9/15/2010 11:39:00 AM
Interview: HSC’s multi-brand network challenge
To work at HSC is to multitask. Not only does the distributor sell both hardware and airtime, but it is also intent on delivering a multi-brand strategy. It distributes all the networks, and has recently added Vodafone prepay to its vast range of products.
HSC business manager Bob Sweetlove is the first to acknowledge the challenges of such a broad strategy. He says: ‘There are a few challenges and some of our suppliers would prefer we had less [brands]. But as yet we haven’t failed.’
Coping with the weight of updates with all five operator brands and sales people is a challenge, Sweetlove admits, but these difficulties are outweighed by being able to offer all five.
The biggest spike for HSC is when the monthly price book plans for all networks must be completed.
‘We don’t segregate so we try to employ the sharpest people – lots of
our people have grown up as a multi-brand distributor,’ Sweetlove says.
Despite being an O2 Approved distributor, HSC is not preferential to any operator. Sweetlove says: ‘It’s mainly about the strength of the proposition. It’s not easy matching handsets – we have a hardware and
an airtime team. But some people just use us for hardware.’
This didn’t stop HSC clinching the title of O2’s Champion Business Distributor for the second quarter of 2010, after more than doubling its business with the operator and driving up sales of BlackBerry handsets by 140%.
‘The best is the dealer who buys hardware and airtime,’ says Sweetlove. ‘The more we can add in the better – more software products such as Microsoft – the big trends are mobility and cloud services.’
HSC also has plans to introduce tablets to its dealers, for which Sweetlove believes there will be a wide market. He says: ‘That’s where the business will be. In the extreme cases, every employee will have one. But I think there will be snob value and directors of companies will want one, as well as those who work remotely. They will also be good for informal meetings.’
Sweetlove predicts a wave of affordable tablets following Apple’s iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tab – announced this month. He says: ‘No doubt the iPad has made the noise but others will be cheaper.
‘Also, they use phone based operating systems so the dealer will understand them. It will be what the mobile dealer is familiar with, rather than the IT dealer. The mobile dealer is a specialist and can speak about these devices. I can see tablets being big in 2011 as a mobile solution.’
HSC has just completed a second summer of technical training for its dealers to educate them on developments such as the tablet.
HSC consultants have travelled over 4,000 miles since June to provide one-on-one technical training to the distributor’s VIP dealers.
This is just one prong of a strategy to secure their loyalty and gain more dealers. Sweetlove says: ‘It’s the second summer we’ve done VIP. We also do phone marketing and eshots. We refreshed the brand and made the logo 3D. Our fans like us but we want to be getting more dealers to come to us.’
HSC tries to differentiate with excellent service, says Sweetlove, adding: ‘We don’t want to handcuff people – we don’t hold back revenue share. It’s about educating people, sending customer surveys – people are very honest, and that is great for me.’
The distributor wants to be the best on service, differentiating itself with elements such as how quickly products arrive. Sweetlove says: ‘Our typical customer is his own accountant. We had our best month on record in July 2010 for dealers using us.’
The company has also said it plans to raise its game with RIM, with which it has had a relationship since 2007, in the coming months. The distributor has exclusively provided the free launch packs on every BlackBerry device launch since the Bold 9000 in August 2008.
Sweetlove says: ‘With RIM, we want more of the same – not an accreditation scheme necessarily. We are trying to open RIM up to as many points of service as we can. RIM are good for promotions and they are a good company to get close to.’
He adds: ‘The new operating system should push them further ahead – the previous browser was their Achilles heel and now they have fixed that. The relationship is working so I’m not going to change that.’
And although HSC has ‘a great choice of hardware’, including Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Samsung, it is limited to where it can put Apple, Sweetlove admits.
However, the distributor will aim to add more products, whether airtime or hardware, Sweetlove says, citing Vodafone pay-as-you-go, which HSC has just added to its offering.
He says: ‘We will also add software and we will grow the dealer base with service as well. We have a very efficient portal. Over 50% of orders go through the portal so we can make more sales through that. The successful providers could be people that have done the most sales.’
He adds: ‘We will continue to focus squarely on the mobile stuff, and extras such as location based services. That’s all great and will continue to drive people.’