NEW ANALYSIS: Going bust

NEW ANALYSIS: Going bust

"I don't even want to know your secrets."

He certainly didn't know it at the time, but they were prophetic words from Craig Rispin. Rarely have the hidden agendas and infighting of a merger been made as high profile as the debacle that was Buzzle.

When the founding members of the Apple reseller conglomerate signed release forms to film a documentary about the road to an ASX listing, they didn't dream it would end in such dramatic fashion. But Going Public, the four-part ABC documentary detailing the rise and fall of the group, has proven essential viewing for the channel.

"We signed over the rights to the documentary from the start," said Next Byte director Crawford Giles. "I am not sure too many of us believed it was ever going to come to fruition."

Nigel Trail, producer, writer, director and friend of Buzzle instigator Rispin, captured more than just the ins and outs of a business venture. For those not involved, the documentary has become a must-see.

"It is very interesting to see how it all happened and I think some of their true colours are shining through," said Sasha McQuaid, director of North Sydney Apple centre Total Recall Solutions.

"As a business, when Buzzle first came about we were concerned. Then, as things progressed, we became concerned for a heap of different reasons because we were putting out the fires from unhappy customers."

McQuaid has been receiving e-mail from customers who have watched the documentary, admiring her business acumen in light of the poor example set by many Apple resellers.

"The fact that some of those people have still got their business is a bit of a joke."

The confessions of some of the players are chilling. Take Scott Thompson, whose business Mac's Place was $3 million in debt when the group came together. "I hope this doesn't fall apart," he tells the camera, "because my agenda is to sell my business."

For Next Byte's Giles, it is the first time he has seen the edited documentary. He and co-director Adam Steinhardt aborted their involvement with the group to go it alone. The timing coincided with the revelation of Thompson's debt, but Giles maintains this was not the reason the two bailed from the merger.

"The timing was the same, but I don't think it played a huge role in our decision. We had formed a view prior to the meeting that regardless of what happened we would leave them to it anyway," he told ARN. "The debt wasn't particularly important - it was more a question of how did it get there in the first place? Our belief was that if the business was doing good sales, which it was, it could be made profitable.

"There were a lot of challenges and it was always going to be a big ask," he said. "We were keen to see what happened after we left."

For those who were caught up in Buzzle, the documentary highlights the continuing problems with Apple resellers.

"I am disgusted with the back-stabbing - that partners were not ever partners and that hidden agendas became the primary focus," said Ben Morgan, a former StatusGraph employee and now Apple Centre Taylor Square operations director. Morgan runs Taylor Square with Shannon Daniel and former StatusGraph managing director Lindsay McComb.

"It is not of benefit to the channel or the customer. It was put together as a get-rich scheme; an attempt to cash in on the dotcom boom. That disaster will hang with the channel for a long time to come."

With phrases such as "a pie-in-the-sky meaningless e-commerce business" peppering the initial episode of Going Public, it is difficult to begrudge the ill-feeling.

"It is a shame to see that the honest people in Buzzle seemed to have suffered the most," said Daniel.

The thousands of dollars in consultancy fees to come up with a business name, an accounting system that never worked and receivers changing the locks on staff has proven riveting viewing. But the effects on the health of the channel remain to be seen.

"In consumers' minds we are an Apple chain and the biggest disappointment is that we are compared to our competitors," Morgan said. "I don't like the current situation in the channel. Now is the critical time when resellers should be uniting with the national brand of Apple as a true channel."

Next Byte's Giles takes a more moderate

position. "I probably sit on the fence. At the end of the day, what is important is the way we deliver customer service. Whether it [Buzzle] changes the perception of Apple resellers is irrelevant to a large degree."

Apple itself would not comment on the documentary since it wasn't involved in its production.

"But rest assured, we will be looking at it," said corporate affairs manager Myrna Van Pelt.

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