Roundtable: Distributors Power Products Through Despite Pandemic
As essential workers during the pandemic, security dealers and integrators were fortunate to have essential partners in their wholesale distributors. A roundtable of top suppliers offers a state of the industry.
Neither rain nor heat nor gloom of night … nor pandemic … stays installing and monitoring security alarm professionals from the swift service and signal response of their customers’ systems.
In a topsy-turvy 2020-2021 when COVID-19 hamstrung or completely shut down the lion’s share of American businesses, institutions and activities, that modified version of the U.S. Postal Service’s moto is apropos for the electronic security industry.
Early on during the pandemic, security systems personnel were declared essential workers and helped keep people safe as the battle to quell the deadly coronavirus raged.
While the supply channel feeding those security businesses has always been of vital importance, this scenario intensified those relationships. More than ever before, wholesale distributors had to step up and prove their mettle as rock-solid partners.
Challenges ran rampant on both sides of that equation, with employees having to be moved offsite, social distancing and the deployment of numerous practices involving personal protection equipment and more when interacting with customers — all without missing a beat.
On the other side of the channel, distributors also had to contend with several manufacturing hitches. Making it all that much more turbulent, operational strains and unforgiving economics may have further exacerbated an already accelerating consolidation trend within the b-to-b distribution industry.
Two of the largest suppliers to the security industry, Anixter Int’l and Ingram Micro, ended 2020 with new ownership. The former was merged into WESCO Int’l while the latter was acquired by Platinum Equity Partners. “The acquisition is expected to further strengthen Ingram’s competitive advantage in the Cloud, while speeding digital transformation and accelerating the company’s expansion of their solutions and services portfolio,” says Dave McClary, market strategist, Security Business Unit, Ingram Micro.
Smaller “tuck-in” deals have been seen as well, including Resideo adding Norfolk Wire & Electronics and Shoreview Distribution to its ADI Global Distribution business this spring. According to ADI President Rob Aarnes, those buys “will help drive our continued growth in adjacent markets.”
The company’s nimbleness to accommodate its customers’ evolving needs during an unprecedented event has helped well position it for such acquisitions. “We put together a dedicated team early on to monitor the situation globally and make necessary changes to our business to keep our facilities running and continue serving customers,” says Aarnes. “ADI quickly made modifications in all locations, like implementing curbside pick-up, to minimize interactions and ensure customers could safely continue to access essential goods. We focused on service offerings that matched the ‘new way’ people were working, whether from home or with contactless transactions, including paperless billing, extended return policies, online returns, flat rate shipping options and more.”
Distributors also leveraged virtual communications like Zoom to maintain face-to-face interactions with dealers and integrators. Platforms such as that helped suppliers continue to show and demonstrate new products, lend system design guidance and tech support, as well as training.
The use of recorded videos and online presentations was also leaned on to allow security contractors to tap into educational opportunities. Now with the end of the pandemic in sight, these pivots and adjustments will serve as additional means for distributors to maintain an even tighter bond and value-add to their dealer/integrator customers.
And with additional new technology prospects emerging out of the crisis, many vertical markets getting back up to speed and spending freezes being lifted, the overall outlook is bright indeed.
McClary and Aarnes are among the wholesale security and automation products distributor representatives addressing those issues and more in the roundtable just ahead. Accompanying them with their own perspectives are: Dan Wild, senior director of strategic relationships, Jenne; Dennis Holzer, executive director, PowerHouse Alliance; Tony Sorrentino, president, North America sales, ScanSource; and Clint Choate, security market director, SnapAV.
In what ways did the pandemic impact your dealer/integrator customers?
Clint Choate: Before the pandemic the vast majority of experience with our products took place during evenings or on the weekends. COVID-19 quickly changed that. In an instant, end users at home wanted more security, more entertainment — and what started as a potential threat to our industry led to unprecedented demand. These demands created new business opportunities across multiple categories for partners.
Their customers wanted solid, reliable networks; surveillance systems that are safe and secure with the ability to see what’s going on around their property; the option to have their systems serviced remotely without calling a partner onsite; and more. COVID-19 will likely reshape our world for years to come, and many of these implications may be hard to predict. But it’s clear the pandemic has created a need to schedule and conduct service calls remotely, reinforcing the benefit of contactless service throughout our industry.
