InfoComm 2018: The Rise of the Mega-Distributors

There is an enormous amount of great new technology here this year. And you can choose to get it from fewer and fewer companies all the time.

One of the things that I have commented on in rAVe for several years is the difference between the way the AV market works in North America and the way it works in the rest of the world. Attending the ISE (Integrated Systems Europe) show in Amsterdam, one of the first differences you notice is the prevalence of large, multi-line distributors who provide many services beyond distribution to their dealers.

Here in the U.S., I have always interfaced with distributors in the common way — their salesperson comes in periodically, drops off an armload of literature and price lists, buys my staff lunch and extolls the virtues of whatever line they carry that we are not currently buying. They take orders and the product is shipped to our dock.

In the European market, distributors take a much larger role. Besides order-processing and shipping, they provide logistics assistance, design assistance, and even installation and programming skills. They do all tech support for their lines, well beyond the level where most US distributors would refer the dealer to manufacturer support. They help develop design packages and proposals, and often interface directly with the client on behalf of the local dealer. They even provide (or arrange) installation technicians with a high level of skill to assist in the final delivery and integration of the sale. As an example, one of the European distributors I have a lot of admiration for is a company called Lang AG. They do an enormous exhibit at ISE that I always spend a lot of time in, as they use it to show off a lot more than product – they show off their imagination and their integration skills along with the product.

So the two models have always been very different. But, with the development of a truly global AV world, we are now seeing the development of distributorships here modeled along what I would consider European lines. If you are attending InfoComm this year, you will immediately be struck by one great example — Almo’s new “nobox” effort, where they are placing huge emphasis on all the support services they can supply to dealers.

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What could this mean to our market?

Well, the positives are that dealerships, especially smaller dealerships, could lean on a great deal more support from their distributors, and begin offering products and services that broadened their line of business without having to employ all those designers or product specialists.

And what are the potential negatives of this move?

Well, the negatives are that dealerships, especially smaller dealerships, could lean on a great deal more support from their distributors, and begin offering products and services that broadened their line of business without having to employ all those designers or product specialists.

So, like the old Chinese saying implies, change lies at the crossroads of danger and opportunity.

Personally, I have always placed the highest value on having direct relationships with manufacturers, the originators of the technology, and the accessibility of their sales and engineering staff. But, with the entry of so many new companies into our business, and the constant change in the industry, perhaps the rise of these new “mega-distributorships” can bring us information and resources more tailored to our individual markets, and provide a point of contact and support more constant and long-lived than those that might be formed with a quickly changing pantheon of manufacturers. But the downside implication of this change in structure could also produce dealers who lean too much on distributors and their staff, allowing dealer profitability to be eroded by less knowledgeable salespeople in a market with increased sales competition, as new companies enter markets more easily.

Having watched the way things work in Europe, I am convinced that this change is a positive one for the industry, and will bring us an increased array of products, services and support. But I caution local dealers and integrators to maintain standards and not let these larger distributors become the substitute for having well-trained and qualified people on their own staff. One of the best ways to evaluate your distributors will be the level of training they can offer for your own employees, giving you the best of both worlds.

So heads up, folks — there is indeed more change afoot in the industry than just the logos in the Harman booth.

Image via Lang AG

Joel Rollins

About Joel Rollins

rAVe Rental [and Staging] contributor Joel R. Rollins is the founder of Steamroller Digital and is well known throughout the professional AV industry for his contributions to industry training and his extensive background in AV rental, staging and installation. Joel can be reached at joelrollins@mac.com.

  • Distributor do fill in the roles the manufacturer cannot or does not want to do.
    So distribution is nothing more (or less!) than outsourcing part of the sales & support organizations.
    Just a few of the touch points:
    logistics (order fullfillment), dealer training & certification, first and second level support, project commissioning support, marketing fund organization, system design, product information spreading (dealer visits), roadshows, etc.
    You get the idea.