Channel stoush brews across the Tasman

Channel stoush brews across the Tasman

Despite attempts by vendors in Australia to quell discontent amongst their New Zealand channel partners, many local resellers still believe they are being treated like a poor relation.

In a special investigation conducted by ARN, several computer resellers and distributors in New Zealand revealed they feel that until the local subsidiaries of big vendors are granted proper autonomy from management in Australia, Kiwi consumers will continue to be dominated by Australian interests.

Companies complain that New Zealand customers and channel partners receive inferior service while business decisions made in Australia have often led to supply shortfalls, and in isolated instances, loss of business.

Antony Brett, national sales manager with NEC distributor Insight Technology, believes that there is some sort of complacency towards New Zealand on the part of major vendors operating out of Australia.

"There's nothing inherently wrong with dealing out of Australia but many companies tend to ignore the cultural differences on either side of the Tasman.

"NEC Australia has complete control over which products enter the New Zealand market, while NEC NZ doesn't even get a shot at it", he added.

Brett referred to the NEC personal digital assistant (PDA), the Mobile Pro which was knocked back by NEC Australia as unsuitable for the Australian market. The decision was based on an assumption that if the Mobile Pro was inappropriate for Australia, it would probably not succeed in New Zealand either.

Brett claims this would not have been the case and that the Mobile Pro would in fact have been very successful in New Zealand. "The ideal scenario would be for vendors and channel partners to manage themselves from out of New Zealand."

Gary Brown, technical manager with Wellington-based networking and telecomms integrator The Business Centre, said many of the big computer companies actually have online services displaying the status of an order.

However, he claims that on several occasions when checking his company's order it had been "shunted down the priority list" under bigger orders, typically from Australia.

Ericsson often doesn't carry a lot of stock in New Zealand and this has had a huge impact on the Business Centre to the point where the company has had difficulty meeting installation deadlines, Brown said.

"Customers dilly-dally around but when they make up their minds, they want it installed yesterday," Brown said.

More seriously though, many New Zealand channel companies reported poor service by large computer companies compared to Australia.

Insight used to handle 1800 customer support for 3Com in New Zealand before this was folded into Australian operations. Whether or not this had led to a decline in service standards, Brett was not prepared to say.

One irate reseller, who asked not to be named, commented: "If you're Joe public and want support for the name-brand computer you've just bought, you might as well be farting against thunder."

Chris Bergin, national sales man-ager of New Zealand's Renaissance Software, said that the current imbalance between Australia and New Zealand has led to supply shortfalls.

In fact, the company has on more than one occasion been asked to ship goods back to Australia to patch supply shortfalls there, Bergin said.

"Of our common products we try to have about 30 days stock. We lose business if we can't supply the goods."

The products most likely to suffer shortages tend to be PCs, servers and printer lines, he said.

A spokesperson for Palmerston North-based reseller Advantage Computers said that often it's easier to get goods supplied straight from Singapore rather than out of Australia.

"Dealing with Sydney is like dealing with someone who sees freight as a second thought. This is a whole different market here."

Some channel companies even claim that the cost of shipping freight between Australia and New Zealand is comparable to shipping between NZ and the US.

The upside for the New Zealand market, according to a number of resellers, has been a healthy demand for locally manufactured computers, represented in the main by Insight Technologies and PC Direct, now a Gateway-owned company.

A number of larger vendors have also come under criticism in the past for supply problems.

"Compaq certainly had its share of supply issues in New Zealand but these have been rectified," said Insight's Brett.

IBM New Zealand admitted in a statement to ARN that there "have been and continue to be industry challenges associated with the channel".

Company communications manager for NZ, Jason Dykes, denied, however, that the NZ channel played second fiddle to Australia, emphasising that IBM had two separate channel management teams based in Auckland and Wellington.

IBM also claimed success in overcoming what it described as logistical issues surrounding the channel.

"IBM has achieved a good deal of success in streamlining our supply chain through e-procurement initiatives such as Partnerinfo, our online ordering and tracking system for business partners," Dykes said.

He cited several of the company's own surveys, which indicated an increase in customer satisfaction.

Barry Hastings, general manager of Hewlett-Packard New Zealand, openly admitted that there had been a degree of dissatisfaction amongst some Kiwi channel partners.

Hastings was the managing director of Toshiba in New Zealand two years ago and admitted there were occasional supply and maintenance problems due to the company being managed out of Australia.

Toshiba support for New Zealand is routed directly to Australia, however the time difference has led to some dissatisfaction amongst NZ customers and resellers needing urgent service. The company reportedly has a support team in Sydney dedicated to New Zealand customers.

"Often the operations in New Zealand have slightly longer chains of command to traverse before issues are resolved," he said.

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