With shifting demands and expectations, are today’s distributors fit for purpose?

Author : Ralf Buehler, Chief Sales & Marketing Officer for Premier Farnell

17 August 2017

Distributors play a vital role in keeping the electronics industry moving, providing essential supplies and support. Over the past five  years, engineers and businesses that rely on distributors have seen customer needs change radically – prompting shifts in buying behaviour that have resulted in a knock-on effect all the way up the supply chain and back again.

This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Electronic Product Design & Test; to view the digital edition, click here – and to register to receive your own printed copy, click here.

Customers and buyers are more clued up than ever, and not afraid to shop around, and distributors face the challenge of meeting these changing needs. This article from Premier Farnell discusses how distributors have to adapt to best serve customer needs in a rapidly shifting competitive landscape.

The rapid surge in connected devices and miniaturised wearables has driven growth in the burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT) sector, with professional makers at the cutting edge of this growth. IoT is one of the most exciting and accessible markets for electronics design engineers, opening up opportunities to bring new products to market and address a broader range of unique customer needs than ever before. In addition to traditional market entrants, who have experience in bringing products to market, there is now a new customer group: makers who may be bringing a product to market for the first time. Makers value support with volume production, which includes careful management of inventory and obsolescence (differentiating them from traditional hobbyists), and have a greater need for technical support.

The challenge of going where no one has gone before

The rapid development of the IoT space, and growth in areas such as 3D printing and wearables, is driving designers of all experience levels to tackle new challenges as they enter new markets and apply technology in ways it has not been used before. This could mean negotiating compliance challenges within heavily regulated industries like healthcare and automotive, or developing deeper knowledge of existing technology as it is applied in novel and different ways, such as harsher environments or within flexible applications, like clothing.

The pressure to keep up is keenly felt by design engineers and there is a growing trend to work with distributors that can support them right from the beginning with research and design expertise – as well as provide broad product portfolios, high volume distribution and supply chain support, logistics, finance and excellent customer service.

In order to better service engineers, makers and hobbyists, distributors have focused attention on their web presence, to attract new customers as well as support existing ones. With the overwhelming majority of products now available online, distributor websites need to balance easy navigation and search functionality with deep technical information and support resources to retain customers and reach new audiences.

Bearing all of these factors in mind, and the distinct, but overlapping, needs of the marketplace, is it possible for a distributor to keep all customers happy? Or, is it better to choose one target customer group and focus on them alone? 

A new breed of distributor

2016 saw two of the world’s most well-known distributors join forces, when Avnet acquired Premier Farnell. The combination brings together two companies to create a unique 

technology distribution business that aims to better serve both professional design engineers and the maker and hobbyist markets. Premier Farnell specialises in helping customers move from product idea and design through to prototype and low volume manufacturing. Its customer base ranges from hobbyists through to design engineers and professional makers. As the leading manufacturer and distributor of Raspberry Pi, exclusive manufacturer of BBC micro:bit and an official manufacturer of BeagleBone Black, it manufactures many of the products it supplies.

Avnet is a global high-volume-oriented franchise distributor with deep expertise in broadline distribution and world-class global logistics and supply chain management. Joining forces creates a new breed of distributor that offers better support at all stages of the product development process, from design through to volume manufacturing and product lifecycle management – providing a seamless service for all types of customers.

Premier Farnell is experienced at working with customers from early stage design and helping them take their ideas to production – from initial support via 200 in-house design engineers to optimising the product for production and leveraging manufacturing capabilities, right through to ongoing test and maintenance via its bench-to-board offering. Now, as part of the Avnet family, it can draw on Avnet’s expertise in high volume production to support customers at every stage of their journey. The combination of Avnet and Premier Farnell is not about crunching together two businesses looking for opportunities to drive out costs, but looking for synergies that enable them to serve customers better and provide a truly holistic solution.

The combination of Avnet and Premier Farnell aims to offer the heavyweight resources needed by large manufacturers, along with the finer touch to work with inventors, makers and design engineers to help them turn their ideas into prototypes. It’s the ability to engage with innovators at the earliest stages of product design and development that will fuel a new chapter of growth for the industry.

Today’s customers demand the best of both worlds: to work with companies with the scale, size and global reach of a broadline business, while still offering the specialised capabilities to serve them through all stages of the product lifecycle. From assessing market needs and customer requirements, we believe that the combination of Premier Farnell and Avnet offers benefits to all its customers, regardless of their level of experience, turnover or geographical location – and sets the bar for distributors worldwide. 

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