Editorial: Strength in numbers

Welcome back.

So I bet you are all ecstatic to be back in the office, chomping at the bit to get on the phone and start making some sales! Well, maybe you aren’t but I don’t think you have much choice if you want to survive 2003.

There is no doubt it is going to be a tough year again. With margins tight and sales flat, let’s just hope there are no unexpected hiccups. There are many factors that come into play during the course of a year can make or break a business – an irrational Government decision, a change in the price of insurance, even a batch of faulty motherboards. Based on your feedback in 2002, these unexpected and irregular events are the ones that rile you most.

I imagine that, at times, you as a reseller would feel powerless against these unfortunate ‘hiccups’ when they are caused by a large vendor. Sometimes, when you put that call in for support or to voice your opinion, you are made to feel like a statistic rather than an important customer or partner. Not a day passes that a reseller does not contact ARN with a gripe about a vendor that has either dropped its warranties, introduced new fees, denied supplying products with extraordinary failure rates, or raised its subscription prices. Decisions are made too often without any thought for the people on the ground that are selling the product and providing services around it.

At ARN we are able to raise this issue to the wider IT community, to begin debate and to encourage discussion within the channel. Occasionally, this process is powerful enough to force change in the industry. Remember those ‘small order fees’ that a certain large distributor once introduced? At the time it seemed no amount of protest could change the policy – resellers would have to grin and bear it. But the shear volume of protesting resellers — and their persistence — played a huge role in compelling the distributor to scrap the fees. It was a triumph for all involved, including the distributor, who has been experiencing healthy growth ever since.

The channel, as I see it, is powerless if it is made up of individuals that do not communicate and cannot be represented as a group. But it is the opposite when it acts as a collective.

In this issue of ARN there is an interview with Keith Warburton, a chap from England who has been a tireless advocate for the local channel community in the UK. A decade ago he set up an organisation that is a loose mix of professional association and lobby group, acting on behalf of the channel community. Like ARN, the association lobbies to ensure that the issues facing resellers, integrators and distributors are recognised. The association also lobbies vendors and even Government departments into change, and has now got to the point where vendors tend to consult the organisation before decisions are made, to ensure the wider industry will be appeased.

How does this work? As a group you wield the power. For instance, just imagine you are a vendor who, hypothetically, manufactures hard drives. Let’s say that you release millions of defective hard drives into the market, drives that ruin the reputation of thousands of resellers around the world. It's highly likely that some of those resellers would would band together and eventually take out a class action suit against you. As more and more resellers got on board, you would eventually be forced to consider some form of amendment to the problem. Wouldn’t you? I would hope so.

The moral of the story is that, collectively, resellers do have power. If the world’s largest vendor or Australia’s largest IT distributor can change its policies to maintain good relations with its channel sales partners, then anything is possible. But it is only possible if issues are approached on a collective basis.