The long-awaited convergence of CE and IT products and services, promoted by home entertainment platforms from PC stalwarts Hewlett-Packard and Dell, has placed distributors in a pivotal new role, given their ability to bridge the dealer, installer and reseller worlds.
To that end, TWICE asked leading distributors to describe how the needs of their customers have changed over the past year, and to explain what new programs and services they are offering in response to these new marketplace demands. They cited such issues as convergence, expanding into new technology, and partnering more closely with their dealers.
Jonathan Elster, executive VP, SED International, Atlanta:
"We are seeing more and more convergence taking place in the market and a growing number of retailers wanting to expand into new areas. However, they are not always sure about the direction to take or when would be an appropriate time. Our computer retailers are probably the quickest adopters of new technology and have already moved into the consumer electronics arena to some extent, but with that comes many new and changing solutions to navigate through. Our consumer electronics retailers are in many cases selling computers, but have not yet merged the IT and CE technologies into one comprehensive solution (like Intel's Digital Home and Microsoft's Media Center platforms). Our cellular retailers have been the slowest to embrace products from the CE or IT segments, but have been increasingly showing interest in adding products that can expand their offerings and increase their bottom line.
"SED is focused on helping retailers in all three of these industries and markets (IT, CE, cellular) navigate through the myriad products and technologies to find the solutions that help them most effectively grow their business and increase their profits. Specific programs and offerings include: solution consulting, product recommendations, new product/technology rollout planning, demo product, in-store display/POP material and store personnel training."
Joel Blank, executive VP, BDI Laguna, Hackensack, N.J.:
"Over the past year, our retail customers have been under even greater pressure to perform. As a result, we have introduced programs and services that give our partners the tools and metrics essential to running their businesses more effectively. The two-hour order turnaround time, exclusive white-glove delivery service and the advanced product setup team we have put in place are a few examples of these programs and services. 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."
Mark Risting, trade marketing director, Bushnell Performance Optics, Overland Park, Kan.:
"First, in the last year, the pressure for planning logistics and inventories has gotten greater than ever, and it's a matter of being able to partner closely with the accounts to better understand their inventory and promotional needs.
"Second, many have gone to electronic communication, the use of EDI and B to B, and the Internet for transmission of orders. They also want shipping confirmation and invoicing done electronically. And that had put technological pressure on us to be ready and ahead of the game to upgrade our systems.
"Third, in the product category, we have always tried to be a leader in technology with optics, and ImageView — the integration of a camera into a binocular — has opened up a whole new category for us. It has opened up all kinds of opportunities to keep us new and fresh and opened new channels for us."
Robert Kaiser, chairman/CEO, CellStar, Carrollton, Texas:
“Over the past year we've seen a sharp rise in the number of retail customers who need help managing their reverse logistics operations. Put simply, they've seen a significant increase in the amount of product returns and repairs. And this part of the operation isn't pretty. It's costly and time consuming to manage. To help, we introduced CellStar's Omnigistics — comprehensive reverse and forward logistics services offering a bevy of programs custom-designed to meet the client's needs. Programs such as returns management, asset recovery, advanced exchange and direct-to-consumer programs enable our customers to simplify their logistics and maximize the life and value of their product. Our customers are embracing Omnigistics because it helps them maintain superior customer service, while reducing costs.”