IN this week's SME Focus we hear from a veteran of the office equipment business who remains on the acquisition trail in spite of the uncertain economic outlook.

Name: Tom Flockhart

Age: 64

What is your business called?

Capital Document Solutions (formerly Capital Copiers).

Where is it based?

The company has operations in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen, Shetland and now Inverness. At the end of January we acquired Highland Office Equipment, giving us a substantial presence in Inverness and across the Highlands & Islands.

What does it produce, what services does it offer?

We supply office equipment and document solutions including copiers, printers, scanners and print management software. We support these from our national branch network.

The company specialises in advising public and private sector organisations on how to rationalise their mixed fleet of document devices, as well as control and reduce copy/print volumes.

To whom does it sell?

All sizes of private businesses, public sector bodies and voluntary sector organisations. We've also carved out a niche for the provision of our print management services in the Scottish independent schools sector.

What is its turnover?

Just over £20 million following the acquisition of Highland Office Equipment. Our aim is to grow turnover to £30m by the end of 2015.

How many employees? 200

When was it formed? 1979

Why did you take the plunge?

I have always enjoyed a challenge and relish tough competition. I wanted to take control of my own future.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

My working career commenced with a four-year student apprenticeship at Ferranti in Edinburgh, successfully completing an HND in Mechanical Engineering.

Before establishing Capital, I had worked as a copier salesman for 3M Company for nine years. After successfully covering sales territories throughout Scotland – I moved to Aberdeen in 1976 to start up 3M's copier sales in that area. This proved an exciting challenge – thanks to the oil boom. I quickly discovered a niche market for 3M's unique 'magne dry' toner/cold fusing copier process for use on offshore platforms.

Machines using this process were of a compact desktop size and could be flown out by helicopter rather than supply vessel. The fact they used toner powder, rather than liquids, as was common with other equipment at that time, meant that they used a non-heat process. This meant that there was no fire risk involved in the consumables or equipment supplied.

My success in this unique marketplace earned me the title of 'Oil Baron' within 3M. However, I couldn't see 3M surviving in a market that was then changing substantially with the development of plain paper copier technology and the emergence of a number of new Japanese copier manufacturers. That proved to be a good and accurate assessment – a few years after I had left the company, 3M withdrew from this market.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

From my own savings and by the cash generated from moving from the Aberdeen area to a less expensive home in East Lothian – with no bank loans or external funding. Those were the good old days!

What was your biggest break?

I have had lots of them and also missed a few (hindsight is a great thing). Probably getting a dealership for Sharp Copiers in 1979 – after only two meetings with them.

What was your worst moment?

I can't remember one in particular – I don't dwell on the past – particularly on failures.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

I enjoy making decisions and the challenge of continually growing a business that now supports 200 people. I'm passionate about creating opportunities for young people and seeing them grow and develop with the company.

Recently, we teamed up with the City of Edinburgh Council for its Edinburgh Guarantee initiative. This scheme has been launched in order to tackle the rising levels of youth unemployment in the area. We have already recruited five school leavers as trainees in our workshop. After completing a six-month programme, they will be considered for a permanent three-year apprenticeship as service engineers.

What do you least enjoy?

Bureaucracy, negativity and failure.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

To be recognised as the best and biggest company in our sector in Scotland.

Our business activities are 100% directed and dedicated to supporting Scottish businesses and public-sector organisations. We believe strategic acquisitions of "good fit" office equipment companies, like West End Business Systems in Aberdeen and Highland Office Equipment in Inverness, enable us to have the experience of a national Scottish company with the personal attention, support and feel of a local supplier and service provider.

What are your top priorities?

Acquisitions; continuing on the Scottish Procurement Framework; 20% year-on-year organic growth; to enjoy more sailing and fishing, and staying young at heart.

We often hear about the advent of the "paperless office" and while progress towards this goal, first discussed in the mid-1970s, is slow it is nevertheless happening.

Today's technological innovation and multifunctional devices (MFDs) with full document scanning capability, enable organisations to simply convert hard documents into digital format for secure, paperless distribution, storage and retrieval.

Greater environmental awareness is now also having a positive impact on people's working practices. We are all becoming more responsible for reducing our dependence on, and use of, paper.

However, in spite of this, we are all bombarded with an ever increasing mountain of emails and other documentation – thanks to the explosion in information readily available – and many of us still like to work on hard-copy documents.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

Reduce red tape and bureaucracy.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

During my time with 3M, the company sent out a national mailshot in the form of a folded A5 card with a sachet of aspirin attached – with the message "Let 3M solve your copier headaches." This campaign was successful; however, many commented: "We already have one of your copiers – please send more aspirin!" It has always served me well in reminding me to be careful in all marketing communication.

How do you relax?

By attending RSNO concerts; spending time with family, grandkids and friends; salmon fishing and sailing.