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Changes in the AV distribution landscape

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In the last month, we have seen significant changes in the shape of the distribution sector for AV products and solutions. Two well-known players in IT distribution have announced new initiatives in the distribution of products traditionally associated with the AV channel. Further, we have seen Stampede, a major US player, ramp up operations in Europe as part of its global ambitions.

There is a rule of business economics that says that distribution favours the least cost supplier. Lower costs are driven by economies of scale, with the largest distributors able to negotiate the best deals with vendors and service providers. As a result, we have seen a consistent trend towards consolidation, with recent examples including: the merger being that of Exertis and Medium; the acquisition of Anders and Kern by RedstoneConnect; and the continued advance of the Midwich Group into mainland Europe with the acquisition of Gebroeders van Domburg.
Consolidation has both limited the options available to vendors seeking distribution for AV solutions, and created opportunities for those active in other sectors and with ambitions in the UK AV market. The much-discussed convergence of AV and IT is undoubtedly a reality at the technology level, but apparently less so in terms of channel. The dichotomy between the IT and AV channels is illustrated by Microsoft’s announcement of Westcon-Comstor’s appointment as distributor of Microsoft Surface Hub, alongside Maverick in the mainstream AV channel.
Maverick’s parent Tech Data has recently made its own move with a kind of internal merger that has seen some of TD’s divisions rebranded to underline their specialist solutions capabilities. By drawing on the resources of Tech Data as a whole, the newly christened Maverick AV Solutions is able to deliver powerful integrated solutions in collaboration, smart signage, workplace technologies and services, while maintaining its traditional strength in product supply.

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Wayne Mason, Westcon-Comstor, EMEA UCC Practice Lead and General Manager: “With our ability to wrap additional services around the Surface Hub and a comprehensive portfolio of complementary solutions for Skype for Business we are creating a very strong offer for the VAR community.”

IT advances
But what of the new competitors? Westcon-Comstor offers its vendors 30 years of industry expertise in helping Value Added Resellers (VARs) deploy complex IT solutions and unified communications systems. The distributor offers global scale across sectors including security, unified communications, network infrastructure and data centre solutions.
The Westcon-Comstor Unified Communications and Collaboration Solutions Practice will make it easier for VARs to integrate Microsoft Surface Hubs and Surface Hub accessories into their customers’ collaborative environments, as well as the opportunity to provide additional services such as site assessments, solution design, proje2ct implementation and service support.
Wayne Mason, EMEA UCC Practice Lead and General Manager explains: “We are focused on providing organisations with the best possible collaboration tools to ensure employees are able to work together more easily and effectively. The Microsoft Surface Hub absolutely ticks the box both from a technology perspective and in the culture of collaboration it creates. With our ability to wrap additional services around the Surface Hub and a comprehensive portfolio of complementary solutions for Skype for Business we are creating a very strong offer for the VAR community.”
Vendor advantages
Microsoft shares the view that IT VARs are a distinct audience: “The addition of the Surface Hub to Westcon-Comstor’s portfolio will ensure that they are able to offer the VAR community the best possible collaboration solutions for customers throughout the UK & Ireland,” says Ryan Asdourian, Windows and Surface Lead, Microsoft UK. “We have been delighted with the reaction to the Surface Hub since it was first introduced to the UK market in 2016 and the addition of Westcon-Comstor as a distributor, combined with its strong portfolio of wrap-around services such as Skype for Business, will ensure that even more organisations are able to transform the way their employees collaborate, share and communicate.”
Mason believes that the commercial model in the IT environment is different, meriting a different approach. For example, the hardware margin on a product like Surface Hub is not the overriding opportunity for VARs – just as it isn’t for the vendor. For Microsoft, as with Google and Cisco, the principle advantage comes in extending the reach of the Windows platform and service provision.
But does the signing if the Surface Hub deal by Westcon-Comstor herald the development of a wide-ranging portfolio of AV products by the distributor? Mason emphasises that he won’t be chasing brands that don’t add any particular value to the company’s offer. He favours an organic approach, whereby solutions that, for example, enhance a collaborative solution’s audio capabilities, like Revolabs, or extends video performance, like Polycom, will be offered to channel partners alongside core collaborative products.
Channel support
Mason believes that it is the Westcon-Comstor service wrap for both vendors and channel partners that distinguishes the distributor: “When you resell Surface Hub from Westcon-Comstor you aren’t just getting a product, you’re also getting a partner to help you with a complete wrap-around”. Services include marketing, logistics and training. “Meaning you can concentrate on winning new business and selling as much as possible, whilst we take care of everything else.”
Of particular interest to both vendors and channel partners will be the lead generation services, which see a guaranteed number of qualified sales leads furnished by the distributor, in exchange for a monthly subscription. “Our VIP programme can boost your sales and marketing reach with focused sales and marketing initiatives,” explains Mason. Other services include: demo and seeding programmes; finance; pre-sales solutions architecture; marketing assets and support; implementation and provisioning; logistics; end-user adoption; training; and international implementation (a network of qualified engineers is available across 150 countries to adjust Surface Hub configurations and integrate with existing systems.)
With his experience gained at Imago, Mason clearly knows what’s necessary to build a comprehensive portfolio of products that appeal to systems integrators and their clients. In conversation with AV News, he ran off a list of potential clients for Surface Hub, and related products, including telcos, multinational construction companies and financial institutions – all of which, you would think, would be natural adopters of the technology. He argues that the move by Westcon-Comstor no makes the technology available through the customer’s preferred purchase route.
Expanded portfolio
At the beginning of September, AV News heard from former Samsung Commercial Displays Director Phil Gaut that he had been engaged by Northamber, in a consulting role, to develop the IT distributor’s AV distribution proposition. Northamber’s brand portfolio already includes: Genee, 3M, Ricoh, Infocus, Matrox, ViewSonic, Kramer and Yamaha. Within days of Gaut’s initial contact, Philips Professional Display Solutions announced a new partnership with Northamber, to promote the full range of Philips ‘Professional Displays’ and ‘Commercial TV’s’ to the UK reseller market.

