This year there were 500+ participants in the flagship event, and the buzz was back. The focus was on new technology, and everyone attending the conference can feel good about where we are. No, it is no longer the A brands – that has been the case for a number of years. But we have to get over this – HP, Intel, Acer, Microsoft and others no longer support conferences as they did before – they focus more on the big international events.
But in a world where new technology is exploding with fast growth rates and boundless innovation, more than ever there is the need to bring people together so that people can sit down and meet the latest innovative brands. And that is where the DISTREE model works well, because of the scheduling of meetings which means that vendors know that, if they pay to come, they will get a minimum number of meetings. And we had many of the big players here this year – Tech Data, Ingram Micro, Also, Exertis, Cool Blue and Amazon, as well as dozens of other smaller distributors.
But it is not just about meetings, and that is where the interest of the event comes in. As Ilona Weiss, CEO of ABC Data put it in her blog after the event, it is the time to “pick up the rhythm of global markets and predict accurately the direction in which things are changing so that I can buy enough time for ABC Data to adjust its course.” This comes from the informal discussions with other tech leaders, and also the rich thought leadership on offer, with keynotes and workshops which illuminate and stretch people’s imagination.
This year CONTEXT organised an invitation only event for C Suite executives from selected distributors and other invited guests. The content was rich, and the tone was set by Patrice Arzillier, Managing Director of Exertis Continental Europe, and board member of Exertis plc. He opened up to a series of questions about Board investment decisions, their approach to acquisitions and the challenges they face.
The meeting was done under Chatham house rules in order to create the right ambiance for senior executive sharing, but with Patrice there was no need, as he launched into a frank and open dialogue with the other participants in the room. These times of exchange are vital for the health of the industry, and to give each other the chance to “adjust your course if necessary”. This discussion was enriched by the input from Peter Van den Berg, the head of the GTDC in Europe and a presentation from Michael White of Quadmark, showing the new financial drivers of distribution, emphasising the need to have different measures for different types of revenue stream, and to take into account all investments, not just working capital.
The other theme we covered was strategic collaboration, and the level of congruence between the presentations was remarkable – old style confrontational negotiations are out, and the smart money is on those who find strategic ways of collaborating. One of the speakers, Marcos Garcia Esteban, until recently Purchasing Director of Worten (the Portuguese/Spanish tech retailer), spoke of high-level contacts between retailer and brand to find innovative ways of delivering product. Distributors are the “midfield” players, he said, and can bring everyone together in the new technology ecosystem.
Adam Williams, who has spent the last 6 months bringing a smart home product to market, laid out the complexity of the new emerging technology market and echoed Marcos, saying that distributors are the best placed to act as brokers between the various parties. Lastly Alan Clayton, a mentor at the Investment fund SOSV, one of the largest providers of seed capital to technology start-ups, spoke of the role he saw distributors playing in bringing products to market. “I need someone who, as a one-stop shop, can broker space in the top retailers in Europe.” His final call to action was memorable, for distributors to become “Co-creators of global brands.” A great and positive thought to keep distributors going forward in the right direction.