Microsoft's announcement last week that it will be haring after the fast-growing small business market, and the dealers that are able to supply it, should come as no surprise to anyone who manages to keep abreast of market research. Every research firm worth its salt has been shouting about the potential of the small business market for years.
Microsoft says it is chasing after up to 3,000 dealers with a turnover of u1 million or less, and will form an additional tier to complement its Solution Provider and Partner programmes. The company estimates that this sector will grow by 30 per cent within the next five years and wants to be there as it happens.
But should Microsoft, and many of the other vendors, be chasing after small dealers? I wonder whether Microsoft's management has really thought through where small dealers will be in five year's time. I, for one, believe there will be considerably fewer than 3,000 small dealers thriving in the UK by then, and those that do will be making what little money they can out of specialist applications and services, not the common-or-garden, generic business applications which Microsoft aims to provide.
It's not hard to argue the case that it is beginning to happen already.
Much has been written about the retail market for computer products. There's no doubt, though young and volatile, that it has carved out a considerable niche. Peter Rigby's Byte superstores, for instance, have grown to more than a dozen in less than five years.
Just consider the way in which superstores are approaching the small business end of the market. They hold stock so punters can take their purchases away with them, offer financing schemes with easy ways to pay, and above all, offer a wide range of products at competitive prices.
Office products superstore Staples holds open days, I'm told, and regularly attracts a few thousand people - and they can't all be teenagers in anoraks.
How can a small dealership without a specialist service compete?
Of course there will always be clients which rely on personal service and are prepared to pay for it, but as computer products become more commoditised their numbers are bound to dwindle.
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