Stepping into VIP’s boardroom, we immediately spot three sparkling silver plaques on the wall opposite us.
On the left is a logo of managed IT product and service provider Ergo, the right is a logo of system builder CMS, and in the centre is a larger symbol of the VIP logo.
VIP Computers’ director Rich Marsden enters the room and greets us, noticing our attention is drawn to the plaques.
“There was a Realtime Distribution plaque up there too,” he says. “But after Jatti [Sahni, VIP chairman] put that plaque up, Realtime merged with VIP so it had to come down again!”
It seems like an age since VIP bought Realtime back in 2006, which it continued to run as an independent business, until merging the two in 2012. Rich says the merger has allowed VIP Computers to expand substantially and at a fast rate, helping it to grow the business and its partnerships, including the likes of Amazon and Maplin.
We walk into the main office, an open plan room featuring VIP’s sales and marketing teams. Compared to other distributors PCR has visited, it’s incredibly lively and there’s a real buzz about the place – the staff seem to have that winning combination of being both happy and hard-working. A few MSI reps are in the corner in the vendor relations area.
We take a peek into Rich’s office and spot a Razer Deathadder PC gaming keyboard and mouse on
his desk – it’s good to see the boss leading by example and getting familiar with his vendor partner products himself.
After walking out of this office into a corridor with meeting rooms leading off it, we head downstairs towards the warehouse area, stepping into the service and returns room where VIP is putting some special systems together.
As we pass various members of staff, they all stop to say hi to Rich and he takes the time to greet them. It’s clear he is a real people person, and one that knows this business inside out, having worked at Realtime since 1999 and continuing on at VIP after it merged in 2012.
After turning a corner, we find ourselves in the returns and service area. Anything faulty that is sent back from a customer is tested here, while the service centre is where VIP puts together bundles, such as Maplin PC bundles.
“We’ve invested a lot in RMA and the service centre,” Rich says. “One of the reasons we’ve invested is there are repairs we can do here, so rather than send items all the way back to the manufacturer, we can do a local repair here. Then we can do bundling work, so we produce the artwork, put together a motherboard, CPU, RAM and so on, put it together and send it through to a retailer like Maplin.”
“Generally speaking, what we want to do over the next ten to 12 months is more of that Maplin type work, more with the bundling, so we’ll do some Christmas bundles, we’ll do some exclusive bundles for Amazon. It gives us a string to our bow that we didn’t have before – it gives us an extra value-add.”
These aren’t the only bundles or value-added service that VIP offers. It’s one of the only PC distributors with its own programme just for independent retailers: VIP Club.
The distie began offering indies sale or return gaming packs back in October, containing £2,500 worth of PC gaming accessories and goods, in a bid to let retailers offer premium products without the worry of being stuck with unsold stock.
“By sending the customer a gaming pack on SOR which they have for peak, this enables them to have the latest high end peripherals in stock with no commitment from them,” Rich explains. “We want to take the hassle away from indie customers. In gaming, people are interested in the best products, not the cheapest. Having the opportunity to take a £99 keyboard into stock, risk-free, gives them the confidence to replenish stock in the future.”
DELIVERING THE GOODS
Next up, we head to the goods out area. Two years ago, VIP invested £1.6 million into its warehouse facility, helping to expand it to 40,000sq ft.
Rich points to an area: “This space here, and that row of shelves there, is an Amazon warehouse within VIP’s facility.
“Rather than put products on a pallet and ship them to Amazon’s fulfilment centre, they ship it here, and then they send it out to their customers. So the benefit for us is it cuts our lead time by about ten days, and the benefit for Amazon is we hold it, we can drop it into their stock as and when they need it, rather than having them hold it in stock for two weeks prior to needing it.
“We’re one of only two UK disties that have got this, but we’re the only Amazon Flex distributor which has it on- site. Our business with Amazon is rocketing, not just because of this, but a big part of this is the relationship.
“You do have to put up with this guy from Amazon though, that’s the only problem!” Rich jokes, patting an Amazon employee on the back, who laughs.
“In seriousness, it’s something a lot of other people don’t have, and it shows the strength of the relationship between VIP and Amazon.”
The warehouse is very spacious and tall, giving VIP room to grow further.
“When we built the facility, we built three or four offices in,” Rich comments. “We’ve spent about £150,000 that we didn’t have to spend, but by doing so we have the option to put more offices in.
“It’s extra floor space, it’s good because we can give it to Amazon Flex, we can use it for other things and we don’t need the office space just yet.”
Would VIP eventually move to another site?
“We can stay here for as long as we need to, really,” Rich answers. “To grow 20 per cent, you don’t need 20 per cent more people. A lot of it is systems-driven, so we’re finding that to get to a stage where we need that [extra space], we’d have to grow fairly significantly.”
We walk further into the warehouse and follow a corridor to the goods-in section. There are rows and rows of new PC products, from MSI graphics cards to Asus components, BenQ monitors and more.
Upstairs resides CMS’ production area, where the system builder puts its machines together, before
being palletised and sent out. The company can produce up to 20,000 systems per month.
Before we depart, we ask Rich about VIP’s owner Jatti Sahni, who doesn’t seem to be as close as Rich is to the trade press.
“Jatti doesn’t speak to the press much,” Rich explains. “But he’s a great figurehead for us. He’s a very nice guy, he’s well respected in the industry and gets along with everyone – rivals included.”
VIP is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The firm has gained a number of achievements since 1990, including appearing in the Sunday Times Top Track 250 numerous times and winning several industry awards.
As we head back through the reception area before leaving, we notice several PCR awards and other industry honours in VIP’s trophy cabinet.
At the rate this company is going, we’re sure there will be many more lining the display in years to come.