Widget UK chairman Mark Needham on offering a route to market in Europe for US vendors

OPINION: Distribution – the long view

Widget UK chairman Mark Needham on the challenges of establishing a distribution network across Europe and offering a route to market for US vendors.

If you look at Europe from the point of view of a new technology company in California or the Pearl River delta, it looks to them like the Holy Roman Empire looks to me – a distant, messy place where nobody seems to be in charge.

As a distribution company, Widget has always been conscious of the need to try and simplify that view for the vendors whose goods we carry. Ideally, we would love to be in a position where we could say to vendors: “We can handle Europe for you."

Indeed, 15 years ago my business partner David Elder and I tried to build a pan-European distribution network but were defeated by the sheer scale needed to enter the French and German markets.

For the past ten years Widget has concentrated on selling to UK retailers. Starting with our long term status as suppliers to Dixons and Amazon, one by one we have established supply relationships with just about all the major players in the UK market, including the TV shopping channels, a very important market which many people forget. 

For many vendors, the UK is a stepping stone into Europe. US vendors particularly are attracted to setting up in an English speaking market first. But we are conscious that the UK is not everything and over the past two years have enlarged our pitch to vendors.

They still need to choose a distributor for France and Germany, with all the possibility there is for error there, but we can handle the Benelux and Scandinavia for them as well as the UK.

In the Netherlands we have bought a small company and, under the direction of my Dutch colleague, Bart Hoorntje, it is now selling the same range of products the UK company sells into retailers in Benelux. In Scandinavia, Widget UK now has direct supply relationships with major retailers.

Recently it was time to update the customer page on Widget’s website. Down came Comet and HMV (and although the latter are alive, are no longer buying much technology). Up went Norway’s Elkjøp and Denmark’s Fona (both incidentally owned by Dixons). It simplifies the region just slightly for our suppliers to be able to group these retailers together with those of the UK.

About the author

Mark Needham is chairman at distributor Widget UK


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