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Ed Holden, chief editor of IT Reseller, attended distributor Varlink Ltd.'s recent Meet the Manufacturer event at Whittlebury Hall, Northamptonshire, and spoke with the company's founder & CEO Mike Pullon about recent developments, including the newly introduced Sourced By Varlink initiative.

Varlink, the York-based mobile computing and data capture specialist distributor, held its 2017 Meet the Manufacturer (MTM) event on 9 February at event at Whittlebury Hall, Northamptonshire, where its solutions partners had the opportunity to meet resellers to display and demonstrate their latest products and services. Now in its 12th year, MTM has become a key diary date for resellers and suppliers alike; keeping attendees updated on the constantly evolving products and services offered by Varlink and its partners.

New partners

In terms of new partners, Varlink recently linked-up with payments specialist SumUp to provide IT resellers and solution providers with the very latest SumUp Air mobile card terminal. By offering this device to their customers, any business can now help to simplify and speed up transactions at the point of sale and end users can now offer cashless, wireless and contactless payments, all for an attractive price. Keeping change and cash reserves are no longer an issue, and they will never have to send their customers to a cash machine again. The SumUp Air and accompanying cradle base are available to Varlink customers at trade only prices, alongside a full range of EPoS terminals, mPOS tablets, receipt printers, barcode scanners and cash drawers. EPoS solution providers can also integrate the SumUp Air terminal directly into their software with SumUp's SDK or API switch.

Partner Programme

Emma Phillips, Varlink's head of marketing, has continued to develop Varlink's Partner Programme, bringing on board an increasing and varied portfolio of member companies; some of which bring a fresh perspective and welcome new ideas to the table. For example, the R&D tax credit specialist, MPA Group, can help software developers to maximise the tax benefits that are available to them.

Mike Pullon, Varlink's founder & CEO, explained that the programme is also ideal from a networking perspective. "Indeed, I was speaking to someone at this year's Meet the Manufacturers event who sells a particular solution in Scotland. It's highly successful in Scotland and he now wants it to be successful in England but would like to do it in partnership. So, he is now giving serious consideration to becoming a Varlink Alliance Partner."

Website

In addition to her work on the Partner Programme, Emma Phillips has continued to develop the Varlink website into a highly efficient and user-friendly customer ordering portal and support portal through which Varlink's customers can undertake all their transactions and receive full support regarding any query or issue they may have, or any initiative they may wish to discuss. Over the past year, the website has also been re-engineered into an education hub, which, states Pullon, partners are finding very useful from an information and guidance perspective. He added that Emma and the team will continue to enhance the features on the site going forward.

Personnel

Regarding recent key internal personnel changes, Varlink has promoted Kayleigh Raymond to the position of business development manager, with a particular focus on EPoS sales. In fact, Varlink sees EPoS as being such a major opportunity that the company has made an additional key appointment; this person will be joining in early March. Additionally, Varlink will be hiring two more internal salespeople shortly.

Economic climate

From an economic perspective, the first quarter of 2016 was very positive for Varlink; with solid growth, involvement in new and ongoing projects and seeing new products being established. During the second quarter, however, the company, like many others, began to monitor financial analysts talk about market uncertainty in the lead-up to the EU Referendum last June.

"At this time, there was definitely a noticeable slowdown in projects," explained Pullon. "Many of our reseller partners were committed to supply product to their end customers and the channel wanted to support them by supplying the required solutions. However, there was some hesitancy here as both parties waited for some indication of what the economic climate was going to look like after the Referendum outcome."

During the beginning of Q3 in July, soon after the Brexit decision, business dropped further, remembered Pullon, adding that it took three months for people to take a deep breath and say 'we don't know what the future holds but if we don't have any scanners, mobile computers, printers or EPoS terminals and so on, we still need to do something about this situation', "then business quickly started to return and the contracts resellers had with their end customers were being fulfilled," he said.

However, reflected Pullon, there is now a trend for people now to fulfil contracts based on price and not necessarily based on the specification. "Therefore, some resellers are delivering on their contract but not necessarily for the product that they would have ideally supplied," he explained. "In order to meet the original specification more accurately, some resellers have considered sourcing from suppliers in China, but they quickly realise that the price they pay in China is not the price they end up paying once they enter the UK after the addition of VAT."

Price management

After Article 50 is invoked and the UK goes through the formal process of leaving the EU, Pullon believes the UK and Varlink as a company will again experience a bumpy ride for a couple of years. "There isn't a lot we can do about this other than help our customers to understand the nature of price instability," he said. "Essentially, what we are saying to them is we can use foreign currency for purchasing on a deal-by-deal basis, so if they agree a deal today and tell us they require, say, 100 units this month, 100 next month and 100 the month after that we can make that work for them. So, if customers want a fuller discussion with us about price management we can arrange this very easily."

Solution opportunities

In terms of solutions and the technology behind them, Pullon has identified some pockets of the market where there is a good opportunity for Varlink and the channel. One of these areas is Android EPoS terminals for the retail and hospitality sectors. Varlink has created a relationship with an Android developer and is now distributing a series of entry-level EPoS solutions. "This move will also help our Windows-based EPoS resellers to add another line to their product set," said Pullon.

Sourced By Varlink initiative

Newly launched at this year's Meet the Manufacturers event was the Sourced By Varlink (SBV) initiative. Pullon explained the background. "We are witnessing developments in product functionality and capability moving at a faster rate than ever before. So, we are not going to be promoting our newer Android EPoS products by brand. Our new SBV service has two main benefits. First, we can provide the newer Android EPoS products against a specification rather than a model number. The product is unbranded and Android lends itself to this brilliantly. It can be own-labelled by the companies our reseller partners are selling to, so it gives our customers the ability to create a solution that is specific to the needs of their customers knowing that we will always have a range of products that meet their precise needs."

Pullon continued: "Of course, we're not going to change overnight – but if today the most efficient Android screen is, for example, 13.2 inches we will supply this while being ready to supply, say, a 15-inch screen as soon as it becomes available. To facilitate this level of service, we have established a number of new relationships with manufacturing sources in China over the past three months or so, and we will be bringing in Android terminals, specialised receipt printers and a variety of peripherals that can be supplied under the Sourced By Varlink banner to customers that require this type of solution to satisfy their particular market niche. As a distributor, it's nice to be doing this type of pioneering again."

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