As exclusively revealed by CRN last week, Maverick has transformed its business into four separate units that sit under the umbrella company of Maverick (CRN, 23 April). The audiovisual (AV) distributor has laid low over the past nine months because it did not want its rivals to get wind of what it was creating. It officially unveiled its new guise at its Tech Event trade show for resellers and their customers at Mercedes Benz World in Weybridge a fortnight ago.
Speaking to CRN at the event, John Weatherhead, channel veteran and one of Maverick’s co-founders, said: “Tech Event is like the coming out of the new Maverick. It has been a long time in gestation and now its here and we’re very proud of it. We have been very quiet about it because we dare not tell anyone exactly what we were up to.”
The new-look Maverick began taking form last summer when Weatherhead came back to the UK from Canada to assist Maverick following the collapse of ProInstall, its installation arm.
“ProInstall was dreadful,” said Weatherhead. “It hurt us a lot. It sounded like a great idea, but I think our market research was perhaps wrong and we thought the market was bigger than it was. When we did our initial research, businesses such as local authorities said what they wanted, which we produced, but we forgot to mention a little question of price.
“We ended up with a product that in my opinion was valued at £600 but which customers valued at £300. So we were way out of whack and I wasn’t prepared to drop our quality to meet the price. We had 70 engineers – all of which were Certified Technical Specialist qualified. We were also ISO9000 certified so we did it properly, but when it came down to the price the market wouldn’t pay it. We tried and tried, but it just didn’t work in the end.”
While living in Canada, Weatherhead had set up a small distribution business called Stampede, which he sold before returning to the UK.
“The money that was made on Stampede pretty much went down the ProInstall plug. We lost many millions on ProInstall,” he said.
Last June Weatherhead, along with his long-standing business partner and co-founder of Maverick, Nick Harding, became involved once again with Maverick to help the business and decide where to take it next. The distributor’s new direction stems from a successful strategy Weatherhead and Harding came up with in the late 1980s when they ran distributor Frontline, which was later acquired by Computer 2000.
“When we were building Frontline we became a big broadline distributor,” said Weatherhead. “I wanted to do things such as networking and sell Apple products, which back then were new and exciting, but whenever I talked to a supplier they would say that as a broadline distributor we didn’t have the technical knowledge. So we created a new concept of basically having a broadline distribution business, but with specialist distributors within it. We ended up with six separate specialist distributors that sat within the main Frontline infrastructure. We had the power of the broadliner with the focus of the specialist. It was just dynamite. It was this strategy that grew Frontline. So last June we began putting the wheels in motion to create a similar set-up within Maverick.”
Maverick’s units consist of Hotlamps and Screen Expert, which have existed for a while within Maverick, but are now a projector lamp distributor and a projection screen distributor in their own rights, respectively. The other two divisions are both newly created: VisualiserPro focuses solely on the distribution of visualisers, while Convergent aims to bridge the gap between AV, IT and voice and data technologies by educating and training IT resellers in AV and AV VARs in IT.
All four businesses have their own web sites, business heads and sales staff, but benefit from the economies of scale of being part of a larger organisation, according to Weatherhead.
“Maverick had gained an image of just selling commodity, volume products,” he said. “These specialist divisions can provide resellers with very technical products and focus on specialist areas, while Maverick is now free as the broadline part to do good pricing and commodity products without the two being affected.”
Although all four units are important to Maverick, Convergent is the vital one as far as Weatherhead is concerned – in terms of both investment and potential.
“My feeling is that what we’re seeing in Convergent is the future of Maverick as a whole,” he said. “I don’t quite know how it will evolve – we might find that people on the Maverick sales desk get more technical or it might be that Convergent gets bigger and forms a bigger part of our business. One thing that’s clear is we have a lot of manufacturers that want to get on board with Convergent and we have had a great response from system integrators, particularly in the AV sector, and increasingly so in IT.”
To date Convergent has 15 dedicated staff – mostly technical engineers – and around 15 vendors on board. Weatherhead predicted that the creation of Convergent will be the most important event in distribution over the next 10 years.
