When international table tennis player Alan Ransome started his Middlesbrough-based sports equipment company in 1979, the internet was only a sci-fi dream.

But Alan saw the potential of websites early – and now Ransome Sporting Goods has become a market leader, thanks in part to the power of digital.

Today, Alan is an OBE, and his company imports and distributes a vast array of equipment from some of the biggest brand names at its 100,000 sq ft warehouse and head office in Queensway for table tennis, basketball, netball, squash, badminton, tennis, baseball, softball, gymnastics and rounders.

It supplies goods to some of the biggest retailers, education suppliers and specialists around, including John Lewis, Argos and Amazon.

Alan said: “I spotted the potential of websites very early on – more than ten years ago – because they can provide customers with an opportunity to view products.”

So the company was among the first to start harnessing online power, and has made sure to keep up to date with technology as the digital world has advanced.

Showcasing all products on offer, the site enables trade customers to search for products, find detailed information and place orders.

“We have a 200-page catalogue, but the website is invaluable for customers too,” said Alan.

“We give our key customers a code so they can download images of products from our site to use on their own websites and in catalogues to sell more.

“We’ve also introduced 15 to 20 videos of table tennis tables, which is an excellent way to give people a better view of the benefits of each product – we’re planning to use more.”

Alan also finds online services help him keep closely in touch with his business when he’s travelling around the world.

“I can log into the company computer wherever I am in the world, access my emails on my iPhone and use Skype to talk to people back in the office via a video-call,” he said.

“Also, if I go to see a customer I can catch up on my emails when I come out without needing to return to the office to do it – it saves a huge amount of time.”

And he would encourage other businesses to make full use of a website.

“Whatever kind of business you have, you need to inform your customers about it, and having a website is a very clear way to do that,” he said.