PCR speaks to founder Dan Dollin of Bude Computers to find out what sets the group apart

Approved PC Retail Network interview

A fresh dealer collective has emerged specifically for independent PC retailers, allowing them to trade ideas, get better deals from suppliers and join a ‘find your local store’ site. PCR talks to Approved PC Retail Network founder, Dan Dollin of Bude Computers, as well as other members of the group, to find out what sets them apart.

Tell us about the history of the Approved PC Retail Network

We started as the Facebook group ‘UK Retail Computer Shops’ which is still going strong today, in fact we’ve picked up many new members since going live with the website and PCR’s online article. We have over 163 members with a couple pending (as of August 24th).

What are you doing differently to other dealer groups?

I guess the main thing is that we’re not taking a wage or profit from this. It’s entirely run by members for the benefit of members. We have to be really careful to ensure workload is spread out. Naturally we have people who can take on more work than others – and we have people who help as and when they can. 

We’re all very easy going, we have a great laugh on the Facebook page but more importantly we look after each other. If one of us is having problems, then there are 160 other members who will understand your issue and dispense wisdom. 

Tell us about the benefits of joining. What do retailers get for signing up?

This is a hard one to quantify, and certainly a difficult one to explain to a newcomer. Essentially, you get a listing on the PCRN.co.uk website and you get access to our supplier deals – we currently work with Spire, BullGuard, J&J Associates and Hama. We’ve been contacted by a few other disties who are keen to work with us too. It’s really nice for them to support an emerging group, so our member benefits/discounts hopefully should grow.

On top of that, there is the social element of the group as I mentioned before. There are also the savings that we make daily – when someone sees a flash sale with a supplier, they post it on our Facebook group so we can all benefit. When someone changes card terminals there will be a discussion about rates. The same goes for insurance etc. Basically, any element of running an indie computer shop is covered, and if it isn’t, you just need to ask the question. So I would say the most valuable asset we have is our collective knowledge.

“It’s entirely run by members for the benefit of members.” 
Dan Dollin, Approved PC Retailers Network Founder

What is the cost structure for members?

£15pcm or £150pa.

Has the growth of the collective surprised you?

The take-up has been great, and we’re still getting several membership enquires daily. It takes a while to vet new members – usually one to two working days – as we’re still fine-tuning our processes.

Do you see yourselves as a rival to Synaxon, Brigantia and Network Group, or something separate entirely?

I think in reality we’re something completely new. We hadn’t even considered ‘competition’ when the idea of the PCRN website was banded around the group last year. It started as a “wouldn’t it be good if…” then “perhaps we could” and finally “lets crack on guys and get it done!”.

What plans do you have for the future?

We’re still finding our feet at the moment, but we have our eyes on version two of the website, probably with a members area. This could host our shared directory of files and explain benefits etc. We would also try to automate the sign-up process if possible to take the pressure off our admin team.

Lots of people are asking me questions about PCRN but I really must say that the group is the absolute powerhouse behind this idea; it is a ‘collective consciousness’. Without our amazing members, the PCRN website and the Facebook group might never have happened.

Members have their say

Phil Harris, PCR Xpress:

“We joined the PCRN as we felt our trade – especially for the independent traders – needed a group where we could offer help, advice and support for each other. Also, we felt that we needed to try to create a group that could set standards for us, so that people could feel confident in the fact that we were part of a profession that has standards and quality of service not provided by the big retailers. Frankly, they just don’t care about their customers and the service they provide.

“In the long term, we hope we can push for better pricing from suppliers, and that it will help promote the fact that independents are the best route for repairs service and support. It has stirred up a lot of interest and support already – and ruffled a few feathers – and that’s a good thing. It will make other parts of our trade realise that the independent retailer and service provider is a force to be reckoned with over the coming years.

Darren Baker, Compuwave Computers:

“When I first joined the group I was surprised how many of us have the same issues. Running an independent shop these days isn’t easy and it’s nice to share the ups and downs with others who are having the same day-to-day strains of running a small business in a very digital world.

“When the idea about setting up PCRN was first mentioned, I couldn’t wait to join. I had already seen the benefits of the hard work being put in by the administrators and this was the next step forward. Although there is a lot of work to do in getting this group of independents up and running as a national force, we have a chance if we all work together.

 “One of the hardest things we are experiencing is getting good deals from the distributors. Some are already offering free delivery to members, and we would hope in the long term to be able to get a better pricing structure, to enable us to be more competitive in the sales market.”

“We are managing to do things that no other supplier or organisation has before.”
Phillip Griffiths, Chips Computers

Ian Hawkes, Blue Sky Computing: 

“We’ve been enjoying the information exchange and the banter on the Facebook page since it started. It’s an active forum and helps keep us sane when we see that we’re not the only ones who have troublesome customers! We only have a very small retail section at the moment but hope to expand into bigger premises soon, and we will call on the advice and experiences of our friends in the group when it comes to setting it all up.

 “We signed up for PCRN as soon as the admins made it available. We were hoping to gain business through the search facility made available to the public but the group has proved to be much more. The network is in its infancy but the hard work that the admins are putting in is really appreciated by the other members. I think it will go from strength to strength as we grow in numbers and establish the group’s goals and network membership requirements.”

Phil Barnfield, PC Clinic:

“We have a jovial approach to discussions, tips, tricks and the odd grumble – there’s always something new happening with the group daily. We have joined to be a part of this ethos and we hope that collectively, we can rise above the larger chains and become one combined group of likeminded businesses with the same goal: to make money and provide superior levels of customer service.”

Philip Griffiths, Chips Computers:

“The Approved PC Retail Network is an amazing group of likeminded people from lots of different backgrounds that can talk to each other in one place. Many real life friendships are forming. If anyone ever needs help, whether it’s a problem with a new virus they have never seen, a business matter – like insurance, tax or finding a part that is hard to come by – I think everyone in the group has something to offer and has learned something new.

“The group is here to help and support all its members. No one gets paid for doing this, but with a combined will and effort, we are managing to do things that no other supplier or organisation has before. In a little over two weeks we have shaken up the industry. People left right and centre are contacting us so they can take part; PCRN has only just started and we have so much more to offer in the coming months. We’re only just getting started with this.

What do the other groups think?

Craig Hume, B2C director, Network Group:

“I THINK THEY’VE done really well to get a good group of retailers together that are like-minded, want good service and the best deals – if the numbers I’ve seen are accurate. 

“With any community, the difficulty is not vetting the members, so if for example I want to join the Association tomorrow, what checks are put in place to make sure I’m a good quality retailer? It’s not just about quality, it’s also about quantity. But at the same time, giving an independent retailer an open forum for communication and discussion, I think that’s quite interesting. Good on them.”

Derek Jones, UK MD, Synaxon:

“I think it’s brilliant what they’re doing. I love it. I’d be happy to help them out as a community, arrange a meeting or if they want to set up as a separate thing, we could potentially add them to the Synaxon website.

“But whilst I absolutely admire any group of independent retailers that encourages community spirit and cooperation, I personally believe that this new organisation would be wise to focus on channel community and sharing of information, tricks and tips on repairs, new cloud opportunities etc, but steer clear of trying to build commercial benefits for the group members. To try and take it into a serious commercial organisation, there’s no chance without serious funding. They’ve got to focus on their business and being a professional indie dealer.”

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