets which has proved very beneficial and one of their directors has joined us and is enjoying the challenge and journey he has now joined us on.

Some UK companies have been taken over by huge American or German conglomerates who are more interested in Re-Branding or cutting staff which does not benefit the customer (despite the rhetoric) and quality of service can reduce, but we are very conscious that does not happen at CDS and the whole team and management are always focused on what is best for the customer and not distracted by filling in Excel sheets or trying to keep New York or Munich happy. Our customers come first, second and third as without them and their trust and loyalty we are nothing.

4. How have you maintained your vision and ethos as the company expanded?

As the company expanded, preserving our vision and ethos became paramount. We instilled a robust organizational culture, emphasizing core values and fostering a shared mission. Regular communication channels were established to ensure alignment at all levels. Employee onboarding and ongoing training programs consistently reinforced our values.

Additionally, management remained committed to transparent decision-making, seeking input from diverse perspectives. Continuous efforts to celebrate achievements aligned with our ethos, creating a sense of unity. This unwavering dedication to our core principles has not only weathered expansion challenges but also served as a guiding force, ensuring our identity remains intact amid growth.

  1. What next for CDS?

The team will continue to serve our ever increasing customer base as best we can and add excellent new personnel wherever we can, but we are always looking for, as Steve Jobs referred to them “A Players”, as anything less will not be good enough for us and our customers, “A players attract A players, B Players attract C players” and we would be doing our customers a disservice if we had C players.

Our business in the US has expanded and we have been successful in the last 24 months there, and therefore will be expanding into the US in 2024, again looking for an A Player to lead that growth, so watch this space as announcement will be coming in Q1 2024.

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But the bottom line is we want to be the BEST displays specialist and not necessarily the biggest as then we can maintain the quality and reliability of service so all our customers return, and again plus new ones join us so we can give them an unparalleled service also.

Again, I would like to take this opportunity of thanking all our customers, team and suppliers for their loyalty and support and we will continue to do our best for all our stakeholders wherever that are in the world, thank you.  Anyone that has a display related project or requirement just contact our technical sales team and we will find the optimum solution for you.

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