Don't Sweat The Retail Threat


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Best Buy. Office Depot. CompUSA. These are the true competitors of the small-business-focused solution provider, right?

LARRY HOOPER
Can be reached at (415) 947-6229 or via e-mail at lrhooper@cmp.com.

If they are, the news is good. I don't have research to prove that the solution provider channel will prevail in a turf war with big box retailers, but I do have personal experience shopping at these places. And it isn't pretty.

If you haven't been to one of these stores in a while, now is the time. They are all making noise about going after small-business customers, so small-business-focused VARs should be in there scoping out the competition.

I think you will like what you find.

Shopping for a birthday present for my nephew last week, I went to a CompUSA in downtown San Francisco to buy him a Webcam for his iMac. I couldn't find Apple's iSight Webcam anywhere, so I had to ask for help. Since there wasn't a single soul on the floor who would talk to me, I had to go to the information desk, which had a sign indicating the team was there to serve small-business customers. There were four people behind the desk and one other customer was standing in front of it. I asked if I could get some help finding the iSight.

They were pretty quick to tell me they were out of stock and wouldn't get any more for several weeks. Not bad. Quick answers. Then, nothing. OK, so what are my options? I ask. Blank stares. Is there another Webcam you would recommend for an iMac? With that question, two people rushed to answer my question at the same time. While I don't have the space to quote all of the "ums" and "likes" and "ya knows" directly, the gist of the reply was that I would need to research that myself on the Internet and come back and tell them what I want, and then they could tell me if they sell it. And these folks were standing under a sign that said "Information." The irony was lost on them, but not me.

The lesson in this story is that unless these stores invest in trained sales and service people, they will never be able to keep small-business customers. And if they make that investment, they won't be able to lowball prices.

Either way, one visit to one of these stores proves solution providers are worth every penny they charge.

Can you compete with retail? Let me know at (415) 947-6229 or via e-mail at lrhooper@cmp.com.

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