T he visitors book at Ingram Micro’s UK HQ in Milton Keynes reads like a who’s who of the UK technology retail scene. Every major vendor and retailer appears to have paid a visit the morning I arrived and a cheeky flick back through the book reveals this is far from unusual.
I’m invited to Ingram Towers to meet commercial director Bhavesh Patel. Ingram has been a giant of distribution for so long that, as PC Retail editor, I’m curious to know how it caters for the smaller members of the channel.
“The market is always tough when you’ve got big players and retail independents trying to co-habit,” says Patel, “but we’ve worked hard at understanding that segment and with the help of internal CRM systems we’ve developed intimacy with smaller retailers and resellers.”
I ask Patel how that intimacy has manifested itself. “We’re continuously creating marketing programmes that facilitate communication with this sector,” he says. “This includes a continuous stream of bundles and ‘deal’ type offers, which allow this sector to add a bit of margin to the sale and hopefully increase their revenues.
“One of the ways in which Ingram can help retailers to ‘attach’ products – for example selling peripherals to a customer buying a laptop – is to relieve them of the burden of stocking the product. We do this by guaranteeing we can get it to their customer by the next day.”
Another way Ingram keeps in touch with the independent channel is by hosting its own events. “We will be hosting an event aimed specifically at independent retailers in the second half of this year and will make sure PC Retail readers are aware of it closer to the time,” says Patel. “It will focus on products that we think will be close to the retailers’ hearts and on the kind of extra opportunities, for example bundles, that we can offer retailers.”
Patel is also keen to bring attention to Ingram Micro’s web strategy for indies. Specifically the facility it offers bricks and mortar retailers to bring some clicks into their business. “We have a reseller web-store solution, which can give resellers a full web presence in a relatively short space of time if they want it,” says Patel. “In doing so, we also offer accessibility to our entire portfolio of products.” Ingram has created a demonstration site to give an indication of what’s possible at http://fulloption.securewebstore.co.uk.
Ingram isn’t the only distributor to be developing its own events programme, so I ask Patel if this heralds the end of traditional big shows. “I think the market is still crying out for events, it’s a question of getting the right formula together,” he says. “Moving forward, events that are more in line with what the sales channel wants, tend to be much more intimate in nature and allow you to focus on specific solution sets for those specific sales channels. I would say that, regardless of size, those are the kind of shows that would be much more appealing than shows with a broader remit.”
The ‘solution rather than just product’ message has been shouted from the rooftops since the turn of the millennium and before, but clearly it still needs emphasising. When put on the spot and asked to identify a ‘solution’ that he is particularly keen on right now, Patel identifies storage. “Whichever way you look storage has become pretty big in everyone’s lives,” he says.
“The members of a household all have different interests and thus different collections of media. You also need storage for backup, another thing that’s becoming big now, which is also a strong driver for external hard drive sales.”
Probably the key storage product of the near future is network-attached storage (NAS). With the contemporary domestic model being a multi laptop household it stands to reason, as Patel explains. “NAS is where the digital home is, or soon will be at. It’s a fantastic example of a usage model where, in a classic home, three or four laptops all wirelessly linked to the net also need to be wirelessly linked to NAS.”
Of course, the popularity of digital storage products isn’t confined to hard drives. As capacities grow and prices drop, devices using flash storage are more popular than ever. Flash is continuing to grow and evolve as a product category,” says Patel. “I would say, again, that’s an area that’s fantastic for retail. Everyone wants one; everyone needs to do a bit of backup every now and then.”
Flash has also proven to be one of the main drivers for convergence between the IT and consumer electronics (CE) worlds. Nowhere is this more evident than at Ingram, where the product portfolio has taken on a distinctly CE character. “Devices that use portable storage, like MP3 player and satnav devices, are pretty big categories for us and are very significant in terms of the retail opportunities that they bring to retail independents,” reveals Patel.
“Outside of that we’re also doing well with digital and video cameras, screens and projectors. These more consumer electronics type products also provide a lot of opportunity to do ‘attach’, which I mentioned earlier. And remember, the retailer doesn’t need to physically stock an item to be able to offer it to their customer.”
Patel finishes by citing the example of the most publicised product launch of the year, which has brought the convergence of the IT, CE and telecoms markets one step further on (see if you can guess what he’s referring to). Specifically, involvement in the telco market requires familiarisation with commercial models you don’t really find elsewhere.
“The recent launch of a highly publicised convergent mobile device shows how smaller retailers and resellers need to adapt themselves to be able to add this bit of value,” says Patel.
“With convergent devices we’re also selling bandwidth time, data. Every laptop needs to be freed up and needs to be able to be used in an out-of-office context. So I cannot emphasise enough that every retail independent who is selling a laptop should always ask ‘would you like to be mobile?’”
As you would expect, Ingram has ensured it’s in position to capitalise on this commercial opportunity. “We have the solutions to offer retailers in this area,” says Patel, “be it embedded SIMs – which a lot of new notebooks come with, so it’s just a matter of advising the customer about invoking the tariff and programmes – or by just attaching a PCMCIA card.”
If you want a snapshot of where the technology market is headed, you could do worse than talk to a broad line distributor like Ingram Micro.