Distributors on the Dais

Distributors on the Dais


What are the programs or initiatives that the distributor community is enacting with dealers’ well-being in mind that excite them the most? What programs do they think will have the greatest potential for bolstering their customers’ profitability and seeing them through the difficult year ahead—and why?   

We recently chatted with a few of the major movers in the CE/imaging space to answer those questions and their responses provide some real optimism.                                                                                               

Warren Chaiken, President and COO, Almo

At Almo, we are constantly working with our dealers and vendor partners to ensure the success of the channel. To help our dealers during the economic downturn, we’ve beefed up our inventory levels so they can order product as needed, which reduces their financial risk. To broaden their customer appeal and revenue opportunities, we’ve added additional product categories, including A/V accessories and photo/video categories.

We are also negotiating vendor-specific sales programs that include extended terms along with pricing programs. In the past 12 months, we’ve improved our dealer services, including an upgrade to our Web site to make it easier for our dealers to do business—particularly during non-business hours, expanded our Dealer Expos and developed private sale opportunities. Almo has a long history of promoting dealer health; as one of our core business principles, you can rest assured it will continue to be a focus for us.

Joel Blank, Executive Vice President, ArchBrook Laguna
We are initiating a number of support programs, from more efficient metrics to SEO and marketing efforts not traditionally associated with distribution in order to help our dealers and suppliers sell more product, more efficiently and more profitably.  

The market conditions we are all confronted with are unprecedented, so we are rededicating ourselves to partnership that is unrivaled in the industry. The new programs being launched by ArchBrook Laguna will give our suppliers and retailer customers the ability to be successful with innovative marketing support and metrics.

Wally Whinna, Executive Vice President of Marketing, AVAD
We continue our aggressive training programs to assist dealers in developing new skill sets with additional focus on new profit centers such as lighting, control and media centers. Having multiple, fully stocked will-call facilities in every major market makes AVAD a dealer’s warehouse, providing just-in-time inventory the day of the delivery or installation.

We continue to add higher-end limited-distribution brands such as Martin Logan and B&K, giving dealers high-ticket, high-margin sheltered brands to sell to their customers.

Andrew Mougis, VP Sales and Marketing, Bogen Imaging, Inc.
“When the going gets tough the tough get going” is how the saying goes, but as with many clichés, there is a lot of truth here. At Bogen Imaging, a company that services the Photo Specialty, Pro Video and CE retail markets, supplying some of the world’s best accessory brands that go around the camera, this economic downturn has only strengthened our conviction to support our loyal resellers.

In today’s market, it is all about the PULL. Dealers cannot be pressured into taking excess stock and be pushed like in previous years. We have added numerous rebate promotions that offer the end user great value when they decide to purchase our brands now! In our Tripod range, both Manfrotto, the “proven professional” line, and Gitzo, truly the world’s most admired photo tripod brand, we have promotions offering money back for purchasing either brands products.  

Our Bag lines, Kata and National Geographic, are also being promoted with rebates and other bundles, but here we have also added in a special merchandising program that offers dealers extended terms to essentially stock their shelves with the latest offerings along with specially created store displays.  

At retail, merchandising has become a key factor in the sales of accessories, and we have added a merchandising specialist to our group to make sure we are providing the best solution for each of our reseller partners. A program called “focus 5” has targeted our top 5 dealers in each territory to improve the way our products are displayed and presented.  

Of course, another part of the equation is education, and face-to-face selling, and for this Bogen has created the Bogen Cafe program. At first designed to help Colleges Photo programs by offering a menu of seminars and hands-on instruction presented by Will Crockett, we have extended our education into the dealers locations, with specially designed programs that attract amateurs and enthusiasts to take free courses. Of course, the programs are also tied to a local promotion to provide immediate benefit for the consumer to take something home right now, or use Bogen Bux (a discount coupon) within a week of the event.  

Bogen is planning several exciting additional programs this summer including a Gitzo 5 Star Summer tour, to introduce two exciting new models—the Vintage and Ocean traveler. Go to the bogenimaging.us Web site for details on where to see the Gitzo tour in your area.

Curt Hayes, President and CFO, Capitol Sales

We adhere to the old adage that teaches, “education is an ornament during prosperity and a refuge in adversity,” meaning that difficult times call for an increase in knowledge in order to do combat in a challenging market. Next month, we launch our most aggressive dealer education program to date: The Capitol Sales Learning Institute—Regional Outreach program, which will address how best to adapt to changing conditions without resorting to knee-jerk discounts and promotions, focusing instead on increasing profitability through 2009 and beyond. And we’re taking it on the road, to make sure we reach the greatest number of Capitol partners throughout the country.

