Brightstar’s only real rival of similar scale in the international distribution market, Brightpoint, looks certain to arrive in the UK through the purchase of Hugh Symons Telecom (HST) this week. Those who remember Brightpoint’s previous failed attempt to make a challenge in the UK market almost a decade ago describe a very different approach: ‘They came in, hired a load of people who weren’t very good, and just tried to undercut everyone,’ said one old hand. That strategy was unravelled very quickly and the company made its exit. Things look very different this time around.
The purchase of HST looks well thought-out. It follows the moves being made by Brightstar and its partnership with IT distributor Tech Data. Companies have been preparing for the harvest of wireless email and wireless online applications over the last year. Talk to manufacturers, and they point a golf sale-like sign to the enterprise market as the real area of growth. And the ones they are frustrated with are distributors for failing to exploit. Manufacturers see an untapped market of high-end devices with QWERTY keypads, and operators scent some loyal big spenders – and not just in the corporate market.
Hugh Roper, meanwhile, has been busy building up his HST business since the sale of his airtime business to Carphone Warehouse two years ago. He is now in a position where his business looks to have the expertise to reap the rewards. He has built up the supplier relationships and expertise with the likes of HTC, the routes to the IT and business market, and has the systems to manage customers that is so critical for the coveted ongoing revenue arrangements with operators.
In the background to this is the apathy of the big manufacturers and operators towards box-shifting distributors who have failed to progress. A fascinating duel looks set to be played out between the two American giants in the UK this year.