Newly formed reseller group Office National officially kicked into existence this week, but while almost all of the members are identified by some sort of retail shop-front, it may represent a new channel category of business-to-business retail.
The new entity is the result of three disparate groups of resellers - from the business equipment, office products and IT environments - coming together to form a group of around 125 businesses with a combined turnover of half a billion dollars.
And according to Office National's CEO, Graham Harman, while the traditional retail sales represent a small and diminishing part of the group's business, its retail component is a major part of its branding and strategy.
He said that the group is in the process of arranging new signage and stationery to identify its new corporate identity, but it had already bedded down its current supplier arrangements.
Harman, who founded the Advanced Products Technology organisation which comprised 30 retail-based IT stores, claimed that no other group can emulate what Office National has done. `In the home electronics category, there's Retravision then daylight, and we believe the same will be said of us in the business-to-business IT and office equipment sphere.'
The convergence of IT, business equipment and even office products reseller channels has been an ongoing phenomenon as suppliers such as Canon, Sharp, Brother and other major vendors have crossed back and forward with digital-based technology, Harman explained. `When the boards of the three groups first met to discuss the possibility of a merged operation, it was an easy and unanimous decision to proceed, and six weeks later after the investigation was reported, the boards were again unanimous,' he said.
A meeting of each group's members in June saw the plan to merge confirmed and a national reseller group with 125 points of presence around Australia established, with each member agreeing to a licence agreement. `But Office National is owned by the licensees, all of whom are committed to a franchise-like code of conduct and ethics. You've got to look, smell and sound like an Office National reseller,' Harman said.
And he fired some warning shots about some recent reseller operations, both online based and the superstore model.
He said that the so-called virtual stores will do OK initially, but will ultimately need the service infrastructure that a group like theirs delivers locally.
`I would be concerned about being a computer superstore with blurred supply lines of IT, office equipment and stationery forcing it to a pure retail shelf-type operation.
He added that the members might look like retailers, but they are happy to leave the mums and dads business to retailers like Harvey Norman.
`Business-to-business retail sales require a showroom, but in most cases, it is part of the service delivery [as opposed to a place to ring up sales], and most business customers are prepared to pay a fair price for service.'
Authorised by several vendors as repair centres, Office National has technical people at all of its locations in capital cities and regional centres. Major vendor partners include Acer, Brother, Epson, Sharp and Mita.