Rob Eby, Vice President of Purchasing, D&H Distributing
D&H is implementing a new Business Assurance program, which will provide $38 million in credit increases to close to 4,000 of our customers this year, including dealers and retailers. We’re very excited, since we estimate it could result in a 10 to 20 percent uptick in sales from those customers. Also, this wave of credit increases will allow them to take advantage of the additional opportunities that are anticipated with the governmental economic stimulus package. If we can extend some financial muscle to our dealers and retailers to get them through the beginning of this year, we could all come out of this successfully.

We’ve also just invested in a new, state-of-the-art warehouse in Atlanta, which lets us serve our customers that much better, offering more streamlined shipments and lower freight costs. Each D&H warehouse is now fully optimized in all aspects of its operations, including its location, size, inventory and freight costs.

It’s our goal to be the best organization we can be, to make sure our customers continue to thrive, especially in economic conditions such as these.

Tim Coakley, Senior Vice President/Merchandising, DBL Distributing

As it turns out, DBL is celebrating its 20th year in the distribution industry. To kick off our year-long celebration, we have launched the most aggressive and comprehensive marketing and sales initiative in DBL history. This campaign began with segmented flyers, mailed to our best customers, and showcased unbelievable prices on many of their core products and brands. In addition, DBL released Web-only deals to further our customers’ savings. More great surprises will be unveiled throughout the year as a way of saying “thank you” for their dedication and support over the last 20 years.

As all great marketing campaigns always do, this campaign was strategically launched at a time when many of our customers need ways to differentiate themselves from their competition. These attention-grabbing deals offer ways to lure consumers into their stores and purchase their products over the competition.    

Sam Taylor, President, Electrograph Systems
A large part of our focus is on education and training. Keeping our resellers knowledgeable and on course is fundamental in an unstable market. We have several programs in place that are designed to benefit both our dealers and vendors: First is our Display Technology Experience (DTE) traveling networking and training event, which kicked-off on March 24 in Dallas, Texas.

Now in its fifth year, the DTE program continues to evolve and focus on educating partners about the commercial/residential AV topics they are faced with today. Our partners have the opportunity to earn NSCA and CEDIA education credits while learning how to increase profits. The DTE gives resellers and manufacturers a comfortable, local forum where they can connect—and the event is free of charge to attendees. Resellers will learn about emerging growth markets because, even in this business climate, there are opportunities.

One such growth area is the digital signage market. Electrograph is also the charter sponsor of the new Digital Signage Certified Expert (DSCE) program, which launched in February at the Digital Signage Expo. It includes a certification course that allows any technical, marketing or sales professional to master the formula for successful design deployment and ROI for digital signage rollouts. Electrograph will continue to sponsor the DSCE events, which are being planned for a variety of U.S. locations.

David Goldstein, Director of Sales and Marketing, Fesco
We’re giving our dealers the same attention, service and follow-through in these tough economic times as we have always given them in all the years we’ve been in business. We applaud and strongly support our many dealers who are really getting creative in working around the economy to make the best of this challenging economic climate, and we are planning to hold our Fall Expo event in the New York area again this year, where we hope to see many of our customers.

Simon Douek, Vice President, Gamla

While Gamla offers products in most all CE categories, our main focus has always been digital imaging. More than giving us a real understanding and depth in this still-evolving category, our philosophy of being a “jack of one trade” rather than a master of none, is enabling us to leverage our manufacturer and vendor relationships to provide more customized client solutions than other, more “generalist” distributors.

The main benefit to our accounts is the fact that we’re better suited than most when it comes to customized retailer solutions. The simple fact is, the Web has leveled the playing field and enables even the most regional of retailers to operate like a national (online) chain. Because of this, any retail channel is more competitive than ever, so being able to provide meaningful points of differentiation is more critical than ever.

While it would definitely be in our best interests to follow the industry lead and develop national or even regional programs, the simple fact is that a retailer located in a metropolitan area has different needs than one in a suburban shopping mall. To offer both the same solution simply because they’re in the same state or region isn’t how we built our business—or how we can best build theirs.

