To succeed in distribution, build a community, listen... and never stand still

Author : Mike Bray, Vice President of DesignSpark at RS Components

06 December 2017

Credit: Shutterstock

This article from RS Components explains how a key tactic in to success in distribution is in creating a platform to engage with and listen to the engineering community.

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With an 80-year heritage in providing customers with quality service, breadth of product range and speedy delivery, RS Components is one of the world’s leading electronics and industrial distributors. But in an ever-changing industry, with rapidly evolving customer-buying behaviour – led by e-commerce – success in distribution lies not only in providing what the customer wants today, but identifying what they might need tomorrow and in the future.

In 2010, RS launched DesignSpark: a unique platform and interactive community through which design engineers can exchange ideas and tips, enjoying access to an information hub and free design tools. DesignSpark has seen its community grow tenfold in a six-year period, resulting in a membership base of over 600,000 engineers, makers and creators from across the globe. In this article, we will review what some of the biggest contributory success factors have been, and consider how the growth of such a community can be sustained.

Bray explains: “When we launched DesignSpark, there was nothing else out there that offered both a network for design engineers, and free design tools, alongside 2D and 3D CAD libraries – and there still isn’t.

The success of DesignSpark was not only in launching it with tools that mattered and were helpful to engineers in their work, but continuing to stay relevant and evolve the platform in line with feedback from the community. Recent developments that illustrate this are the launch of the DesignSpark PCB parts library tool, which includes the facility to request footprints that aren’t available, and our partnership with Crowdcube to provide access to crowd-funding financing services, which help enterprising design engineers to grow their business. Listening to the community, adding value and staying on top of – and reflecting – growing trends is vital.”

RS is committed to providing tools and resources that meet a multitude of needs for the design engineering community, and with DS PCB, DS Electrical and DS Mechanical software tools all in place, DesignSpark has a comprehensive offering. However, reflecting its commitment to evolving in line with its customers’ needs, RS has recently added DesignSpark Safety to its range of design tools.

“We launched DesignSpark Electrical in 2015 to fill a gap in the offering, and this has been well-received and hugely successful. However, with safety and compliance in electronic and electrical engineering design being a growing requirement, not to mention a complex area, we felt this was something we needed to add for our community,” says Mike.

“DesignSpark Safety was launched in November, and helps machine builders and designers assess safety risks, and ultimately comply with CE standards and directives. It allows them to quickly and cost effectively ensure their machinery designs comply with the required safety standards that will allow them to sell their product legally in the worldwide marketplace. Created in partnership with a global compliance specialist, DesignSpark Safety is licence-free, and there is no need to download it, as it’s cloud based,” he added.

Credit: Shutterstock

The investment made by RS in launching, building and maintaining the DesignSpark offering is significant and ongoing, but the rewards are countless. DesignSpark has effectively created an overarching ecosystem for engineers that RS can tap into to promote products (and purchasing from RS), develop a loyal customer base and attract new customers. The insight RS gains from operating such a large community network is invaluable to its business and ethos of ‘never standing still’.

This ethos has been evident in its entire evolution from a catalogue-based business, to a multi-volume printed doorstop, to CDs, to a comprehensive web-based catalogue – and eventually an online ordering service. RS was the first player in the B2B electronics and industrial distribution industry to offer a transactional website – just as the internet boom was beginning, positioning it as a pioneer of digital trading.

Mike continues: “Despite being the first in the industry on the digital trading front, RS hasn’t forgotten the importance of customer interaction, and has kept the human touch close at heart. Whilst the digital route is the way forward, it is how we innovate and enhance the customer buying experience – with high-level technical expertise – that helps keep us ahead of the competition.”

RS is keen not only to use DesignSpark to engage with design engineers, but also as a way of supporting the engineers of tomorrow. RS University is an initiative for academia, with the objective of supporting educators in teaching their students, enhancing student learning and communicating the latest industry innovations. Providing free-of-charge materials to educators allows them to aid students in practical learning, which in turn helps prepare them to tackle real-world problems in engineering design.

RS University is part of the firm’s overall commitment to supporting and inspiring engineers, both current and future. RS is involved in, and an instigator of, a variety of other initiatives to support STEM subjects uptake. As well as being a STEM partner, recruiting STEM ambassadors, it has also recently launched its new Titan 2 truck.

Replacing its Titan 1 truck, launched in 2016, it signifies RS’s continued commitment to bringing the latest innovations to its wide base of existing customers, whilst also educating and inspiring the next generation of engineers through visits to schools, colleges and universities. In addition to technologies such as DesignSpark, Titan 2 features Raspberry Pi, 3D printing, robotics, Internet of Things and thermal imaging, alongside even more of the latest technology – using virtual reality and augmented reality to really bring innovation to life.

As Mike Bray concludes: “RS is in a unique position to be able to inspire, influence and nurture the next generation of engineers, so we take this responsibility seriously. Our efforts, along with those from other industry players and educational institutions, are fundamental to engaging students as young as possible and securing the future of the UK engineering industry. Of course, our investment also helps secure our future, as our business relies on a strong manufacturing economy, which won’t thrive or grow without the necessary engineering skills.

Furthermore, it relies on customers choosing RS, and our commitment to the DesignSpark community is key to keeping us front of mind. Selling the right products in the right way is just one part of successful distribution. Listening to and acting upon feedback, and providing valuable support, information, new services and tools, is a significant element in garnering loyalty that feeds this success.”

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