Strength in numbers

With the squeeze of a credit crunch beginning to hit consumer confidence, trade bodies are arguably more important than ever to the independent retailer. Andrew Wooden takes a look at the key organisations currently operating in the UK that are trying to make your lives easier?
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The PCA

The Professional Computing Association emerged some 15 years ago as a pretty niche entity looking out for the interests of direct selling system builders. However, within a year it made the decision to widen its industry remit, taking on vendors, distributors, resellers and publishers.

Currently it has approximately 900 companies signed up as members, which span the breadth of the industry. It says this diversity is one of its key strengths, and is a key factor to the benefit of its various networking events.

In terms of what the PCA actually does, its mission statement is to promote good business for the channel and its end users, and its mantra is "keeping the industry as strong as possible for as long as possible." This often takes the form of advising PCA members about legislation and other wider issues that will affect their business, and taking the views and concerns of members straight to Government.

Its Code of Practice is designed to help disputes with customers and even between members themselves.

The organisation insists it is not in its brief to get involved in commercial negotiations, but it does encourage vendors to ensure their terms and practises are more channel-friendly.

Founder of the PCA Keith Warburton stated: "We bring considerable commercial benefit to members through the advantageous terms we have negotiated on a tremendously wide variety of products and services.

"These range from health care to holidays, cars to carpets – any one of which could more than pay for the membership subscription which starts at less than £1 a week. Anyone who is 'serious' about business sees the benefit of joining their industry association."

Brigantia

Brigantia is the largest grouping of independent computer retailers and resellers in the UK and Ireland, with 1,026 members representing over 1,250 outlets.
The chief benefit the buying group can offer to independents is lower stock costs, free or reduced carriage, special offers and access to deals and services that are pre-arranged with distributors and vendors. Essentially the benefits come through a strength of numbers, and as such would otherwise be unobtainable to small retailers and resellers.

Members are also able to self accredit their skills and experience through an online programme linked to their own mini website listed within the Brigantia Computer Experts member locator.

Further Brigantia exclusive deals with vendors and distributors are being planned from Q3 2008.

Brigantia founder Iain Shaw said: "The second half of 2008 is going to see many changes in our sector and at Brigantia. We have a programme of upgrades and developments that will enhance our standing as the largest buying and selling group of indies in the UK and Ireland. We are committed to our relationships with the ITACS, the Mac Technology Association and the PCA and we will further promote the benefits to our members of participating in the appropriate trade body to help underline their professionalism.

"All Brigantia members must comply with the ITACS code of ethics and professional conduct, as we believe that this underlines their commitment to our Computer Experts programme. I think Brigantia has often surprised our industry and I believe we have further surprises in store for the future."

ITACS

ITACS is a relatively new organisation, emerging in 2006 with 500 members. It claims the lack of effective representation for independents precipitated its establishment, and its mission statement is similar to the PCA's in terms of Government lobbying and generally promoting better industry conditions for its members.

The organisation's decision-making administration is of the opinion that there is room for both competition and corporation between trade organisations, such as itself and others mentioned in this feature, who should be working together on big issues and contending with each other to avoid stagnation.
It cites its recent success in persuading the Department of Trade and Industry to take a second look at the contentious WEEE legislation, but it claims there is still much more to be done in this respect.

Matthew Woolley, chairman of ITACS exlained: "Our members are too small to be heard by themselves and are often ignored by bigger players like vendors, disties, the media and the Government, so there is a lot of work for us to do.

"Our key areas of activity over the next few years will be piracy, returns, fairer trading terms, vendor and distie support, education, WEEE and a better representation of the indies to the media, the Government and the public. ITACS intends to increase its visibility and effectiveness in the future by getting involved with groups like PITCOM so that we can better address new legislation at an earlier stage in the process."

NASCR

NASCR is one of the oldest bodies representing the PC retail/reseller sector, with roots dating over 20 years. Back then, one of the most contentious issues of the day was wide-reaching problems with computer hardware, in particular the Commodore 64 cassette player.

After Vic Purnell (founder chairman of NASCR) had a letter published in trade title CTW on this very subject – which was subsequently picked up by The Guardian – Commodore contacted him to arrange a meeting on how to resolve the problem.

Apparently the interest this letter generated with other dealers went on to form the foundation of NASCR, officially established in 1988 as a central point for retailers and resellers to air grievances with a view to solving them with vendors and distributors. With continued support from CTW, many such early problems were ironed out.

Today the organisation continues to lobby for the retail sector to get fair treatment from vendors, and last year began work on an initiative to set up a 'distributors' code', which has so far gained support from Epson and several others.

"NASCR's original goal was simply to get dealers talking to each other and helping each other out so that collectively they would be taken seriously by legislative bodies and the rest of the industry in order to help resolve problems," said NASCR's Jenny Stimpson.

"Once again, it seems there is a call to be answered from dealers who are not happy with the supply chain. True to its roots, NASCR will be right on the frontline."

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