And because of our unique relationships with vendors, we can deliver to our accounts the kind of programs that tell them we value their business. Whether it’s bundling cameras and frames as gift sets for wedding season, or special camera/card reader/carry case promotions for vacationers, understanding our clients’ customer base and creating the kind of programs that reflect this understanding is a key part of our business model.

At the same time, we help these retailers—many of whom are too busy with the day-to-day challenges of staying open—also to stay abreast of trends, both product and industry-wise.

Doug Pircher, General Manager, International Supplies
Basically, we are customizing our programs for dealers and coming up with solutions for them where we can show them how to increase the margins on their sales. We realize that, with the market being the way it is, people are not really running out and replacing something because, for example, the batteries have failed.

They’re now making the effort to get the items repaired, and they want to be able to keep something longer. So, what we’re trying to do is focus on that—the overall experience with the dealer, and the dealer’s efforts to keep that customer and own that customer’s business through their service and through the products and accessories they sell to the customer.

Brent Bowyer, Executive Director, Independent Photo Imagers (IPI)
Never before has it been more important for IPI members and IPI Supplying Partners, especially our Distributor Supplying Partners, to work closer together.  

We are seeing first-hand examples of that unity with communication from Supplying Partners in the form of weekly e-mails, periodic flyers and routine telephone calls. All of those concentrated and proactive means are very helpful to IPI members when their individual schedules are so full with providing hands-on service to their customers.

I’m sure all IPI members join me in saying “thank you” for going the extra mile!     

Julie Swink, Executive Vice President, Sales, Liberty

A paradigm shift has occurred in the way consumers prioritize and allocate their expendable income. Current economic conditions have brought consumers back to the basics of life; most importantly, there is a greater focus on family. Consumers memorialize family through photos and photo-related products. The opportunity is great for retailers to capture new business by offering consumers more unique ways to express themselves and memorialize their family.  

Liberty is working closely with many of the regional and national retailers to offer niche photo products that differentiate them from the traditional 4×6, mug, mouse pad and photo book, leading them to other exciting substrates that consumers are eager to wear, share and display. Because these niche products are not the traditional photo-related commodities, retailers are capturing higher profit margins.

Together, Liberty and the retailers are building business models around niche products that are sustainable and will continue to succeed in both bad and good economic times.

Mark Rezzonico, MAC Group Vice President, Product Group

In both good and bad economic times, the distributor’s job is to provide value-added services for the retailer.

A good case in point is X-Rite management tools. We know these tools are no longer optional for photographers because we live in a world of color, and surprises in print output is the last thing a photographer wants. These days it’s all about efficient workflow. We view a big part of our job as providing education to photographers and dealers, and of course a profit motive for the dealer.

In order to stimulate business, an aggressive stance has been taken with a combination of discounts to dealers to increase profitability, and direct-to-consumer offers to stimulate retail traffic. Additionally, a host of Internet marketing initiatives have been implemented, which include educational Webinars and videos designed to increase awareness of the benefits of good color management. These create additional product demand for dealers.

In order to stimulate additional purchasing, an ongoing program of custom educational initiatives have been created to heighten X-Rite product awareness among professional groups, trade associations and camera clubs. We believe the key to prosperity in tough economic times is in “sales through education”.

Brian Dietz, Vice President of Sales, M. Rothman & Co.
We are doing many of the same things that we have found to be successful over the past 59 years. By being a conduit between our vendors and dealers, we educate and train our customers with seminars and dealer training sessions, which provide vendors immediate reaction and feedback about their product.

We offer manufacturers the opportunity to control their product by channel through recording serial number and tracking all shipments. By helping in the policing of product, profit margins can be better maintained for all parties.

Our national, regional, specialty and Internet partners are all serious about cutting costs and we contribute by helping them reduce inventory levels. We allow our dealers to control their cash flow more efficiently by essentially being their warehouse and allowing them to order only what they need, when they need it.

We allow our dealers to try new product categories without any significant investment or risk. This can help smaller dealers to more effectively compete with bigger-box stores by providing them with other products that can supplement or enhance a sale.

Our state-of-the-art in-house dealer Web site allows our customers to shop, compare, and order 24/7 and have us ship the same or next day. For dealers that may not have the floor space or floor model commitment, our showroom is open for dealers to bring customers in to see the full range of a manufacturer’s lineup, linked in product vignettes with complimentary products.

We also provide extended terms, floor display allowances and volume rebate incentives—all mechanisms to motivate dealers to experiment with new product offerings with little or no risk.

