Distributors Expand Horizons As Emerging Technologies Meld - Twice

Distributors Expand Horizons As Emerging Technologies Meld

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As CE and IT technologies continue to merge and emerge, distributors must continually expand their portfolios of products and services in order to keep retailers, resellers and integrators — and their end-user customers — ahead of the learning curve.

“Consumers are no longer just buying a product,” observed Dan Schwab, marketing VP at D&H Distributing in Harrisburg, Pa. “Now people are more interested in purchasing multiple products that are integrated. In addition to the MP3 player, for example, they're also buying a docking cradle for distributed audio. But much of that requires a service side. Even flat-panel TV installation is too complicated for some consumers. And retailers without service solutions risk losing sales.”

To help its customers help their customers, D&H has conducted an annual Digital Convergence Expo near its headquarters for the past four years. The most recent show, held last month, drew a record 800 attendees who shopped for bleeding-edge technologies and sought a competitive edge in how-to seminars. Topics included creating a business model and setting pricing for services and service packages; best practices; and Intel's forthcoming Viiv (pronounced “vive”) digital home entertainment platform, which represents “a renaissance for home integrators,” Schwab said.

The convergence of digital technologies has also presented Plainfield, Ind.-based Brightpoint with new opportunities to build upon its global wireless base. In recent weeks, the $1.9 billion business closed several stake-in-the-ground deals for VoIP, including distribution and activation agreements with Vonage, VTech, Skype Premium Services and Belkin, while adding Sirius Satellite Radio to its roster of product and service offerings for its 1,800-dealer master agent network of independent dealers, agents and specialty retailers.

Brightpoint's burgeoning portfolio, integrated logistics services, plus the recent addition of repair and refurbishment capabilities (provided by RadioShack) at its Plainfield facility, have led to explosive growth. As chairman/CEO Bob Laikin told TWICE, the company “touched” 27 million devices across one-third of the globe in 2004, and the run rate is expected to grow to upwards of 40 million devices this year.

Similarly, Warren Chaiken, president/COO of Philadelphia-based Almo Corp., reports that the brown- and white-goods distributor has become a master distributor for Polaroid, supplying less-than-truckload shipments nationally for the video and digital imaging vendor. Almo now maintains 11 warehouses in 10 states including Colorado, Missouri, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin and Washington.

Among distributor collectives, The Advantage Group (TAG) has added the Acoustic Research line of custom install-oriented accessories to its assortment. The ten-member consortium is also carrying Tripp Lite's line of power protection products for custom installers and systems integrators.

“Both of these lines offer critical protection and connectivity solutions that meet the needs of our core customer — the custom installer, system integrator and installing retailer,” said executive director Ted Green.

Meanwhile, recent additions at 15-member The Edge Distributors Group include Colorado vNet lighting control and digital distributed audio systems, Furman power conditioning products, and LCD TVs from NuVision and Proton. “These new lines will round out our product assortment as well as insure against shortages in key categories,” noted newly elected president Michael Hench.

There have also been additions of a different sort at Edge, which welcomes two new members to the group: Summit Distributing, covering western Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Dakotas, and CTD Marketing, covering Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia. Those added trading areas, plus a planned expansion into Washington and Oregon, will give us the group complete local coverage across the continental United States, Hench said.

Besides adding new members and products, Edge has also undertaken new marketing initiatives to better reach its customers and strategically build its dealer base, Hench noted. At the same time, “We've also expanded our dealer training efforts with a major focus on product training, systems integration, and troubleshooting,” he said. “As with any business, our customers are our lifeblood and we will continue to refine and improve our efforts to better serve them.

BDI-Laguna, the national CE and IT distributor with warehouses in Georgia, New Jersey and Nevada, has been bulking up on 40-inch and larger LCD displays and 1,080i products by Sharp, Panasonic, Samsung, Toshiba and Pioneer.

New digital imaging additions include the latest digital SLRs from Olympus and Hewlett-Packard's PhotoSmart printer lineup — including the PhotoSmart 8250, billed by HP as “the world's fastest photo printer” — along with Photo Studio bundles. The company has also added Toshiba notebook computers and Sony video conferencing products to its lineup.

According to executive VP Joel Blank, the company has opened two new state-of-the-art facilities and has tripled its warehouse space within the past year. “The BDI-Laguna team understands that flexibility and value are essential to meeting the demands of this dynamic marketplace,” he said. “As a result, we continue to add value to our premier distribution, fulfillment, marketing and logistics services.”

Meanwhile, digital imaging distributor WYNIT continues to see “strong growth” in storage products including archiving and backup, along with memory, display (projection and home theater), wireless, duplication, image capturing/manipulation and output (printers), according to executive VP Pete Richichi.

To continue to serve a growing customer base, the company recently opened a new, modern warehouse in Memphis, Tenn. The facility, coupled with shipping operations on both coasts, allows the company to offer one- or two-day delivery to more than 90 percent of the United States, Richichi said.

At Capitol Sales Company, a hybrid distributor of emerging technologies based in St. Paul, Minn., recent product additions include a range of digital audio players and accessories, including iPod-compatible products from JBL and Onkyo and the new Toshiba Gigabeat line from Toshiba.

Other new lines at Capitol include multi-zone audio systems from Audioaccess, flat-panel and projector mounts by Chief, dbx Pro audio for commercial projects, Furman Sound power protection for home theater and commercial projects, Fusion Research networking and control products, and flat-panel TVs from Westinghouse and Audiovox.

Besides new product offerings, Capitol has further enhanced its customer support by relocating “key salespeople to their primary territory to better serve dealers who need face-to-face service,” noted president/chief financial officer Curt Hayes. The company has also enhanced its online catalog using Microsoft.net software, “which allows for tremendous flexibility in searching and ease of entering orders,” he said.

On the subject of service, Simon Douek, VP of Gamla Enterprises in New York, reports that his company has started to offer “protected” lines and models to help smaller, service-oriented dealers compete with big-box chains. “These products and brands are feature-rich and value priced, yet not readily available in the mass channel, which means the smaller chain or independent retailer will be able to realize better margins,” he said.

Category offerings include TVs and displays in “all sizes and all technologies,” including plasma, DLP and LCD, Douek said.

Meanwhile, within Gamla's core digital imaging category, the company is expanding its inventory to reflect the migration towards “up-market,” higher-resolution products, Douek said. “'Entry level' is now where 'high end' was 18 month ago. The multi-camera family is a reality, and we are ensuring our clients will make the most of these opportunities by providing a full range of imaging solutions from 3-megapixels and up.”

Digital imaging is also central to International Supplies, which, according to president David Golshirazi, is expanding its program of Epson products, added SmartDisk to its lineup, and has brought in Oriental's new fine art Supreme Matte inkjet paper. The Inglewood, Calif.-based business has also become a distributor of Kingston Technologies' flash-memory products and Energizer's battery line.

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