Distributors Vary Approaches To Fulfill Customers' Needs

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Today's modern CE and IT distributors have become accustomed to wearing any number of hats in order to meet the needs of their customer base. From financing programs and warehousing services to product training, information sessions and more, each takes a different approach and offers its own unique combination of products and services to serve its dealers.

Among those providing specialized services is Almo, which distributes a wide variety of A/V and major appliance products nationwide. The organization's president and COO Warren Chaiken said, "As margins continue to decrease, our customers become more reliant on our ability to perform as their supplemental warehouse due to our rapid ship services offering same day and next day deliver. This, along with our financing programs and those of our financing partners, assist our customers with reducing expenses and regulating cash flow in their daily business."

Similarly, Sam Taylor, Electrograph Systems' president, pointed to his organization's distribution centers across the United States which offer same-day shipping, will-call services and just-in-time delivery.

Electrograph, which specializes in the distribution of display technology, also recently opened a new factory-authorized service center in City of Industry, Calif. According to Taylor, the centers are authorized by manufacturers such as Pioneer, Panasonic, NEC, Philips, LG/Zenith and Samsung.

"With our existing service center on Long Island [N.Y.], this location gives Electrograph the ability to provide value-added repair coverage to customers nationwide," he said.

DBL, a major player in the distribution of CE accessories, is also very proud of its same-day shipping, free freight programs and flat pricing, among other services.

According to Henry Chiarelli, the distributor's recently appointed marketing and merchandising senior VP, DBL's pricing policy is among its standout features because "there's no minimum purchase required, no columns, no tiered pricing. We offer an everyday low price regardless of the quantity purchased."

DBL also allows customers to use its images and product content to develop their own marketing campaigns, Chiarelli said, and also publishes custom catalogs for use at retail.

New Age Electronics specializes in categories including photography and home theater. According to Fred Towns, the company's senior VP, New Age will spend 2007 focusing on helping its vendors and customers to measure its performance by a variety of metrics using its key performance indicators (KPI) system.

"Establishing KPI's will help us identify and measure progress in a broad range of areas. From our customer's perspective, it's critical that they monitor ongoing 'report cards' for each of their providers to ensure the highest levels of satisfaction and efficiencies," said Towns.

New Age tracks several performance measures such as forecasting accuracy, inventory turnover rates, order fulfillment, order lead times, on-time deliveries, program management and reverse logistics.

Explained Towns, "New Age will use our existing Oracle ERP platform along with our Web-based presence to identify key metrics, measure performance, and share the data output with both vendors and customers."

BDI-Laguna, which supplies a variety of CE and computer products, is continuing to add to its distribution, fulfillment, marketing and logistics services, said Joel Blank, executive VP.

"Last year, we opened new state-of-the-art facilities, tripling our warehouse space, and implemented the BDI-Laguna warehouse management platform which has helped us exceed operational goals while increasing customer satisfaction and providing complete inventory visibility across our North American operations." Customers have seen "record sales" since the implementation of the warehouse management platform, Blank reported.

Blank also cited a number of other BDI-Laguna services like its two-hour turnaround time, white-glove delivery, advanced product setup team and online merchandising support. "We believe that in our fulfillment business, treating our partners' customers as if they were our own results in the most satisfying customer service, and that's our ultimate goal," he said.

AVAD, which targets the custom installation market, is excited about a new program called AVAD Integration Partners, president Bob Gartland told TWICE. "This is a new program that encourages AVAD's vendor partners to work together on the technical side to create simple interoperability between their systems," he explained. "If one of the more difficult challenges for our dealers is scaling their business and doing more projects each year, we believe this kind of integration will create repeatable, plug-and-play systems that require less programming and technology training."

In addition to encouraging partnerships between its vendors, Gartland said AVAD will continue to offer live and Web-based training seminars that are open to anyone in the industry. "This year we will be offering some new classes, including business and sales training. As the industry matures, we all have to work to be better at what we do every year," he said.

The EDGE Distributors Group also targets the custom installation market. President Mike Hench said that while traditional distribution services like "same and next-day availability, breaking bulk and extending credit are all very important, we must be more than just a place for the dealer to pick up products."

Michael Levy, EDGE's president emeritus, echoed Hench's sentiments. "Education and acquiring new skill sets are key to the custom install-based company's future success," and EDGE plans to expand its training and educational opportunities for its customer base in 2007, he said.

A case in point is the third annual Consumer Electronics Expo, which will be held from March 31 through April 1 in Dallas. Co-sponsored by Texas EDGE member Electronic Lane, the event is expected to draw more than 400 dealers and will feature seminars and training sessions, access to factory reps, special show prices and an exhibition with products from more than 90 manufacturers on display.

For its part, D&H Distributing, which caters to dealers, resellers and installers, is offering monthly "sales-driver initiatives" to spotlight its top-tier manufacturers. According to Dan Schwab, D&H's marketing VP, the program offers exclusive, rebated products throughout the respective month in different categories such as networking, system integration and digital convergence.

D&H's other key services include dedicated customer representatives who are assigned to each of its accounts. "It's sort of like having one's own personal shopper, with extensive technical knowledge of the home entertainment and CE industry, to help identify every emerging opportunity," he said.

Schwab added that D&H also offers a "flex credit" program for resellers that includes a credit accounting program, a flooring plan and a leasing program.

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