Sitting face-to-face with regional resellers in Queensland lets you catch a glimpse of the ‘smaller town’ mentality, where customer loyalty and old-fashioned service are paramount.
In conjunction with Fujitsu, ARN travelled up to Cairns and joined the last leg of the Fujitsu-inspired reseller road trip, which started in Brisbane and travelled 2300 kilometres to the Far North of Queensland, meeting and greeting regional resellers, hearing their daily struggles, challenges and what’s important in the day in the life of a regional reseller.
MMT solutions sales specialist, Adam MacLennan, the man who drove the micro-bus (and endured a bus breakdown in the middle of the trip), met with a handful of resellers up along the coast, hearing a range of issues, wants and needs, and heated discussion about the promise of the NBN, and even the lack of interest in Cloud computing.
ARN in concert with Fujitsu channel development manager, Daniel Campbell, got involved at the last stop of the tour, in tropical Cairns, chatting with a handful of regional resellers, hearing about how tropical weather, the constant threat and fallout from natural disasters, the undesirable “hillbilly IT” attitudes that often runs rampant in ‘smaller towns’ and other challenges and market hindrances affecting regional resellers.
Here is a snapshot – and some of the issues - in the day in the life of a regional reseller.
REEF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
Established in 2003, Reef Information Technology was hatched in response to the growing demand for quality IT infrastructure and network management in the Far North Queensland region.
Managing director, Aaron Jervis, who said he doesn’t worry about freight issues anymore, said his biggest headache is dealing with the “hillbilly IT” attitudes that can run wild in places like Cairns, where there can be a lack of professionalism and a host of people masquerading as experienced IT players.
“There are too many hillbillies up here. Bill and Ben and the flowerpot IT man. They claim: ‘I got a business with the word IT in it - and therefore I am a professional.’”
“I know it is good to have competitors that are incompetent because it makes it easy for you, but it is aggravating. It is disappointing for the bad name that you get here for IT. There are, in my opinion, a large percentage of people who aren’t honest – or not really interested in the client. They want the money and then want to disappear.”
Jervis said he has had to go into countless customer sites and clean up the mess. “We just took over a local council and the IT guy there was dodgy. He had been dealing with another firm in town and it is just a shoddy implementation. It is 80-90 users and we go in there and see there is lots of equipment that is not appropriate,” he said.
“It took us four weeks to go through all of the problems and all the issues – and they probably have $200,000 worth of purchases that they need to do to get it up to spec, even though they spent all kinds of money last year – so about 90 per cent of all our jobs are all about cleaning up the mess.”
Indeed, there is a lack of skilled professionals on the services front, he added. “There is an idea that if you’re in a regional area you don’t need much to start a business like IT. I’m sure that’s a problem everywhere, but we just seem to have more of it here. I don’t consider we have a lot of competition in town. I keep coming up against people who are not virtualising.”
The shoddy workmanship and subsequent fee structure permeates a “false economy with the client,” Jervis said. The ‘charge-anything’ approach does a disservice for the rest of the legitimate players, who may charge more for quality service.
Another top challenge Jervis said is the lack of training and education and the costs associated with travel – there are also no training centres in Cairns: some have opened but have promptly folded due to lack of demand.
“We have to deal with the educational stuff and all the new product launches and having to travel to the Brisbane Convention Centre, for example, to see the new product.
“Travelling 2000 kilometres is a complete waste of money. Ingram used to come up here – they used to have a road show, which was great.”
And while there are the drawbacks to being a regional reseller, there are some highlights to the job as well, Jervis said.
“Being a good regional reseller means there is no real lack of business. We don’t advertise; it is all referral base. People find us through other customers and we have built that up over 10 years. And when you are good, your name spreads.
“And you don’t have to do a lot of work to get work to be done – and your customers are loyal. You don’t have the attitude like in the big city where it is very commoditised, you always have to advertise. For us, we built our client base organically.”
Biz I.T. founder, Peter Crisci, said freight isn’t too much of an issue these days. “The challenge used to be freight, but it is pretty good now. All the distributors look after us – for example, if you spend $300 with Ingram, you get free freight (unless you get a rack or something). And most of the other distributors are doing the same thing,” Crisci said.
“Service is an issue. For example, I am having an issue with a vendor that has said, ‘end of next business day,’ but now we are a week out. So ‘end of next business day doesn’t always mean ‘end of next business day.’” Typically, the term ‘next business day’ means someone will talk to you in the next business day – and not that the part will be sent in that timeframe, he said.
He also agreed with Reef IT’s Jervis, who said shoddy workmanship and a skulduggery-type attitude of people pretending to be professionals in Cairns has duped many customers.
While it brings benefits to companies like Biz I.T. and Crsci that can bring a resolution to customers, and enables a happy ending (which will bring referrals), it is also frustrating in terms of having to continually repair IT reputations and to prove and maintain trust levels with customers.
“The clients get ripped off up here. And that’s one of our biggest peeves. if you spend money with Aaron or me, you get something that is working and you can see what you get. But up here you get shoddy guys who charge the earth. Customers are paying big money for dodgy systems and still nothing works.”
Meanwhile, he also praised the healthy competition with local players like Reef IT and other like-minded IT professionals, who sometimes pool resources and work in concert with each other on jobs. “Competitors are not always a threat and business relationships can work well in the IT industry.”
The ultimate road trip: one reseller at a time
MMT solutions sales specialist, Adam MacLennan, reflects on the whopper reseller road trip that saw him drive from Brisbane to Cairns, with places like Bundaberg, Gladstone, Rockhampton, Emerald, Bowen and Townsville, in between.
During his travels, he met with a range of players from Bundaberg Technology Solutions to Group IT, Wide Bay IT, Wade Hunt IT, Pro Computers, Kerr Solutions, IT Rock, Bowen Bytesize, XRX, Absolute Computing, Cairns Office Machines, TJ Microsystems, Biz I.T. and Reef IT.
MacLennan said many of the conversations with resellers included the topic of the NBN (and the ongoing confusion), the lack of interest in the Cloud, what customers need in rural and regional areas and the importance of local service and support.
“Regional resellers are in a fierce market with lots of competition. In regional places, everyone has a different skill set. The regional resellers range from the real corporate branded people to the ones who are the Jo-Blow IT, who think they can do IT. It was an interesting trip.”
The buzzwords of the big cities – and national tech trends - isn’t always top of mind for regional areas. “What Microsoft is saying that is happening in the global IT market doesn’t filter down to Gladstone, for example. That is not happening. Microsoft is saying, ‘Everyone should be in the Cloud.’ Microsoft is pitching to 1000+ users and not the smaller local customers in the smaller towns.
“Customers here want solutions that fit a budget, and resellers are not just selling them things because Microsoft says that is the way forward.”