We have also provided and managed in-house rebate programs, which allows us to more closely monitor their success for the dealer.

Fred Towns, Senior Vice President, New Age Electronics
Today, we believe the most important thing is making sure our dealers always have products when they need them—good allocation.  One of the huge initiatives for us is we’ve been working very hard to make sure we have a very good forecasting and supply-chain system for each one of our dealers. We now have 13 warehouses across the country, so we can get that product to them fast, improving just-in-time, which is key for them. In this time period, where credit is challenging, number one, we need good credit programs so they have the credit lines they need. But we also need allocations so that the product is available to them in a timely fashion.   

We have a 24/7 program called EC Express, that gives dealers the ability to order online at any time, day or night, see where their order is, see availability; and we have representatives available to walk them through how to do it. It accommodates everyone’s time needs.

The key now, too, is our initiative with all our top management to get out and see our customers. We’re literally booking dealer visits along with visits to our vendors. This is a time when you really have to be out there—vendor and customer intimacy is what we’re calling it. In these times, high touch is important—you need to get out there and give them ideas and let them know they have a partner who’s working in their interest.

Bill Stewart, President, Petra

Our main goal this year is to provide our customers a distribution service that allows them to manage their cash flow more effectively. We offer flexible payment terms that range from COD to floor plan to support their choice of cash-flow disciplines. We maintain a 99.8 percent order fill rate and provide same-day shipping on all orders placed by 6 p.m. CST.

This allows our customers to stock only the inventory they need and feel confident they can restock quickly. Keeping that in mind, we know that when you are keeping tighter inventories, it is easy to lose money in the freight costs of multiple orders. We have had several promotions lowering our free freight program so dealers can place multiple orders without incurring huge freight charges that affect the bottom line.

We continue to focus our business on accessories, because the ability to provide those profit-generating accessories is what will make a dealer successful. We are constantly looking for special buy opportunities so we can pass along savings to the retailers. Plus, we have 20,000 products from more than 400 brand-name manufacturers that provide retailers with options to diversify their product offerings with very little investment. When you add up all of the services that Petra provides, it is easy to see why partnering with us gives a retailer more flexibility in a tough year.

Jeff Neal, VP Sales & Marketing, The PRO Group (PRO)

Though not a traditional distributor, PRO stocks close to 2,000 items in our distribution center. Our carefully chosen selection of product covers virtually every category of merchandise that you would find in a specialty camera store. Because of the wide selection and depth of inventory, we are able to help PRO members stay in stock better while keeping less inventory on their shelves.

This “just in time model” helps PRO members get higher inventory turn with less inventory financing costs. One-stop shopping from the PRO distribution center is efficient and convenient and leaves PRO members more time to concentrate on other areas of their business.

Jonathan Elster, Executive Vice President, SED International

We continue to bolster SED Rewards, our unique customer incentive program created in partnership with American Express, which has been in place for just over a year now. This program helps our dealers reduce costs by giving cash back in the form of points that can be used for travel, gifts, incentives, or for future SED purchases. We are also very focused on working with our current vendor partners to develop programs and secure special deals to help dealers drive more traffic and increase their bottom-lines.

Another area of focus is around helping our customers enter new market segments and more effectively add-on to existing sales with access to the right products and education. Education can take the form of electronic communications, sales representative assistance, and industry trade shows or SED Road Shows. An additional area we put a good deal of importance on is related to financing. Our credit managers are tasked with working closely with our customers to find the best solutions to meet their individual financing needs.

Pete Richichi, Chief Operating Officer, WYNIT

Recognizing the difficulties retailers face in a down economy, WYNIT has found success by proactively seeking out special deals from their suppliers and directing them to those resellers best positioned to move specific types of products.

Our greatest assets are the relationships we foster with our customers and suppliers. In a booming marketplace, suppliers are challenged to meet consumer demands, and everyone in the channel is fighting for a share of available product. When sales begin to slow, opportunities arise for resellers well positioned to move significant amounts of product.

We have yet to see a new ‘Must-Have’ product or category emerge this year. So, to gain share, we needed to seek out specific products that, under the right conditions, we felt confident that specific customers could turn quickly.

Our sales force is second to none when it comes to knowing their customers. And our product and category managers are specifically tuned-in to the needs of their suppliers. These attributes have proven to make WYNIT uniquely suited to putting the right product with the right reseller at the right price.