There is no question that vendors are placing greater and greater emphasis on accreditation programs and training courses. But for one value-added distributor, the value of real life experience should never be underestimated.
George Nikolaidis, managing director of Melbourne-based company GPM Systems, says most of his clients are interested in a company's track record, rather than plaques hanging on a wall. He points to one example as being the Novell certification program. "We supply a lot of tech-nical support to CNEs, because we have more knowledge than they have, due to our hands-on experience," said Nikolaidis.
"The problem in this industry is it's changing too quickly, and some of the forms of training are fairly expensive. If it's going to cost you $5000 or $10,000 to get your engineering staff up to speed in terms of accreditation, are you really going to get a return on that investment?
"To this day I think we've been asked twice if we have qualified staff. We find in the small business area that the customer is not really concerned whether you're a CNE or not. It's your track record in terms of what you've done in the marketplace."
GPM Systems began life back in 1991, when its three founders were distributing Mannesmann Tally printers in Australia. But following a restructure of Tally's operations that saw it merged with Siemens, distribution rights were lost.
"So the three of us obviously were out of a job," said Nikolaidis. "But we saw an opportunity with our experience with Tally to continue to distribute the product." The group pursued this option, becoming the Victorian distributor working through Siemens. Eighteen months ago GPM was approached by Tally and again offered Australian distribution rights.
But like most IT companies, GPM knew it had to grow to survive. "We couldn't make a good living out of just selling Tally, so we decided to diversify our business and get involved in PCs and PC assembly. We also got involved a bit more in networking."
Today GPM's partners are a range of smaller dealers and consultants, with clients ranging from gymnasiums to debt collectors. Nikolaidis says the GPM focus is to concentrate on the small to medium business area, but it is also capable of helping out on larger deals when the need arises. "Our philosophy is anything that's difficult, we like to tackle," said Nikolaidis. "Because difficult means there's an opportunity to make a slightly better margin."
Networking has been identified as a key growth area for the company, resulting in the creation of the GPM Advanced Networking division to specialise in this area. "Basically it's recognising the hardware requirements for the future extension of networking, whether that's networking and communications to the Internet, or WANs and so on," said Nikolaidis.
Since then GPM has picked up rights for TRENDware, EtherCom, Emulex, and is currently talking to Motorola ISG. Nikolaidis says the company even has its own cabling business. "So we pretty much offer the total solution."
Picking the correct products is essential to the company's growth, says Nikolaidis. "Because we've been pushing ourselves as a value added distributor in terms of a total solution, what we try and do is pick strategic products that fit the different requirements, whether it's printers, UPSs, tape backups and so on."
But Nikolaidis says it goes beyond just good products. "Service is number one, even more so than the warranty. We offer two years return to base warranty, we have options for on-site warranties, and we have affiliations with technical people in other cities, so we are able to offer a national support operation."
When dealing with these customers Nikolaidis says the personal touch is also important. "There will always be a need for specialist integrators, where the person is at hand who can help them. They don't necessarily want to deal with a voice on the phone 3000 or 4000 miles away."
Nikolaidis feels this approach must be working, as roughly 80 or 90 per cent of GPM's business comes from second or third generation customers. "They would have bought PCs in the past, and now are either upgrading or buying new machines. And they have had some bad experience with previous suppliers, whether it's lack of support or the quality of the machine."