Ingram buying Comms-care is a bit like an obvious movie twist you didn't see coming.
Though it may have caught the CRN team off-guard, the clues were all there, and once the big reveal occured - like the climax to Sixth Sense - you feel a little stupid for not cottoning on earlier.
Comms-care is not the first - or even the second - but the third UK channel services firm to be snapped up by a distributor in the last two years, and the logic is simple.
After going through a period of acquiring each other, distributors have now turned their attentions to making more targeted purchases in the adjacent IT services market in an effort to extend their repertoire and bolster margins.
Distributors' margins have suffered in recent years and shareholders are demanding they continue diversifying from their roots in logistics and warehousing through acquisition.
But distributors must be careful about the character of the services firms they buy, knowing that even the perception they have half an eye on selling direct will put reseller noses out of joint.
That's why dedicated channel services firms such as Comms-care - and Intact and ITEC, which were recently acquired by rival distributors Westcon and Exclusive Networks, respectively - are emerging as natural targets for distributors keen not to upset the applecart.
Comms-care is basically the IT services equivalent of Ingram, meaning you could not get a more natural fit. While Ingram is the world's largest trade-only product distributor, Comms-care is the UK's dominant trade-only services ‘distributor', selling a range of support, professional and managed services exclusively to about 850 resellers and other channel firms.
And if Intact and ITEC's takeovers weren't clues enough, Comms-care dropped a massive hint that they would follow suit when they told us 18 months ago that more and more distributors were approaching them to work in partnership with them. It's only a short step between that and an outright acquisition.
A couple of questions remain, though.
Firstly, why didn't Ingram build this capability itself? Probably because the cost of doing so would have been prohibitive. Firms like Comms-care have invested heavily in specialist infrastructure and replicating the kind of vendor and ISO accreditations they hold organically would be a daunting task, even for the world's largest distributor.
The more reasonable question is why Ingram didn't do this sooner?
Well, arguably, as we explored in this feature, until fairly recently, the channel services market was a bit of a free-for-all, with few defined players that didn't also sell direct. By picking off Comms-care now, Ingram has ensured it is taking delivery of a mature business that is the biggest brand in a market more settled than it was even five years ago.
More copycat moves from other distributors would seem inevitable, although - with Comms-care, Networks First, Phoenix, ITEC and Intact all having been acquired - targets are quickly becoming thin on the ground.
This doesn't mean Ingram's integration of its latest purchase will be without its challenges. Comms-care will be reliant on other distributors for some revenue streams, and these will have to be quickly closed off. Meanwhile, not all resellers welcome the encroachment of distributors into the world of services, even if these services are sold through the channel. Ingram will have to work hard to assuage these fears, as well as to reassure Comms-care's partners that it will not change too much under its ownership.
If it does this, there's no reason why this plot twist can't turn into a Holywood ending for Ingram.
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