A retailer at heart

A retailer at heart

In an environment of merger, company restructure or just strategic change, it's easy to lose your head. A founding staff member at Packard Bell Australia has managed to survive the NEC merger and emerged pretty well from its latest restructure. Farley Bartholomeusz, general manager NEC Computers Australia, likes to refer to himself as the "sales guy from Packard Bell".

He recently spoke to ARN's retail editor, Tom AllenSince the recent merger between NEC and Packard Bell, Farley Bartholomeusz has headed up the consumer division of the newly formed NEC Computers Australia. He has also been appointed vice president sales and marketing consumer division for NEC Computers International, Asia-Pacific region. "It includes the Middle East, Asia excluding China and Japan, and the Pacific region," Bartholomeusz explained.

No one would ever accuse this Sri Lankan expat of being shy, but despite his lofty responsibilities, he speaks humbly about the things that have made a difference to the retailers he's worked with over the years.

Arriving in Australia in 1985, he first worked at Tandy, which seems to have left a lasting impression and possibly sparked his passion for the retail segment. In August, 1985, he joined then fledgling distributor Tech Pacific, which was in the process of moving its headquarters from Melbourne to Sydney.

"In those early days of specialist IT distribution, Tech Pacific was establishing a mix of software lines as well as Intel CPUs and motherboards . . . It was a pretty exciting time. In that year, it [the company] grew from a turnover of $300,000 to $13 million," Bartholomeusz said.

"Any products that then PC giant Imagineering couldn't carry because of conflict were taken up by Tech Pacific and kept in the family, so to speak."

Bartholomeusz then established what he describes as a niche distributor, Roman Technology, and in a short time was turning over about $2 million supplying product, including Intel boards, cards and processors, mostly to regional resellers.

By 1990, and firmly in the grip of retail technology, Bartholomeusz was "lured to Ozisoft as general manager". The distributor for Sega was about to take on a market of which, at the time, Nintendo controlled about 90 per cent.

"When I was brought in, I was told in three years we had to have 60 per cent of the games consoles market," he said. But as well as consoles, Sega was producing PC games software which was a new distribution opportunity in the PC market, especially mass-retail.

"Because it was entertainment," Bartholomeusz explained, "we tried to draw some similarities with the music industry in the way we approached the market. The serious gamer market was in its infancy."

However, the Ozisoft experience appeared to cement Bartholomeusz' mass-retail direction. In 1993, the founder of Ozisoft formed a joint venture with Packard Bell US, and invited (a rather burnt-out) Bartholomeusz to help start up Packard Bell in Australia.

Since that launch, the PB market model has been strictly retail. Initially starting with just Kmart, after two years the company had attracted Harvey Norman, Vox group, Brash's, and Myer-Grace Bros.

In addition to Harvey Norman, the retail mix currently includes Retravision in NSW and Victoria, Harris Scarfe group in South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania, as well as selected Myer-Grace Bros stores.

Selling computers through major retailers was a new concept, and Bartholomeusz claims PB was something of a pioneer in retail marketing of PCs. "We positioned the PC as a family product, and who came into Kmart but family shoppers?" According to Bartholomeusz, the retail market was of no real interest to other major PC vendors such as IBM, Compaq and HP at that point.

Over the next couple of years, these companies became interested but, at a time when box movers were establishing themselves, he estimated that the split between the "branded" and "clone" market was 70/30 in favour of clones. His challenge was to entice consumers to have a look at the PB system.

"We made a few fundamental changes in the cosmetics of the machine . . . We configured a system that suited the first time user . . . that our competitors did not understand and some still don't understand," he explained.

If he was not animated enough already, when he speaks about retail, Bartholomeusz lights up. "To understand retail, you have to be a retailer. I'm a retailer at heart. It's all to do with relationships. Everyone talks about quality and service but you have to understand retailers' needs and consumers' needs and configure the product around those needs."

Bartholomeusz attends every meeting with the retailers each month, and says he has since day one. "I call two stores a day . . . from Cairns to Perth to ask how they're going [and] they give me tremendous feedback. I have an assistant but I take all my own calls, whether they are from the guy on the delivery dock or the shop floor, or from the proprietor to the managing director. I take pride in this," he extolled. According to Bartholomeusz, this is what retail is all about. "The guy on the dock is as important as the person running the store."

With Bartholomeusz you get the impression that he is omnipresent. "Which other general manager or vice president goes out to the stores, goes to steering committee meetings?" he asked. "I've learned a lot from doing these things."

And it seems that NEC CI agree, as Bartholomeusz tries to replicate the Australian mass retail model in selected other countries.

"Some of the competition don't understand retail, will never understand retail . . . When you work with a corporate focus, the only avenue you have is product and price . . . But there's much more to it than that."

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