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Phil Gaut, AV market consultant: “Northamber can make a difference in AV.”

Northamber is one of the UK’s largest independent distributors with a 36-year heritage. The agreement will see Northamber offering the complete Philips range to its reseller base of 5,000+ partners. Alex Phillips Strategy Director at Northamber, explained: “Northamber are really excited to support one of the industry’s fastest growing brands. The extensive Philips portfolio allows us to support AV solutions in offices, boardrooms, classrooms and provide digital signage”.

Martin Ware, UK Sales Director at Philips Professional Display Solutions believes: “The Northamber partnership provides Philips with a significant incremental trading base in the SMB and VAR community. Northamber’s commitment to proactivity in the AV market will help support our continued growth aspirations.”

Alex Phillips explains further: “Northamber is focused on expanding its AV business significantly, providing resellers with a knowledgeable team, great products supported by flexible local logistics and credit facilities. Northamber will also offer configuration services out of our dedicated facility in Brooklands, Weybridge, giving resellers peace of mind that solutions are ready to deploy from point of delivery”

Phil Gaut believes that there is currently a shortfall in the distribution bandwidth available in the UK, with many worthwhile vendors and solutions left wanting, “Northamber’s mission is to be a local, flexible and personable partner supporting the AV and SMB market with first class solutions for the boardroom, meeting room, classroom and open space. Northamber can make a difference in AV.”

Globalisation

While the new entrants to the AV market offer significant scale, the logical consequence of consolidation is globalisation. While some prominent AV distributors active in UK AV already operate on an international basis, overseas growth is usually organic and often subject to the availability of suitable acquisition targets.

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Stampede President and COO, Kevin Kelly: “As Stampede expands its footprint globally, we are committed to bringing the same level of in field marketing, education and training that has made the Stampede Big Book of AV Tour and Conference Series the most successful event of its kind in North America.”

 

Stampede has made no secret of its global ambitious, and is doing it its own way. Stampede President and COO, Kevin Kelly, said: “As Stampede expands its footprint globally, we are committed to bringing the same level of in field marketing, education and training that has made the Stampede Big Book of AV Tour and Conference Series the most successful event of its kind in North America.”

With the indigenous and established AV distributors already looking at new ways to sell, service and add value to AV technology, the next few years will prove to be interesting as these tectonic plates collide.

 


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