After months of build-up, including the announcement of new features and record registration numbers, thousands of representatives from the UK PC and technology trade descended on Birmingham for Channel Expo 2008. Andrew Wooden reports?

It’s showtime

With 6,500 registrations logged for the event, hopes were high for this year’s Channel Expo. Over 100 exhibitors pitched up in Birmingham’s jaw-droppingly big National Exhibition Centre to show off their latest and greatest products, forge new relationships, get face-time with clients, network the channel and generally get stuck in with a whole host of other liberally sprinkled business clichés.

Discussing the relatively small size of Channel Expo is becoming something of a tired point now, especially when you have smaller events doing well on the Continent, such as Retail Vision. The strength of the event has always been its UK focus.

There may be bigger shows around the world with more companies involved, but they are not focussed on the UK, and glitz and glamour aside, without that focus you would be hard pushed to track down or discuss deals with anyone liable to want to do business with you.

While the show’s heritage is fairly old now, this is still new ground for new owner Incisive Media. It’s true some attendees flagged up areas in which the show could improve, but the general consensus was that Channel Expo 2008 was a useful experience, and the format continues to have a great deal to offer both exhibiting vendors and disties and visiting retailers.

New elements to the show, namely the How to Sell Theatre and New Product World, seemed to go down well, with the much publicised appearance of Nick Leeson, the ‘rogue trader’ who famously brought down Barings Bank in 1995, predictably drawing one of the largest crowds. Elsewhere Ingram Micro, Widget, Samsung and Lenovo were amongst the firms giving product demonstrations in the New Product World.

Exhibitor highlights
On the show floor itself, big name distributors Ingram Micro and Entatech put on impressive shows. For many Ingram’s stand was the highlight of the show, flanked by over 30 of its vendor partners including Targus, Hitachi, Devolo, Brother, Plextor, Kaspersky, Pinnacle, Kensington, Trend Micro, LG, IBM, Liteon, Avocent, HP, Microsoft, Cisco, Antec, Canon, Western Digital, Linksys, Acer, Belkin and Seagate.

A relatively late entry to the show, Entatech was out in force displaying key target components and new products. The distributor was supported by Corsair, Foxconn, Shuttle, Trust, Abit, Belkin and XFX and Swann.

AMD’s stand was geared around the AMD Live! experience, showcasing the chip maker’s technology and how it can be used in living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens. A number of its ‘evangelists’ were on hand to explain the best ways to sell the products as well. The firm also showcased its Business Class systems, which it claims to be a stable, low power platform with preferable cost benefits compared to Intel equivalents.

The Eee PC drew large crowds to the Asus stand, mirroring its success since launch. The vendor was keen to challenge some misconceptions about its size, using the show to highlight its £11 million turnover last year and plans to capitalise on the success of the Eee PC going forward. The firm was also showing off its VX3 Lamborghini 12-inch laptop and the P5Q motherboard.

High-end printer vendor Oki used the show to promote its message that consumers can get more uses than they’d expect from modern printers, supported by recent product launches such as the C965OXF.

Gigabyte showcased its latest ‘dynamic energy saving’ and cooling products at the show, using products such as Ferrite-based core chokers and MOSFET based technology to exemplify its green push, alongside ATOM based Micro ITX motherboards.

Echoing the green theme, Widget’s stand was a paperless environment – claiming that shows such as Channel Expo accounted for 40 per cent of all the paper it uses throughout the year. The move was well received by attendees, which apart from being environmentally friendly, at least partially cut down on the amount of material they had to carry around.

Meroncourt had a wide range of new products on its stand, including gaming mice and keyboards from Roccat, Ganeymed headsets and the mouse and VoIP phone combo from Speedlink, entry level wireless keyboards, microphones, and webcams and card readers from Sepia. It also unveiled its Spire cooling products and PC cases, ranging from entry level to high-end price points.

As well as a wide range of mice, webcams, speaker systems, earphones, keyboards and laptop bags for PCs, Trust was also pushing its new Mac accessory range, including wireless keyboard and mice sets.

