Many issues facing the channel are being hyped up in alarmist or confrontational ways, but most of them have been with us for a long time, even if under a different name.
Here are just a few of the frequent themes we hear.
Massive consolidation is coming and there will be room for only a small number of superdealers - but then we see deals such as Info'Products and Simmons Magee go pear-shaped.
Dell's direct model will overtake Compaq and squeeze the channel - but Dell is now doing some schmoozing of the channel and Compaq sells direct.
Build to order is going to change the dynamics of the channel and make manufacturers more efficient. But build to order means different things to different people and no one seems to be able to make up their minds whether they are doing it or not.
A few things are certain. Margin is falling and will continue to fall.
Distributor margins have fallen 40 per cent and more, to about 10 per cent. Large deals are going to a total margin of less than 10 per cent which has to be shared between the distributor and the dealer.
Expect this to get worse. The only way for distributors and dealers to survive is for them to work together to create more efficiency and cost savings for both parties. This means more electronic links, an end to the madness of having to call for daily price updates and quicker responses to large deals.
We also have to recognise that the hardware manufacturers' margins have thinned down dramatically, and that they are all seeking greater efficiency and tighter costs. The factory gate cost of a computer was 25 per cent of its user price 10 years ago; it is now more than 60 per cent.
Is a direct operation cheaper than an indirect one?
In theory, it can't be because of the economies of scale provided by an indirect dealer base. But this only works if the dealers are efficient and if manufacturers truly understand the market - sadly not always the case.
There is a delicate balance between giving dealers the margins to encourage them to promote your products and opening up the dealer criteria so wide that you create over-supply and no incentive to market make - a problem that Apple is still wrestling with today.
Direct operations are a threat because of slick marketing and a perception that they save the user money - something which should not be true. Dell has been able to trounce Compaq in the small business market because of its Microsoft OEM deal, creating a situation where Compaq is cheaper on hardware, but the overall bundle makes Dell 10 per cent cheaper.
Dell supplies only Dell hardware and should not be able to compete with the much wider product range and unbiased service an efficient dealer can provide - as long as we are given the proper tools by our manufacturers.
Build to order is another part of the drive to reduce costs, or at least the manufacturers think it is.
All dealers build to order anyway. Every CPU we supply has extra memory, cards, software, different drives and so on, built in to give the customers exactly what they want. It is pointless to inject yet more costs into the channel by asking distributors to build standard CPUs to order for us. We should follow the Japanese model and push the assembly process down to the end of the chain.
The cheapest and most efficient way to build to order is to give the channel the main components and let us build up our own configurations.
We would just buy 20 base models, 20 processors, 20 hard drives and 20 memory packs and configure them ourselves. This would dramatically reduce inventory, simplify product changes and lead to much shorter times from factory gate to market.
Dealers have been asking for this for years. Manufacturers are frightened to unbundle because they make money on the peripherals, but the time has come to work smarter than that and in partnership with the dealers. Manufacturers need to give more thought to industrial design and make components easily swappable by any half-competent trainee.
Consolidation of dealers is inevitable, but big is not always beautiful, as Info'Products is showing. There will always be room for dynamic, focused dealers that can provide good service - but efficiency and tight financial control are essential. There will always be room for dealers rising to take the place of those that have fallen.
Hugo Kirby is managing director of London reseller Trams.
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