Editorial: Strength in numbers

Editorial: Strength in numbers

The formation of an organised body to look after the interests of this country's large whitebox industry has been mooted for many years now without ever looking in too much danger of getting off the ground.

As those who have looked at the possibility in the past have discovered, the task of converting a noble concept into a worthwhile reality is problematic. Cultural barriers, including language, would certainly be one headache. With such a large percentage of the whitebox community coming from a Chinese background, any literature put out by some this industry body would need to be bilingual if it was to make any claims of being truly representative.

But language problems pale into insignificance when compared to the levels of mistrust with which many whitebox builders and dealers view each other. Big business has long known the importance of collaborating with your peers - they have even invented a piece of jargon (co-opetition) to describe the process of co-operating with competitors.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of small business owners still find this concept a difficult pill to swallow. That is not a criticism. When you don't have a huge marketing budget or a finely tuned team of corporate strategists in your corner, it is natural to play your cards close to your chest. The last thing a small business owner wants to do after discovering some kind of professional advantage is to sing it from the rooftops for everybody else in the Yellow Pages to hear.

Despite these inherent difficulties, I still believe the concept of an Australian Whitebox Society (or something similar) is a valuable one for several reasons. First of all, there is strength in numbers - a thousand voices will always be heard louder than one. A reseller in Woop Woop that is experiencing a high failure rate on a particular component is easily ignored by a large distributor or multinational vendor. But if hundreds kicked up a fuss, you can bet your bottom dollar the problem will be addressed.

One of the most interesting points raised by C&T Systems' director, Craig Webster, was the need for a local whitebox organisation to attract support from a distributor (see ARN August 31 edition, page one). For any business, building a loyal customer base that buys your products or services regularly is vital to success. This basic tenet of good business practice is particularly true in high volume, low margin industries such as IT distribution. While a whitebox group would have to be up and running before it could sell itself as a valuable partner, I can only imagine it would be a very welcome additional to any distributor's customer list.

As I have said before, the whitebox community would theoretically dwarf the sales of HP or Dell by creating the largest PC 'brand' in the country if it came together as a single sales organisation. Despite its numerical advantage, the whitebox community will never truly flex its considerable muscles unless people are prepared to engage each other openly and honestly for the greater good.

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