"Computer Reseller News"


September 28, 1998, Issue: 809
Section: Channels

VAR crafts super partnering deal
David Jastrow

Wichita Falls, Texas -- Here comes Goliath.

That was the first thought entering Scott Storm's mind when he learned that Office Depot planned to open a new store in Wichita Falls in October 1996.

After more than a decade as one of the top VARs in the region, he lamented that his company, Storm Computer, would not be able to compete with a huge retailer in a city of just 100,000 people.

"When an OfficeMax and Office Depot opened within months of each other, I was initially panic-stricken," said Storm, the company's president. "Then one day, it just dawned on me and I saw a wide-open niche."

That niche was service. While Storm Computer could not spar with the superstores on product because of their built-in pricing and inventory advantages, the company realized it retained one sizable advantage of its own: a strong reputation servicing the region's small businesses over the past decade.

Building on that, Storm Computer formed an informal partnership with Office Depot, whereby it provides break-fix and integration services to Office Depot customers.

Customers eventually came to express relief at the fact that problems could be fixed locally, instead of incurring delays caused when products are shipped to manufacturers for warranty work, said Stuart Shaw, a business machine specialist for the Office Depot in Wichita Falls.

"They are more satisfied when they know they have someplace in town where they can go when something goes wrong," Shaw said.

Along with break-fix services, Storm Computer offers hardware and software installation and customized services. Its staff of nine support professionals have achieved A+ Certification, an industry wide, vendor-neutral certification managed by the Computing Technology Industry Association.

That investment in training and testing is an independent confirmation of abilities that benefits both parties, Storm said. "If you take good care of their customers, they will beat a path to your door. Everyone comes out looking like a white knight."

Although the two companies do not have a formal business contract, Storm helps generate sales for Office Depot when he sees a customer with a hardware need. For example, a customer recently brought a hard drive into the shop with less than 20 percent available space. Storm recommended purchasing a new drive at Office Depot, and the customer proceeded to make the purchase and return to Storm to install the drive.                                         

Storm said he often calms customers when they express anger over a component or system problem encountered after making a major purchase. Many customers still would rather receive personal one-on-one attention than the assistance provided through vendor help desks, he said.                         

In addition to sending service business to Storm Computer, Office Depot sends customers to the VAR for more specific components the superstore does not carry, such as SCSI cards and cables, which Storm stocks to accommodate nearby Sheppard Air Force Base.

"More small companies need to get with big retailers and say, 'I'm not here to fight you. We grew from bigger companies' scraps, so if you'll feed us your scraps, we'll make you look good,' " Storm said.

Storm Computer, which is generating yearly revenue of about $1 million, actually earns additional profits from the superstores it once feared.

"Instead of trying to fight them, we have formed a wonderfully synergistic relationship," Storm said.



Copyright 1998 CMP Media Inc.                




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