Ed Holden, chief editor of IT Reseller, spoke with Mike Pullon, founder & CEO of distributor Varlink Ltd., at the company's recent Meet the Manufacturer event at The St John's Hotel in Solihull, to hear about recent activities involving Varlink and its solutions partners, and how the company continues to focus on providing a compelling service to the channel.
Varlink, the York-based mobile computing and data capture specialist distributor, held its 2016 Meet the Manufacturer (MTM) event on 27 April at The St John's Hotel in Solihull, where its manufacturer and service partners met with resellers to display and demonstrate their latest products.
The event was one of the distributor's largest gatherings of suppliers to date, comprising main event sponsor Zebra (printing, mobile computing, scanning) alongside 51T (cradles and charging solutions), AzteQ (IT installation and support services), Seagull (Bar Tender label design and print), Brother (printing), Codelogic (buy back and disposal services), Compass Plus (payment services), Datalogic (scanning, mobile computing), DataVan (EPoS hardware), Equinox Maintenance Ltd. (warranty centre), Ergonomic Solutions (technology mounting solutions), Gen2Wave (mobile computing), Gripzo (secure tablet display mounts), Honeywell (scanning, printing and mobile computing), HP (EPoS hardware), Janam (mobile computing), Macquarie (equipment finance), MCR (mobile computer repair), MioWork (tablet computers), Opticon (scanners, mobile computing), SNBC (EPoS printing), Panasonic (rugged computing), Soti (mobile device management), Trimble (rugged mobile computing) and Wireless Logic (M2M connectivity).
Now in its 11th 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.
Alliance Partner Programme
One key initiative that has gone from strength to strength over the past couple of years is Varlink's Alliance Partner Programme. Mike Pullon, founder and CEO of Varlink, provided the details: "We launched the initiative a couple of years after conducting research that showed many resellers were called upon for services to augment their core solutions offerings, but were often unsure where to obtain support for these additional requirements. These additional services could, for example, include everything from site surveys to installation and maintenance."
This concept's success has in turn encouraged additional companies to join the programme; further broadening the range of providers and services on offer. "For example, our partner Codelogic specialises in buying back redundant or used stock," explained Pullon. "This can free-up more of an end customer's budget to source more new terminals if as part of the arrangement they can be given a discount for supplying their old terminals to the reseller during installation of the new units."
Pullon added if companies become an Alliance Partner and explain what they want to achieve Varlink will always consider their proposals and suggestions very carefully. "Then, if the ideas are viable and realistic we will agree a marketing budget and promote the product or service," he said.
Vendor partner news
One of a number of recently signed-up Varlink vendor partners is Taiwan-based EPoS hardware manufacturer, DataVan. "We travelled to Taiwan to find a new EPoS solutions partner and found DataVan to be the best fit for our needs," said Pullon. "The company could not have been more accommodating to us. In fact we gave them a special award at our awards ceremony the afternoon before this year's MTM event because they did such a fantastic job of on-boarding with us. The DataVan team has been over here many times over the past few months providing training and support and are a pleasure to work with."
Pullon pointed out that, as an OEM, DataVan manufacturers the equipment for some of the larger EPoS solution providers. Varlink, however, is promoting DataVan as a brand in its own right. "It's a solid distributor manufacturer relationship and we feel very comfortable with that," he said.
The big news on 11 April was that Zebra gave Varlink access to its full portfolio of products. "That is huge for us," remarked Pullon. "We can now offer the full range of barcode scanners, mobile computers, tablets and wireless solutions from one of the world's most prominent manufacturers. We have been close to Zebra for many years now, but this takes our relationship to a whole new level."
Varlink's vendor partner portfolio is now stronger than ever, as Pullon elaborated: "We have Zebra and Honeywell, the two largest players in the industry. We also have Datalogic, Europe's largest supplier of AIDC solutions. And we shouldn't forget the positive impact that HP is having on our EPoS and mPOS business. Varlink has worked with HP for around ten months now and I'm very happy the way we are building their profile in our channel. We're seeing more customers and quotations every month and HP's offering is outstanding, with three years on-site support as standard. So if I was running an EPoS solution customer and I was looking at managing my costs I think that would be a fantastic brand to go with."
Also, following on from Varlink's announcement of its relationship with Panasonic at the end of the Autumn, its first formal contract period with the company has now begun. "We now have what we consider to be one of the very best rugged manufacturers in the market," said Pullon. "Panasonic perfectly complements our Trimble offering among others, so we now have an ideal range of ultra-rugged devices, auto ID devices and mobility products, while on the EPoS side we can serve large enterprise needs with HP and can serve the hospitality and retail sector with DataVan. So in terms of brand relationships I believe we are in a better position than ever before."
To support its wide-ranging vendor partner portfolio, Pullon said Varlink has thought hard about how it can best support its channel customers. "This led us to increase our staff headcount, having looked at where service begins and ends," he explained. "Clearly, stock availability is important. However, this doesn't necessarily mean stock in the warehouse right at this moment; rather, it means stock when it's needed. So if resellers know they will need 20 terminals in three months' time we can ensure we have them ready when required. It's not an easy task to manage this process, so we now have three purchasing agents in the business.
"We've had a longstanding purchasing manager with us for a number of years, but have now segmented our manufacturer relationships by establishing named purchasing agents for each of our major brands. We now also have named contact points in our marketing team, so are now better positioned than ever before to really understand what the manufacturers are driving the channel to do for our marketing and were able then to react on the inventory side by having more capacity in the purchasing function. Additionally, we have recently employed three new salespeople."
Around this time last year Emma Phillips re-joined the company as head of marketing. "Emma had a very clear vision in terms of where Varlink could enhance its marketing strategy," said Pullon. "Since re-joining the company, she has also managed the design and content of our new revamped website, which was launched very recently. Alongside our new site the legacy site has been pared back to become a simple-to-use store portal, with product information and product or technical support on hand for both long-established VARs and people who are newer to the types of technology we offer.
"The new website was brought it in on time and on budget. Emma and her team worked on the content while the site construction company trained us along the way so we are now able to maintain it in-house. Since going live with the site we've had a really impressive increase in the number of retweets and click-through rates. It's been astonishing looking at the progress since we began the project three months ago."
Pullon states that Varlink is the only accredited, focused distributor of the major brands Varlink represents that keeps stock in the UK. "This enables us to offer tomorrow morning delivery Monday to Friday for orders received before 5:15pm today," he explained. "For some distributors, next-day delivery means receipt by 5.30pm, but many customers go home at 5.00pm so they could be worrying all day about whether the goods will arrive. However, at Varlink we know by a minute past 12 noon whether the goods have arrived or whether there is an issue. The carrier we use measures its performance each day and achieves close to 100% on-time delivery, so there is very rarely a problem that needs resolving."
Pullon reflects that, although it is currently difficult to read the UK economy, with the uncertainly about our position in Europe after the June election, there remain many strong business opportunities for VARS in all key markets; including retail & hospitality, healthcare, Government and Finance. "At Varlink, we will continue to enhance our solutions partner portfolio and the service and support we offer to the channel. At the end of the day, it's all about teamwork."