Mixing existing products lines with new on its stand, Lenovo was showcasing a wide range of products including the Thinkstation D10, S10 and 3000 N200 notebooks, and Thinkpad RS1 and widescreen versions.

To support its BSB Healthcheck security and update software, F-Secure was bandying around the statistic that just three per cent of 150,000 surveyed participants’ computers were sufficiently updated. The security firm was also pushing its BSB managed services.

Quiet PC, as the name suggests, was showcasing a range of ultra-quiet PCs using Scythe and Asus hardware, as well as some ‘3D monitors’ to be used in conjunction with specialised glasses.

J And J Associates’ stand was stocked with, its range of travel adapters from Swiss Travel Product, the new Cirrus photo frames, Juice Bar phone chargers, and Satsuma USB-based gadgets and toys.

Word on the floor
Mark Burton, Channel Publisher, Incisive Media:
"We are delighted with the response we received at Channel Expo 2008. A significant number of exhibitors have already re-booked for 2009 and the feedback we received from our new features, the How to Sell Theatre and New Product World, was really positive.

In addition, we learnt a lot about the event from the resellers who walked through the door. One day on and we’re itching to put that knowledge into making 2009 an even better show for the Channel."

Keith Warburton, Founder, PCA: "We have no complaints whatsoever. Channel Expo was a great success for the PCA and its members. Our stand was, by all accounts, one of the busiest at the show, and our sponsors have all pronounced themselves very satisfied. We signed up new members and met lots of existing ones, and that’s our main reason for being there.

Our dinner at the event was similarly successful and packed with a broad cross-section of the industry – who all seemed to have a great time. I was so busy on our stand that I wasn’t able to have anything more than a brief tour of the hall, but it seemed to me that there was a good spread of vendors and distributors, and the quality of the visitors was by and large pretty good."

Steve Walsh, Managing Director, Meroncourt: "The first day of the show was very busy; we had seventy per cent of the visitors on our stand, though the second day was less busy. This is still the only event of this type in the UK, but it could do with changing slightly in some areas."

Verity Blake UK and Ireland PR Manager, Symantec: "Attending the show this year proved to be very useful in terms of networking with key channel partners and getting more of an insight into industry developments, direction and the competitive marketplace.

The interactive theatre sessions were very interesting and I was impressed by the organisation of the show."

Bhavesh Patel, UK Commercial Director, Ingram Micro: "The show organisers need to create better brand awareness for the show. It needs to evolve, but this takes time. This year’s show is better than last year’s, and they just need to work out how to keep improving it. The timing is better than last year, when it clashed with the busiest period, and the footfall is much better."

Mike Scott, Sales Manager, Medea: "The Ingram Micro Stand was the hive of activity this year with good representation from the brands and high level of interest from the attendees. Having said that, if it was me, I would take some of the profits that I’ve hoarded over the years and invest it in getting a famous name to come and speak to the channel. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or let’s be more realistic now as to what’s probably possible, Sir Alan Sugar. These are guys who have made a success, that we admire to be like and strive to equal."

Jon Atherton, Commercial Group Vice President, Entatech: "To be honest, we found it okay and found the second day to be quiet. Although we did have compliments about how busy we were compared to some stands."

Cate Hind, UK and Ireland Channel Marketing Development Manager, Intel: "Channel Expo is always a good networking event where we can spend time with customers and new prospects who are interested in Intel solutions. Our presence on the PCA and Brigantia stands meant that we had even more opportunities to discuss our customers’ needs and meet new companies."

Joseph Benning, Channel Manager, AVG: "I feel that Channel Expo gave us the opportunity to recruit some new resellers who we would not have been able to meet, as well as giving a good indication of the independent market at the moment. It was just a shame that the attendance was not as high as previous years."

Dave Everitt, AMD Live! Evangelist: "I really enjoyed Channel Expo as it is the only event in the year where we get the chance to speak to lots of channel customers face-to-face. The AMD VIP lounge was very busy throughout the event, despite the fact that the football and a competing event caused some visitors to leave in the middle of the show!"

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