European distributors must add value

In the future, systems integration will play a larger role in the marketing and sales functions of European distributors.

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by Andy Wilson

In the future, systems integration will play a larger role in the marketing and sales functions of European distributors.

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As part of a six-show exhibition in Birmingham, England, last February, the IPOT image-processing, optical-technology, and machine-vision segments contributed to attracting more than 4500 visitors and 300 exhibitors. Many exhibitors expressed their pleasure with the quality, professionalism, and interest of the attendees. Business, it appears, in England and Germany in particular and Europe in general, for OEM machine-vision and image-processing companies is surging. Last October, for example, a record number of attendees and exhibitors turned out for Messe Stuttgart's VISION 2000 in Stuttgart, Germany (see Vision Systems Design, Dec. 2000, p. 15).

In an IPOT interview, Ian Alderton, managing director of Alrad Imaging (Newbury, Berkshire, England), a distributor that represents several US imaging companies in the United Kingdom, offered opinions on European distributors and imaging publications. He suggested that European magazines, such as Image Processing Europe, our sister publication, should present more imaging information on what is happening in Europe. He also described some of the latest imaging developments in Europe and the new role being played by distributors in the United Kingdom.

In the past, many UK distributors simply resold US products at a markup. Today, however, European imaging businesses are evaluating a different marketing and sales model. For example, David Hearn, director of distributor Firstsight Vision (Egham, Surrey, England), has recently hired eight engineers to support the products that the company distributes.With the merger of distributors Pinnacle Vision and Vortex Vision into Firstsight, it now claims the majority share of the UK's imaging market. Indeed, according to Hearn, Firstsight wants to assert its leadership through engineering-based direct marketing and catalog sales.

Also at the IPOT show, Joe Muratore, Foresight Imaging (Chelmsford, MA) vice president of sales, explained the difficulty in finding qualified distributors for its line of image-capture boards. The problem, it seems, is finding people qualified to explain, demonstrate, and integrate the finer points of highly technical products to potential customers. In fact, some large imaging companies, such as Cognex Corp. (Natick, MA), are not using distributors in the UK. Instead, the company has deployed a direct sales force supported by applications engineers from its England-based headquarters.

Other companies that formerly offered OEM frame grabbers and image processors have confronted and addressed this distribution problem. One major imaging vendor now integrates its frame grabbers and software into end-user equipment for new markets such as microscopy. And, apparently, sales have flourished.

Distributors must do more
In addition, the Internet has not been beneficial to many European distributors. According to a distributor at IPOT, when customers discover products marketed on the Web for 10% to 20% less than they are paying, they question the value-added capabilities of their local distributor.

Of course, the only way to overcome this concern is for distributors to add value though problem-solving, application installation, and systems-integration expertise. Distributors must do more than merely deliver products to their customers. They must also deliver expert information that helps their customers install, check, operate, and service imaging products quickly, accurately, and reliably.

In the highly competitive global imaging market, full-service systems integration is expected to soon play a major role in the marketing and sales functions of European distributors.

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