Victoria-based IT reseller, MBM Office Systems & Supplies, is very much a family business. Father of current managing director, Wayne Sparks, founded the company and his mother, who has been involved with the business for 15 years, looks after accounts management.
MBM’s origins date back to 1961 in the office supplies business. It was selling stationery, adding machines and typewriters to a range of organisations such as TABs. When personal computers exploded onto the scene in the late 1970s to early 1980s, MBM decided to become an IT reseller. Sparks' father was not an avid computer fan and retained the stationery component of the business while cultivating the IT division.
Today, MBM deals in IT hardware ranging from computer systems to gaming accessories. It also has a retail showroom, a repairs centre and conducts system integration work. The reseller’s client base is predominantly the lucrative small to medium business market, but it also has a hand in larger corporates, education and government.
“With the introduction of computers to the market, we were supplying the first Apple and Olivetti computers,” Sparks said.
Sparks has been with MBM for over 13 years, first as a technician before gradually moving into a sales role. He was handling some major accounts when his father retired and passed the role of managing director to him.
While committed to the company, Sparks never thought he would take on IT reselling as a full-time career. He had always been involved with the family business to some degree but planned to be a personal trainer.
“I had a totally different vision in terms of what I wanted to do as a career path,” he said. “I was doing a course on recreation at (xxxx) because I wanted to get into the human movement and recreation field. “But I ended up in the computer industry.”
Sacrificing a career in personal training may have been a tough decision, but Sparks has no regrets. He hasn’t ruled out pursuing that course through correspondence learning some time down the track.
“The IT industry is so fast paced and always changing so I’m always learning,” he said. “In a way, I was lucky to have something to keep me grounded. “The human movement side of thing; I didn’t really get a chance to invest enough time to know if I was really going to enjoy it so I don’t have any regrets.”
Sparks lamented margins in the IT sector were slim and pointed to MBM’s recycling program – reselling used computers – as well as its stationery segments as the most profitable parts of the business. There has also been strong demand for Intel components, networking equipment, entertainment-style machines and VoIP in the business sector.
With SMB customers a big part of MBM’s client base, Sparks claimed there wasn’t enough focus from vendors on this market segment.
“In a lot of cases, there is a lack of support through the vendors because of the way – I feel – a lot of programs aren’t structured to benefit the SMB market,” he said.
This includes getting demonstration products to customers, which usually requires large investment from resellers with already tight margins, according to Sparks.
“I don’t think the likes of Harvey Norman or Officeworks have the same problem; they usually get backed by vendors and are supplied adequately with demonstration product, support and that kind of thing,” he said.
But bigger vendors are starting to cotton on to servicing the SMB space as the corporate market is already saturated, Sparks said.
“Vendors are starting to see the dollars are in the SMB market and are looking at ways to support the channel more than they have in the past,” he said. “Now is probably the first time since I’ve been in the business that I have seen willingness to give us a bit more support.
“But at the same time, some vendors don’t know how to address the challenges in SMBs because it is always changing and a difficult area to play in.”