The almost exponential growth in the use of the Internet is driving vendors to create new products which satisfy the demands of the users. With the emergence of these products and technologies, savvy resellers are making the best of the new opportunities which accompany them.
The modem is considered a basic sale when it comes to selling the Internet. Yet for one Australian reseller operation, the modem has proved that, once again, specialising brings its own rewards. When The Modem Superstore opened its first store in Sydney four years ago, the founders were counting on the uptake of on-line services, the Internet, and telecommuting.
According to the company's co-founder and marketing manager, Mark Kofahl, The Modem Superstore was the first store in Australia to specialise in modems. "Four years ago though, it was rare that anyone purchasing a modem would have the Internet in mind," he told Australian Reseller News. "In those days the primary purpose was for on-line data services such as ViaTel, bulletin boards, and sometimes faxing."
During the short period since co-founding the company though, Kofahl has seen a total about-face in the industry. "Now," he said, "it's rare for someone who's purchasing a modem not to want it for Internet use."
The Modem Superstore's success is reflected by its burgeoning sales and rapid expansion. Barely two years after the original Sydney store was opened, a Melbourne office was started, followed in late 1995 by one in Brisbane. "We're finding that there's a real need to take the 'black magic' out of modems," said Kofahl. "Apart from the Internet, we're seeing telecommuting as being an increasingly feasible option now that we have wider network connectivity and faster modems."
Apart from modems, The Modem Shop has also seen an opportunity for Internet-based videoconferencing. "We've recently taken the Connectix QuickCam on board," said Kofahl. A low-cost CCD (Charge-Coupled Device) camera, QuickCam has been available for the Macintosh for some time, and has recently been released for Windows platforms.
Using the CU-SeeMe software from Cornell University, Kofahl sees QuickCam as a chance for users to establish low-cost videoconferencing. When ARN asked Kofahl whether products such as QuickCam represented immediate high volume sales, he said that, in the short term, they would not be as pervasive as the modem. "There are still too many people coming to grips with modems and the Internet itself," he said.
Although Kofahl sees no immediate huge sales potential in the cameras, he said that during the recent PC96 they generated enormous interest. "We worked with an ISP at the show to set up some cameras so people could walk to both stands and see it in operation," he said. "Actually, we almost sold out of the cameras during the course of the show."
Hearing is believing
Along with the gradual growth in motion video over the Internet, real audio is another area which is presenting itself as an opportunity for resellers. "One of the products we have is WebTalk," said Kofahl. "By using this product along with a sound card, a user can get on to the Internet and talk to someone else with a similar setup. Essentially, you can have an international telephone call for as little as four dollars an hour."
According to Michael Christie, Firmware Design's national and sales marketing manager, it's often quite hard for resellers to make money out of "selling the Internet". He attributes much of this difficulty to the fact that so many of the software products are available to end-users at minimal or no cost. "Users are able to download Netscape for free, and similarly Java," he said. "So to some degree, the reseller is locked out."
Dicker Data's Fiona Dicker agrees with Christie. "While some companies seem to be doing quite well out of the Internet, the number of opportunities seem to be somewhat limited," she said. She cited an example in which her company recently conducted an Internet workshop. "We had about 53 people attending the workshop, but they didn't buy a thing."
In the area of Web publishing tools, there does appear to be a fair amount of interest, and Firmware Design's Christie believes it is a product area which will continue to provide revenue potential. "We've been distributing HTML tools for some time now, and a lot of people are really interested in designing their own pages," he said. "I see these tools as having great potential both to users and resellers."
Kofahl echoed these sentiments. "A lot of users we come into contact with are really enthusiastic about having their own home page."
While Web design and authoring tools obviously represent sales opportunities, Christie told ARN that many resellers fail to realise them. "There are resellers out there who see an opportunity and go for it," he said. "It's been my experience though that these reseller operations are either very small or largish. The resellers in the middle tend to sit back with the opinion that there's not really all that much going on with the Internet. Thankfully though," he added, "the first two to three months of the year have seen this change."
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