Raising the distribution bar

IT Reseller spoke with Mike Pullon, CEO of distributor Varlink, at the company's recent Meet the Manufacturer event at Whittlebury Hall, Northamptonshire, about how the company has continued to develop its vendor partnerships and the solutions it supplies to the channel.

Since Varlink was first established in 2005 as a specialist distributor of AIDC solutions the company has continually developed and refined its portfolio of vendor partners, and the service and support it provides to its reseller, VAR and systems integrator customer base. Today, the range of products Varlink supplies serves a wider than ever range of vertical end-user sectors – including retail & hospitality, healthcare, government & finance and manufacturing & logistics – providing everything from handheld terminals and tablet PCs and barcode scanners to EPoS terminals and barcode printers, card and receipt printers, wireless LAN and cash drawers.

People factor

The company's CEO Mike Pullon considers that many of the company's core developments over the past nine years have been the result of the commitment shown by a core of long-serving staff, together with more recently recruited personnel who have been able to enhance the existing skillsets within the company as well as translate these strengths into increased sales and expansion into new technology spheres and market sectors.

"We very much value internal staff who have shown the potential to grow and develop both their own career path as well as the performance and scope of the company," said Pullon. "For example, when it came to finding a new marketing manager last year we knew that Emma Phillips – who had worked on a special project for us for a year creating our Alliance Programme and doing a really outstanding job – would be perfect for the new role; and we haven't been proven wrong."

A similarly story can be told about Michelle Spencer, who was promoted to Head of Sales for Varlink and EPoS Distributor Sales Division during the middle of last year. "Michelle has been with Varlink for over five years and has proved to be a very able member of our senior sales team," said Pullon. "Although we did briefly consider appointing someone from outside the company for this lead sales role it didn't take us long to realise that we in fact already had just the right skill sets and experience within the company. So a combination of Emma and Michelle as our senior sales and marketing team has really worked very well for us. It's great having people that really understand how we do business, find new customers and also strengthen relationships with existing customers. We now have an established team of around 35 people and you could say that we have come to share a common business DNA. This is what has propelled us to become the £12 million-turnover company we are today."

Outside of the company's sales and marketing brief, Operations Manager John Scourfield ensures Varlink receives the best possible service from its delivery companies; a quality of service that can then be passed on to channel customers. "John has been with us for two years, and has proven experience working for a number of large organisations," explained Pullon. "John has been very effective at ensuring our distribution is as good as it possibly can be. He produces a monthly report indicating the percentage performance level of each courier we have used. If there is been anything less than 100 per cent he and his Ops team want to know why."

Pullon also pointed out that Scourfield has helped Varlink with its planned growth in warehouse capacity. "Just over a year ago we acquired extra warehouse units and are currently putting mezzanine floors into two of these in order to achieve an extra 30 per cent in storage capacity," he said.

Technology trends

In terms of some of the types of technology that have secured noticeable traction over the past year or so, Pullon considers that one of the biggest changes has been Android becoming established as a compelling alternative operating system to Windows. "Some solutions manufacturers might still need convincing," he said, "but if you look at our sales numbers for last year we sold 2000 per cent more Android devices than we did the year before. That's a fundamental shift and it's still growing. I believe the reason for this is largely the fact that there are uncountable numbers of organisations who are using Samsung and other Android phones and they have quietly being deploying apps on those devices from people who aren't necessarily part of the AIDC industry."

To gauge trends more accurately in this area, Varlink recently commissioned market research indicating that, in general, many apps developers are people Varlink has never come across. Similarly, these companies aren't familiar with Varlink nor many of its manufacturer partners. "However, they have been creating apps at every opportunity, and people who have Samsung mobile phones can download these from the App Store," Pullon explained. "They pay a monthly fee and the app developers have become used to seeing huge deployments. But, of course, the consumer mobile phone doesn't necessarily stand up so there are major opportunities coming back into the channel. Honeywell, for example, now offers devices that are available either as Android or as Windows Mobile, so this lets both the traditional Windows resellers in the door as well as more Android-focused resellers that recognise that there are many prospective customers looking for something more rugged than their consumer-grade Samsung phone. Android has definitely emerged as a big thing for us and we're interested in understanding what manufacturers are doing about this, whether it's an SDK or a Google Play Store approach etc."

Pullon is also seeing companies such as Zebra Technologies embracing the Internet of Things concept. "Zebra is really making a push in this direction and it falls on us to help to educate our resellers in, for example, what remote diagnostic means, what the new market possibilities are and where and how they can make money from them," he said.

Meet the Manufacturer

As with its previous outings, Varlink's Meet the Manufacturer 2014 event at Whittlebury Hall, Northamptonshire proved to be a successful liaison point for both Varlink's manufacturer partners and a wide range of resellers, VARs and integrators serving all core user markets. Some of the many technology highlights at this year's event included Trimble's new Juno T41 R, offering even more functionality for data collection and mobile workforce management applications. The already established Juno T41 rugged handheld range now includes an RFID configuration, with integrated Ultra-High Frequency RFID capabilities.

Opticon promoted its recently launched H25, a rugged pocket-sized Windows CE 6.0 terminal with integrated 1D or 2D barcode scanner. The H25 will be the direct replacement for the H15, which has now become end of life, and offers a host of additional benefits to its predecessor. Opticon also recently launched its OPN-3002, a 2D Bluetooth data collector which is the latest addition to the company's OPN series. Featuring a technically advanced 2D CMOS imager scan engine the OPN-3002 rapidly scans and decodes 1D and 2D barcodes. It offers audible and visible feedback notification which indicates to the user when a barcode has been successfully scanned.

Posiflex's new range of EPoS terminals feature fast processors up to Intel Core i7. With its bezel-free touchscreens, sculptured slim body and curved base stand, the new Posiflex XT range looks at home in any store. Also recently brought to market are the Janam XG105 rugged gun-shaped mobile computers, now available with the Linux operating system. Janam's XG Series is optimised to meet the unique requirements of mobile workers in a range of environments, such as warehouses, distribution centres, loading docks and other operating venues where rugged gun-shaped mobile computers are deployed.

Brother has introduced product extensions to its PocketJet Series of A4 portable printers with the PJ-673, which is compatible with iOS, and to the MPrint Series of A6/A7 portable printers with the MW-145BT which is now smaller and more compact in size. The PJ-673 is the first Apple compatible printer in the PocketJet A4 portable printer range, enabling users to print professional, high quality documents from their iPhone or iPad using a simple app.

Varlink also recently added two new Honeywell devices to its product range; the secure and pocket-sized Dolphin 60s scanphone and Dolphin 6110 mobile computer. The Dolphin 60s is part of Honeywell's scanphone line, which includes the Dolphin 6000. Its integrated 1D and 2D barcode scanner captures multi-symbology data while its Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5 OS ensures an enterprise ready operating system. It has powerful Wireless Connectivity with WiFi, Bluetooth v2.1 +EDR, 3G and GPS which eliminates the need for users to have a separate phone. The 6110 provides advanced data collection and real-time wireless communication in a pocket-sized mobile computer. Its stylish exterior was built to withstand harsh conditions with an IP rating of 54 and the ability to withstand multiple 1.2m drops to concrete. It's 1D and 2D barcode is angled to allow users to comfortably view the screen while scanning.


Pullon concluded: "Over the years, we have realised that, primarily, our manufacturer partners want to be able to talk freely with our resellers about products and services, talk about the market opportunities and generally develop their list of people they can do business with – this is exactly the type of environment we seek to provide with our Meet the Manufacturer events."

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