It all started with one customer. When Vista Retail Support was founded 25 years ago, Phil Pepper had a business idea that he believed could help a retailer achieve its IT objectives and support its rapid growth throughout the UK. That retailer was Primark.
With just the company name and a small team of passionate engineers, Vista was then awarded an IT project that set the foundations for the company’s future.
As part of our “Vista Turns 25” interview series, we sit down with former IT Manager at Primark, Terry Greaves, to find out more about the project and why he put so much trust in Vista so early on.
Primark was the first organisation that Phil Pepper approached with his idea for Vista Retail Support. What was your relationship with Phil at the time and what were you responsible for in your role?
Phil and I had an excellent working relationship that dated back to his Omron days. In the early nineties, technology was really starting to advance, and the EPOS system Primark had at the time was no longer fit for purpose. It was evident that a digital transformation was required across the store estate and so in 1992, Primark made a decision to invest in a complete upgrade of the EPOS system and selected Omron hardware for its new IT solution.
At the time, I was the IT Manager for Primark and had a range of responsibilities, one of which included managing the EPOS installation project.
What led you to encourage Phil to start up the business and ultimately decide to work with Vista when the company was at such an early stage?
It was a very courageous decision indeed! Around the same time, Primark was steadily acquiring stores. When the EPOS installation project started, there were around 60 medium-sized stores in the UK. In the latter part of the 90s, the number of stores had risen significantly, taking them to around 100 plus medium and large-sized stores across the UK which brought the project on to a new scale altogether in terms of geographical coverage.
We needed a detailed, well-orchestrated project plan as well as a dedicated team that could handle IT installations, store openings and the ongoing maintenance of the hardware. We needed a specialist, expert team that could deal with the demanding requirements of this project.
At the time, project management as an IT function didn’t come into existence in a serious way, at least not until the early 2000s. So, it was really down to the right personality and trust to engage a team that could get the job done.
Phil was already involved with the Omron hardware installation program but came to me to discuss the possibility of getting his own dedicated team to deal with this, as time was of the essence! Phil put forward the proposal of creating Vista and bringing with him a select, highly skilled number of engineers to take charge of the project.
I was very enthusiastic but there was of course, risk involved. Nonetheless, I had great confidence in Phil that he would be able to do this successfully. I then proposed the offer to Primark’s senior management who accepted Phil’s proposal and off we took!
What was the first piece of work that Vista delivered for Primark?
The original Cardiff store was the first new store opening that Vista supported. Cardiff was a very important store to us at the time as it was going to showcase the new interior and set the foundations for a new shopping experience in the UK.
This included the provision of a slick EPOS system that would allow complete stock scanning and customers to use credit and debits cards – things we all take for granted now!
What was your experience of Vista on that particular project?
Everything relating to that project went to plan. This was especially important as it demonstrated to our store management teams what the new system was capable of, and this was all the result of Vista’s efforts.
The team achieved exactly what they had set out to do and had proven their competence and experience on a complex installation. They were certainly the right people for the job.
What do you remember about the culture and work ethic of Vista?
From what everyone experienced during this project, Vista’s work ethic was fantastic. Any retail IT professional will know that new store openings are a mad house! Everybody is there from the store management teams, ops teams, contractors, fit-out teams, you name it. And yet, despite all the complications involved with this type of work and although the project incurred several scope changes, Vista managed to work its way through the project in a really calm, professional way.
Vista earned great respect from the team that were involved in fitting the store as they were able to overcome all of these obstacles and get the job done. The project had some demanding requirements, but Vista seemed to take this on board and work with it. This was also a real tribute to the engineers who worked for Phil as they were very experienced and professional.
If you had to name one of your favourite things about Vista, what would you say?
Reliability. This is probably the stand-out word for me.
The engineers selected to join Vista when it started out had a refined skillset and had the ability to communicate clearly with Primark’s store management. They really built up a great reputation with the stores.
“Vista are here!” was a sentence that often floated around the Primark teams whenever a problem occurred and it required an engineer on site. It was something that was always said with confidence because the problem would literally just disappear when Vista were on hand!
One thing that always reflected well on Vista was that they would stick with a problem until it was resolved. It was something that was part and parcel of the culture embedded in the company from the beginning – never to leave the site until the problem is fixed! I believe this ethos still holds true within the business today.
How long in total did you spend at Primark and what are you up to now?
I was at Primark for a total of 40 years! I grew my career there, I used to do night courses in IT as I wanted to get involved with that side of the business. Over time I was asked to become involved in the IT side and I worked my way up until I was appointed as IT manager in the late 1980s.
Primark ended the installation of the Omron system during the period 2005/06 as the product became obsolete, and new EPOS systems were becoming available with more functionality and advanced operating software.
As the years went on, Primark grew and grew and became an enormous business and influential presence on the High Street and from the mid 2000’s to date, a major European Retailer. In 2014, the opportunity to retire came about and so I made the decision and have been enjoying retirement ever since!
What would you say to someone considering working with Vista?
Since Primark is a household name in UK retailing, Vista had a huge learning curve very early on when they took on the estate. If they have developed and built on this experience by continuing to deliver the quality of service they provided to us, I can understand why they have grown to the size they have.
I would say that Vista have a tremendous wealth of experience and knowledge that has development from the time they started. They have taken their experiences from the frontier days of Primark, and they’ve grown from then. We were always very happy to put our name to Vista for client recommendations!