Rob Aarnes: The pandemic has had a significant impact for our customers. Our dealers were forced to alter their business practices and reposition their focus on the technologies that became more prevalent during this time. Although building closures and construction slowdowns had effects on the market, new opportunities became available around thermal imaging products, contactless access control, intrusion and analytics. And as more consumers were staying home, we saw new opportunities for dealers around home networking, A/V and residential security. During this time, ADI hosted numerous webinars and panel discussions with our supplier partners to help our customers learn about the technologies becoming most important to end customers, and pivot their businesses as needed.
With fewer projects on hold, construction beginning again and schools opening back up, there is significant opportunity for dealers going forward.
Tony Sorrentino: Their requests have changed. Dealers are getting requests for analytics related to occupancy and people counting. They have also seen changes in who they are servicing and how. For example, school projects used all be in the summer months and now they are throughout the year. Retail has become contactless with both indoor and outdoor increasing the need for more perimeter video coverage. Right now we are seeing supply shortages pushing back dates of installs. It is imperative the partners, suppliers and distributors, work closely together and clearly communicate expected delivery dates.
OPPORTUNITIES DEALERS/INTEGRATORS SHOULD HEED
“Mobile credentials, smart credentials and touchless actuation can all be important products for dealers. End users have added safety to their security programs and it’s important to address that need.” — Brian Avants, Access Hardware Supply
“Commit to becoming trusted advisors/technologists for homes and businesses. In short, quick installations don’t result in high-RMR.” — Clint Choate, SnapAV
“Focus on repeat business. Going back to customers they have previously worked with to install a security system will lead to more business as they are able to offer new products and additions to the current system.” — Dennis Holzer, PowerHouse Alliance
“We’ve identified growth opportunities for our customers in residential A/V, professional A/V and data communications. We’re expanding our offerings in these spaces to help our customers capitalize on these growing markets.” — Rob Aarnes, ADI Global
“Wired and wireless networking, as it’s typically not the cameras that fail but the network. As we deploy more 4K, run additional analytics and enhance remote access, smooth traffic must be ensured across the customer’s network along with adequate storage capabilities.” — Dan Wild, Jenne
Which product categories did the pandemic most affect negatively as well as positively?
Dave McClary: Early in the pandemic, we observed a surge in sales of solutions that enable remote work and home-based learning. That demand has ebbed somewhat in recent months, while interest in occupancy management and return-to-work/school solutions remain high. Last summer, we experienced a burst in thermographic screening camera sales. Interestingly, these sales seemed to indicate a general preference for minimally compliant/lower cost over higher priced, more accurate products.
Some of the solutions spawned by the pandemic will probably fade away, right along with it. But some will remain relevant going forward. The need to protect employees, customers and visitors by providing a safe environment is not new and won’t go away. The pandemic’s impact on workplace safety was unanticipated, but with the benefit of hindsight it’s clear that plans to maintain safe working environments and operational continuity should be part of future corporate/public safety and security plans.
We have assembled a portfolio of occupancy management solutions we think will maintain relevance, even post-pandemic. The most important common denominator of these solutions is their utility in supporting applications that endure, after objectives like social distance monitoring and contract tracing are no longer paramount.
Dan Wild: The pandemic has rapidly increased demand for USB and Bluetooth A/V devices such as headsets and webcams that can easily be deployed in home office, office or office environments to help users communicate and collaborate effectively anywhere. With increased demand, particular at the beginning of the pandemic and when work-from-home orders were implemented, some supply chain issues impacted the availability of products. The pandemic also has driven the integration of AI with security cameras and their analytics capabilities. Social distancing, face coverings, limited public gatherings and body temperature detection can be monitored automatically and intuitively with cameras’ built-in AI video analytics features.
Dennis Holzer: The pandemic has had a negative impact on most commercial product categories. Companies and organizations that were located in larger buildings and office spaces are no longer using these facilities as employees work from home, creating a decrease in the need for commercial upgrades. Categories that have been positively impacted by the pandemic include residential categories such as networking, audio/video and security. Consumers are relying on technology to help them successfully work from home and keep the whole family entertained without leaving the home.
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