Paul Kern says the secret of his company's success is selling a specific range of products with a superior level of service and support.
"We're not just another box-dropping operation," Kern said. "We like to work closely with the reseller, keep in touch and offer services to assist the reseller in winning business."
The value-added distribution model has worked well for NetSupply in its first nine months of business. The company boasts successful implementation of products and a good loyal customer base, according to Kern. He says customers go to NetSupply because of the service and support, not because it's the cheapest.
Sceptics might scoff at the idea of a Perth-based distributor servicing the whole of Australia, but Kern argues his company's WA location offers advantages for East and West Coast resellers alike.
"The only barrier is psychological," Kern said. "The vast majority of our business is via phone or e-mail anyway. The location doesn't matter as long as we are contactable."
Kern maintains the time difference actually works in favour of NetSupply's East Coast resellers, by effectively extending their business hours.
"The advantage is that they can be in meetings all day and it's not until 5pm that they finally sit down to do some work," Kern explained.
"Since it's only 3pm in Perth it gives them another couple of hours. If someone rings from Melbourne at 6pm on Friday we can still send something to arrive on Monday morning, which a Melbourne-based distributor couldn't do."
For West Coast resellers the advantage is the rare opportunity to deal with a local distributor in the same time zone.
According to Kern, the company adds value for resellers by offering a high level of support and service, and has an unusually high proportion of technical to sales staff. "There is a propensity for distributors just to move market products, which is good if you know exactly what you want," Kern said. "But if you need someone to sit down with you and help you work out configurations and what you want, that sort of distribution model doesn't work. That's where we come in.
"We have started and remained a value-added distributor, not a mass market distributor," Kern added. "We have been offered a lot of products but we have deliberately steered away from losing our core focus. If we were selling 1000 modems a month, it would take away from the service and support we provide with our current products."
NetSupply measures its performance not only in terms of sales but also customer satisfaction, and the team is willing to make an extra effort to win business. Kern says they have had many situations where clients have turned to NetSupply for help, after purchasing goods from another supplier.
"In one instance a customer purchased two firewall products from a former competitor," Kern said. "When the goods arrived the [quite expensive] cards were the wrong type. After many unsuccessful attempts to remedy the situation with the other supplier, they turned to us for help. We replaced their cards at no cost, and freight free, so they could get their firewall up and running quickly, even though the replacement cards were more expensive. Needless to say, that customer is now a NetSupply 'Satisfied Customer' and is dealing with us on a very regular basis."
NetSupply started when owner Rod Bass (also managing director of BASScom, the WA distributor and VAR for the Attachmate range) was approached by Madge Networks to help target resellers on the West Coast. Perle Specialix came on board at the same time, and Nokia and Websense soon after.
NetSupply fills a niche as a value-added distributor with a specific range of goods, including Nokia firewall products, Perle remote access services, Specialix small port and terminal server connectivity, and Websense Internet security solutions.
Kern says he is not interested in being the "biggest" distributor, rather resellers' "preferred" distribution partner.
His goal is to expand the reach of NetSupply to the wider Australian marketplace.
"We feel there are a large number of resellers who do not have the expertise or confidence to sell firewalls and high-end remote access devices, and would benefit from the value-added distribution model we offer," Kern said. "It is my job to reach as many of these resellers as possible."
The end users of NetSupply products mainly come from the SME, corporate and government sectors, but Kern says some of the small Specialix products sell into the retail and SOHO markets as well.
The distribution channel may be changing rapidly, but Kern believes his company is well placed to detect and adapt to change.
"Changes in the distribution channel, indeed any facet of the computer industry, must be embraced," Kern said. "NetSupply is a small company, and our hands-on approach with our customers means we notice change very quickly and are flexible enough to adapt our business and channel models quickly."
Kern says the e-commerce market is set to "explode" in the next few years and NetSupply is poised to help its resellers take advantage of this.
"All serious e-commerce sites need protection from the Internet nasties, and need to have 24 x 7 uptime," Kern said. "The Nokia range of firewalls have both high availability and redundancy options that make them unique for the demands of the e-commerce market, and we can provide our resellers services to help implement this equipment."
Yet Kern contends the growing popularity of e-commerce has not significantly changed NetSupply's own business model, because of the particular type of goods the company sells. Product availability and prices are posted on the Internet, but resellers are often less familiar with the NetSupply range and still need to ring to ask questions and find out the specific configurations for their needs.
Kern is pleased with the progress NetSupply has made so far and is confident the future will bring even more triumphs.
"We started with no customers and a limited product range," Kern said. "In nine short months we have more than tripled our range, experienced month-on-month growth beyond forecast, and made good inroads into the East Coast markets. The next nine months will see us open a Melbourne office, in addition to our Sydney and Perth offices, and a few more products will be included in our range."
He attributes NetSupply's achievements to "the combination of a can-do attitude and technology to overcome the distance and time differences to other states that some thought would be our downfall".fast factsNetSupplyHead office: South PerthStaff: two sales, two technicalHours: 8.30am to 5pm (Perth time), but calls usually taken from 7.30amProducts:
Nokia's Hardware Firewall/VPN products, which integrate the full suite of Check Point's world leading "Firewall-1" softwarePerle's Dial Access Switches and Remote Access Servers for analog and ISDN dial-in and dial-out connectivitySpecialix's Serial Port and Terminal Server connectivity for Unix and Windows environmentsWebsense's award-winning URL screening (Web site filtering) technology for servers and firewallsMadge's range of token ring networking products (WA, SA, NT only)(08) 9368 firstname.lastname@example.org://www.netsupply.com.au