Competition to join the short list for the Specialist Distribution Partner category in this year's Channel Awards was particularly strong, and the judges had a difficult time drawing up the final list. In the end they decided it was impossible to reduce it to fewer than seven names.
Rivalry between the specialist security, storage and telephony distributors that have made it to the final stage is likely to be intense.
A number of companies were unlucky not to make it onto the final list. For example, audiovisual (AV) specialist Steljes came close after making great inroads into the channel over the past year.
Not being on the final voting list takes nothing away from the achievements of Steljes, as well as many other companies that fall into the Specialist category for their work.
Steljes was highly praised by its customers, as were many other specialist distributors. Smarter Solutions started working with the distributor only last year, but director Jon Knight has clearly been impressed.
"We have dealt with a number of distributors and Steljes is by far the most flexible," he said. "It is able to offer us better value-added services and greater availability of stock, and is more flexible than many of its rivals."
Matrix Display Systems, on the other hand, is a long-standing customer.
"We have used a number of the large players in AV distribution and if you were to ask me if Steljes is the best, the answer would be yes," says Daryl Clarke, managing director of Matrix.
"We have experienced consistently good service from Steljes in terms of price, information, delivery and account management."
Other distributors that entered the Specialist category and might consider themselves unlucky not to have made the final list included Ideal, OpenPSL, Sunbelt, Westcon and Wick Hill.
Competition for nominations in this category was very strong and none of these companies was far from being nominated.
In the end, seven names have been put forward and it is from this list that resellers must choose a winner.
Allasso's nomination has been secured mainly on the strength of its consistent performance and growth. Resellers have testified to the company's high-quality service.
"We've grown our market share significantly over the past 12 months and we believe our success can be attributed in many ways to the professional, dedicated account management, focus and support we have received while working with Allasso," said Richard Perez, security manager at VAR SeQureIT.
CMS Peripherals is another company that has performed to a consistently high standard in its area of specialisation - in this case, the storage market.
It has run a number of initiatives over the year that, it claimed, have helped VARs to grow their businesses. In a difficult and competitive market, it has also managed to increase its overall level of business.
Frank Salmon, managing director of the company, believes CMS has a good chance in 2003, after claiming the Specialist Distributor award last year.
"We hope that with the strong relationships we enjoy with many of our customers they would vote for us. However, as this award means so much to everyone at CMS, we are actively canvassing votes," he said.
Crane Telecommunications has been one of the companies spearheading the development of the convergence market, and the firm has been widely applauded for its efforts.
John Davies, technical director at ADA Computer Systems, said: "Working with Crane has made a real difference to our sales teams in particular, who now have the expertise and the confidence to deliver not just data but also voice solutions to our customers."
Charlie Whelpton, director at Redwood Telecommunications, said: "[Crane] is excellent on logistics and also excels in account management. What sets it apart, perhaps, is the strong feeling that you are dealing with a company that really cares, and the loyalty and dedication of its staff."
EquIP is another distributor that has made a mark in the security market, and resellers have commended the company for its overall approach to doing business. "EquIP has a sound understanding and knowledge of the end-user market," said John Murphy, products and markets development director at Allnet.
"We can always rely on it to provide us with products that meet the demands of our customers. It doesn't 'push' products; it responds to emerging needs from the market. EquIP is also very good at helping us identify and target opportunities."
Hammer continues to make a solid impression in the storage market and, like so many others in the specialist arena, has won the admiration of many resellers with its clear focus and consistent service.
Ray Bateup, managing director of storage reseller Baydel, said: "We are particularly grateful for its high level of expertise and support in our particular niche of the market, which is quite unmatched by any other distributors we know.
"Its good humour and responsiveness to our needs and requirements puts it in a league of its own. Nothing appears to be too much trouble for the company, and its follow-up is first-class."
Norwood Adam is another one of a handful of distributors helping resellers to develop business in the market for converged voice and data solutions, and its combination of good support and regular communications has won it a lot of support.
Alan Lloyd, sales and marketing director at Enigma, one of its customers, said: "Dealing with Norwood Adam gives me the comfort of excellent sales and technical support on a wide range of products and services, allowing us to propose complex solutions to our clients.
"We are regularly updated about advances and additions in its product lines both by email and enjoyable face-to-face events."
Manny Pinon, Norwood Adam's sales and marketing director, said being nominated means a lot to the company. "We've tried to be innovative and fun to do business with, as well as customer-friendly and supportive to the last," he said. "We will bend over backwards and pull out all the stops for customers."
Like all the other contenders, Pinon and his colleagues will be doing all they can to encourage resellers to cast a vote in their favour.
Finally, we have Unipalm, last year's winner of the Specialist Security Distributor award. In 2003, the firm continues to set the pace in terms of its service and business development support in this key area of the market, and has held its own against strong competition.
David Ellis, director of e-security at Unipalm, believes it can win again. "We feel we have been nominated because we focus on helping our customers find and deliver new sales opportunities.
"We think we can win because we are committed to developing long-term relationships with our customers and have a deep knowledge of the markets in which we operate," he said.
What is clear from this year's nomination phase is that there are many highly regarded specialist distributors operating in the UK market today.
While only one short-listed company in each category can win, those that have been nominated should be very pleased with their achievements, as can all of those companies that have set such a high standard in the distribution sector over the past year.
The level of achievement is particularly impressive when the economic conditions are taken into consideration.
By giving distributors independent recognition for delivering high-quality services, the Channel Awards - and, in particular, the Specialist Distribution award - are helping to reward those efforts and inspire organisations in the coming year.
Cast your vote now
The Channel Awards voting pages are now open and will remain so until 31 October. You can cast your vote here. Voting is verified by the Audit Bureau of Circulation.
Channel Awards voting short list 2003
Corporate Vendor Partner
SME Vendor Partner
BT Indirect Channels
Specialist Vendor Partner
Parity ICT IT Partnerships
Corporate Distribution Partner
SME Distribution Partner
Specialist Distribution Partner
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