“I know that’s a bold statement, but the idea of Convergent has so many legs and it will break a log-jam between the IT and AV sectors,” Weatherhead said.
He also believes other distributors will imitate the strategy.
“I wouldn’t mind betting that we’ll see other distributors follow suit,” he said. “I’d be amazed if we don’t see distributors setting up something that is a copy of Convergent. There is enough business to go around so we won’t mind – it will actually help grow the market.”
Just under two years ago rival AV distributor Steljes split its business into five separate business units each with its own managing director. However, earlier this month it carried out an internal restructure which resulted in seven management-level redundancies (CRN, 16 April) and now many in the industry believe the distributor is preparing to bring the business back into one organisation.
According to a former Steljes employee, there were too many chiefs and Martin Large, Steljes group chief executive, admitted to CRN that “everyone was falling over each other”.
Asked if Maverick is concerned about its split into separate divisions following the recent changes at Steljes, Weatherhead said: “We haven’t really split Maverick into separate businesses – it is more the creation of focused areas – so I don’t think it is comparable at all with what Steljes did.”
Harding added: “What we’re offering is expertise where it is needed. We can now deliver expertise on lamps or screens and so on, but if that reseller has that knowledge already then they can go straight to the Maverick sales team. So it shouldn’t be a question of us falling over each other because our structure isn’t organised in the way that Steljes’s was.”
Darren Lewitt, divisional director at rival distributor Midwich, said: “At a time when Steljes has just announced a reverse structure change surely everyone in distribution should be learning from the Steljes reversal.”
He continued: “I do fear a bit for Maverick – it was the original AV distributor that we all admired, yet it seems to have waved the white flag far too early [on ProInstall]. I am hoping that this is not ‘General Custer’s Last Stand’ for it, especially after its Splash and ProInstall experiences, because the channel needs distributors like Maverick.”
However, Lewitt claims the idea of convergence between IT and AV is not new.
“Midwich was the first to spot the AV and IT convergence opportunity back in the 1990s and it is the backbone of our 12-year AV success,” he said. “We introduced our specialised web site AV4IT in 1997 and the idea was simply to introduce IT resellers to AV opportunities and this has worked very well for us. The benefit we had back then was that we grew up with IT companies and understood their ethos. We still sell to about 5,000 IT resellers today. The challenge Maverick has is to try and create a technical distributor from scratch, which is not easy.”
John Turner, head of multimedia networking at distributor Computerlinks, said: “Convergence between IT and AV makes sense – it is what we think is going to happen. I imagine the successful reseller of the future won’t tag themselves as one type or another. It will offer everything – IT, AV and IP telephony – but there will always be a requirement for specialists. We get a lot of AV resellers wanting to know about the IP technology, which we can train them up on.”
Ian Vickerage, managing director of videoconferencing (VC) distributor Imago, said: “I have respect for John Weatherhead – he has had a lot of success in the past.
“I am a bit wary of complex structures though; Maverick needs to make sure this one is a success. It is obviously trying to get into our market a little bit with the appointment of VC vendor LifeSize but it needs to carve out its own niche, as we all do.”
AV VAR Questmark is currently the only authorised UK reseller for Polyvision’s Thunder virtual meeting room system, which is now distributed by Convergent.
Sam McMaster, managing director of Questmark, said: “Unfortunately, Maverick didn’t put the necessary resources into pushing Thunder, but I think Convergent will give it the attention it deserves. It was clear that Maverick had lost its way – there was no leadership or innovation. Now it has got that back and is reinvigorated, and I think this new strategy is great. It is the right time to launch something like Convergent – it makes perfect sense and is actually quite obvious when you think about it.
“The great thing about Convergent is that if resellers are lacking in a particular skill it will partner them up with a company that can provide that skill,” he added. “We were recently paired up with Icon, which is a specialist in cabling. Neither us or Icon could have closed this particular contract if we hadn’t have worked together.”
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