When is a broadline distributor not a broadline distributor? When it's a distributor of information, of course. Make little sense to you?
Well, be that as it may, it makes perfect sense to the good folk at Ingram Micro UK.
It may appear to be a classic case of teaching granny to suck eggs, but Ingram has decided that the key to future success can be found in information.
Ingram has already said that very little can be won or lost in the battle for market share between the major broadliners - some will do well while others suffer, but sooner or later the wheel usually turns full-circle.
The company has also said that, if it is to win ground it can really hold on to, it must go head-to-head with niche distributors and in the hope of luring customers.
Ingram Micro UK claimed that to attract new customers and bolster the loyalty of existing ones, it has to disseminate the information it has at its finger tips to those in the channel that are most likely to benefit from it. The idea is a very simple one - if a dealer knows he can get the latest information from Ingram and is confident in the accuracy of this information, he is more likely to want to place orders with Ingram.
Whether this is likely to work consistently in practice is hard to say, but it would take a die-hard cynic to dismiss the notion out of hand.
Mike Watkins, VP of sales at Ingram Micro UK, described this as a key differentiator for the company. 'Dealers always need to have the latest product details at hand,' he said.
'If we can supply them with whatever information they feel they need to maximise their business potential then they are likely to stay loyal to Ingram when it comes to making purchasing decisions.'
Ingram Micro acknowledged that its series of showcases, which travels around the UK allowing vendors to display their products to dealers, is one way of achieving this aim. 'After the showcase series has ended, business will increase markedly for everyone, not just Ingram Micro,' said Watkins.
'As dealers see new things they go out and get what they want - for some of them credit lines will be stretched in some places, so they will purchase product from a variety of sources.' Ingram regards this as confirmation of the success of its roadshows.
The distributor is also working on a number of online ordering facilities.
Plans to have online product demonstrations forming part of the Ingram Web site are in the pipeline. By selling over the Net, the company says it will be able to reduce the need for telesales staff and office space, thereby cutting two huge overheads. In addition, by monitoring the online purchasing activities of dealers, Ingram hopes to tailor specific deals and offers to suit specific resellers' past behaviour.
But while Ingram makes it sound very easy, not everyone embraces the company's vision of the future.
Reducing staff may be one short-term cost-cutting measure that Ingram Micro comes to regret. One reseller complained recently of being forced to wait on the phone for 40 minutes when calling to place an order. This does not make for good customer relations.
James Wickes, MD of Ideal Hardware, feels that buying across the Internet will only interest a handful of people and that supplying information is not necessarily the panacea Ingram hopes it will be.
'Bottle-necks do occur in the system, but not especially at the ordering stage. Providing information is one thing, providing the right information is another. You have to be able to supply a working decision-making support framework. It's not enough to just throw information at people and expect them to get on with it,' he said.
It is too early to know if electronic commerce will take off in the indirect channel. But Ingram is in bullish mood, saying that, should there be an explosion of interest in purchasing across the Internet, it will be able to clean up while the competition is still playing catch-up.
Recent IDC figures showed that Internet commerce last year was worth $318 million. This year it will reach $2 billion, which will rise to a whacking $95 billion by 2000. But the report says Europe will remain way behind the US.
Venetia Roland nee Edney-Ball, CHS/Merisel marketing and products manager, is another to disagree. CHS/ Merisel holds the opinion that while buying over the Internet will appeal to some, the majority of larger resellers will be less interested. 'It depends on customer profile,' said Roland.
'Corporate resellers simply will not embrace purchasing over the Net.
They will want reassuring that their account details are secure. This is especially important where pricing information is concerned - no one wants their competitors finding out what deals they have struck regarding pricing. This sort of security doesn't always go hand-in-hand with using the Internet.'
The notion of value-add is one which extends throughout the dealer channel.
Being a box shifter is no longer enough. Just as Compaq seeks to reposition itself as an all-round computer company rather than simply being a PC vendor, Ingram has realised it can no longer rely solely on being a large distributor with a massive warehouse and good delivery times.
Ingram may well think the route to success is to be found in providing information, but it will need to be sure the right information goes to the right people, otherwise it runs the risk of its vision of a brave new world being seen as just another marketing exercise.
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