ACA Pacific has been reinventing itself. In the last 12 months the distributor has been involved in a process that has seen it shed a number of non-core product lines, such as US Robotics and Diamond Multimedia, in favour of those that better suit its new focus.
That focus, according to managing director Bernard Towson, is to be the premier value-added distributor in both the imaging and storage marketplace.
"We're a different company today than we were 12 months ago - even six months ago - and getting that message across to our customers is a long process," said Towson. "People tend to typecast you, and it's hard to break out of that."
Towson best characterises the reinvented ACA Pacific by describing what it isn't. "We're not a commodity distributor - what we are is a value-added distributor. The products that we're concentrating on are solutions products, rather than commodity products."
This is a far cry from ACA Pacific's beginnings back in mid-1988, when it was the sole distributor for Conner hard drives. Conner was subsequently taken over by Seagate, resulting in ACA Pacific distributing that company's range of storage solutions.
Not surprisingly then, the company has chosen storage as one of the two areas in which it will focus. "We do have a lot of expertise in storage," said Towson, "and so what we've decided to do is to concentrate on storage devices and storage management software."
But under the new model Seagate's low-end products are not a priority item. Where Towson prefers to concentrate is in the high-capacity SCSI and RAID marketplaces.
To this end, the distributor has signed an agreement to carry products RAID and DLT from Digital Storage Works. "This rounds out to a very large degree our storage offerings," said Towson. "We think that RAID is going to take off. Even though it's been around for a long time, and people are sick and tired of hearing about it and having it explained to them, the fact of the matter is it's necessary."
While storage generates the majority of revenue for ACA Pacific, a large amount of its energies are expended in the imaging market. The company has long-standing agreements with scanner makers Fujitsu and Bell & Howell, and has recently signed on to distribute products from Kodak.
Towson says he is seeing a steady increase in the number of resellers interested in imaging solutions, especially PC resellers looking to extend their businesses. He says imaging is a logical progression for these resellers, as it represents a solution that most clients actually need.
"Small to medium businesses are now joining the large corporations and government departments in recognising the advantages of digital image processing and imaging solutions - and are embracing it," Towson said. "It's cost effective, and most importantly, if they don't do it, and their competitors do, they're going to have an edge in terms of providing services and information."
Towson says if resellers aren't proposing imaging solutions to their clients then their own competitors will. "Most of the products that we offer both in storage and imaging are products which help resellers to keep a major influence and connection with their customer base," he said.
What he sees as holding back a more widespread acceptance of imaging is knowledge, and it's here Towson says ACA Pacific can help resellers - in assisting them to close sales, and install and implement systems. "To what degree they make use of us is their call, but what we find in practice is that the best way to do it is by working together," he said.
Towson says although ACA Pacific salespeople are active in end-user accounts, they do not invoice end users. Towson says that role is always carried out by a reseller. "We have a lot of sales resources, but we don't have the sales resources of 4000 dealers," Towson said.
"We're a distributor, we need access to their (resellers') sales forces, and they're out there proselytising and selling the products to the widest possible audience. So there is a reason for their existence, and there's a reason for our existence."
Much of the value ACA Pacific can provide to resellers is in assembling solutions that are ready to take to market. It recently launched a scanner bundle for small offices with Canon and Alchemy software, with a sale price of around $16,000. "It's just started, and we think it's going to be a winner, because we're also offering a rental rate. It's a very simple solution, and it does most of your routine filing cabinet type operations."
A benefit for ACA Pacific is that imaging is a generator of massive storage requirements, leading to some crossover of business with its storage division. "We believe, given time, there will be lots of reciprocal opportunities between the two divisions," said Towson. "But what we're wanting to do is to focus on what it is specifically that we're doing in each division, before we bother to try to get the benefit of their synergies."
Indeed, maintaining that focus appears to be high on Towson's agenda, and is the reason why ACA Pacific is not looking to expand its product offerings in the immediate future. "Inasmuch as we've got the customers used to the idea of the new ACA Pacific, and we're concentrating on these current products, focus is terribly important. And I don't want to lose that focus. Even though other new products might be very good, it's a question of doing justice to ourselves and the products that we have."
As for dropping a number of products from the portfolio, including Diamond Multimedia, US Robotics and Plasmon, Towson says these decisions were taken for the greater good of the business. A case in point is USR, which ACA Pacific originally signed up with to distribute its high-end solution-based products. "We figured that selling USR modems wouldn't hurt us in the short term," said Towson. "But the fact is that it did, because they weren't easily saleable. The market in Australia was owned by Netcomm and Banksia. And USR has got a very large job to make USR in Australia similar to USR in the northern hemisphere, and no distributor could afford to do it."
For that reason its relationship with second-tier networking vendor Network Peripherals is also under re-evaluation, although no decision has been taken on its future.