Distributor Roundtable: Execs on Trends, Contending With COVID
Wholesale distribution executives discuss the latest product trends and technologies, opportunities, market challenges, and programs available to assist security dealers and systems integrators.
The smooth and steady flow of product is something that we have all taken for granted for years. When you need something, you buy it. But now, as we all try to acclimate to the new normal that the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown us into, it’s clear to see just how vital — and vulnerable — the supply chain can be.
The coronavirus crisis upended food supply chains, caused the closures of meat processing plants and left Americans with the unprecedented reality of bare shelves at grocery stores.
Some basic necessities have been hard to come by and while some of the toilet paper shortage jokes have been amusing, the disruption to everyday supply chains simply has been anything but.
While many enterprises have been forced to close, physical security ranks as and remains an essential business. As an industry, we have much of which to be proud. Security and life safety is a serious endeavor, and a huge and humbling one in which to engage.
Kudos to all the frontline workers within the security industry who have kept the wheels turning throughout these difficult weeks. Although each June SSI recognizes the crucial role wholesale distribution plays within the security industry, amid the COVID-19 pandemic it’s a more poignant time than ever to salute the profound value distributors bring to the supply chain.
In the roundtable ahead, representatives from select distributors discuss the latest product trends and technologies, opportunities, market challenges, and programs available to assist security dealers and systems integrators. They also impart how they’re helping sustain the chain during the COVID-19 crisis (see page 3).
Sharing their insights are: Rob Aarnes, president, ADI Global Distribution; Cody Crossland, vice president of sales & marketing, BlackWire; Tony Sorrentino, president, North America sales, ScanSource; and Danny Cranford, managing partner, Lone Star Systems Supply.
What are your three hottest product categories right now? What is stimulating the interest?
Rob Aarnes: We continue to see growth across all our categories with the top three being video surveillance, pro A/V and smart home. Some of the growth drivers in video surveillance are around the emergence of Cloud-based systems, heightened awareness around cybersecurity, and with the recent COVID-19 situation we’ve experienced an increased demand for thermal imaging products.
Technologies like large format displays, interactive education and wireless audio are creating opportunities in the pro A/V market, and with our recent acquisition of Herman ProAV we are uniquely positioned to help our customers capitalize on this growing market. The security market is evolving with the arrival of new smart home technologies, like the video doorbell. Consumers are asking for these products and dealers should be including them on every installation.
Danny Cranford: Video, fire and intrusion are our leading categories. In video, it’s the growth of camera analytics. In fire, it’s the communication over IP and/or wireless. Intrusion continues to grow with home automation, remote video and control connectivity. The rapid development of technology is driving demand and interest in the market.
What does your company do to help dealers/integrators manage inventory and timely delivery to customers?
Tony Sorrentino: One of our main differentiators is our centralized warehouse, strategically located in Southaven, Miss., only minutes from the FedEx hub in Memphis, Tenn. Our warehouse is invaluable when it comes to managing inventory and ensuring timely deliveries.
We also have the added benefit of being a stocking distributor for our suppliers, virtually eliminating the need for drop shipping and expediting the process. Additionally, through our Custom Configuration Center, products can be shipped ready to install.
Cody Crossland: For dealers, carrying inventory can be tricky. For example, keeping TVs in stock isn’t a great idea because a month or two down the road your inventory can easily be worth less than you paid for it. And things like HDMI matrix systems are custom for every job — in addition to being very expensive — so keeping those in stock does not make much sense either. We stock products in our line card as much as possible so they can count on us for things like HDMI distribution, networking, etc.
Dealers just place their order in the morning and it will ship the same day. Where it does make sense for dealers to keep inventory is in consumable items like HDMI cables or easy upsell devices like Ring doorbells, Ecobee thermostats and Rachio sprinkler controllers. They should also be looking at their order history to see what they are selling on average and what’s trending. That will make logistics easier when ordering and will also let know what sales are best to take advantage of.
How are technologies like 4K video, AI and analytics, wireless, apps, integrated solutions, DIY, smart home, Cloud services, etc. impacting business?
Aarnes: We see new technology trends in the market as new opportunities for us, and our customers. We work closely with our supplier partners to make sure we’re offering the latest products that our dealers need, and end users want. And we make sure we’re training our staff and customers on these trends. Products have become more intelligent and we’re seeing more integration across systems, and our systems design team helps dealers design complete solutions.
With the increase in technologies like Cloud and interactive services, we’re seeing more service- and software-driven systems, and we’re working to ensure the buying experience fits this model. Consumers are asking for more smart home products and we have expanded our portfolio to give dealers the products they need. These trends help create more RMR opportunities and stickiness for dealers.
Cranford: Most of these technologies are here in a big way. Distributors better know it and help present and train the capabilities to their dealers. These emerging technologies are creating rapid changes in our industry and we must stay on top of them and pass this on to our dealers.
What value-added services, tools and technical support/training does your company provide to better serve your dealer/integrator customers?
Crossland: For starters, presales system designs for video distribution, lighting, commercial audio systems and more. For instance, we design and configure “just add power” systems that ship for simple plug-and-play installation straight out of the box, and we are currently the only distributor that can custom build the AVPro 16×16 Chassis Matrix. After the sale, we offer tech support after hours and on weekends, which is critical for dealers working on restaurants, sports bars, etc.
We also provide an extensive online database of reference materials that our customers can refer to at any time, including videos, installation guides and manuals. On a lighter note, we also provide custom integrator snack packages in every shipment, as we know how hunger can be a real challenge on a jobsite.
Cranford: Knowing when and how to go about registering integrators’ projects with manufacturers allows our partners to be more competitive and often provides price protection for opportunities they bring to the table. We offer technical training for our dealers as well as making sure our team members are knowledgeable on the product lines we carry, allowing us to be more than just order takers.
Aarnes: ADI is focused on leading the industry in education, and we offer numerous learning opportunities to our customers. We host 50+ expo training events per year to provide dealers with the opportunity to see and test the latest products, participate in industry-accredited training seminars, gain hands-on experience and meet with leading suppliers. And since education is so important to us, we have dedicated training rooms in each of our branch locations and host many training events during the year.
We also offer webinar training and have recently ramped up our online offering to keep dealers learning during the COVID-19 situation. Providing more value, along with a knowledgeable sales team, ADI’s world-class systems design team helps design, spec and quote projects. Our project registration program offers exclusive supplier discounts to help dealers win new installations. With our IP programming capabilities, we’re helping dealers save time and money on installations by shipping ready-to-install equipment.
Sorrentino: ScanSource provides presales technical support and design services to ensure all the necessary components of the solution are included in the design. We have professional services teams who plan, design, install, configure, test and deploy the solutions. We also offer usage and adoption services to help our partners ensure they are maximizing their ROI and user acceptance.
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