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Interview: Jon Sidwick, Maverick Europe

Over the past two years, AV distributor Maverick has been rolling out national offices across Europe – most recently in France. Paddy Baker spoke to Maverick Europe director Jon Sidwick about the process of setting up new distribution businesses, his hopes for the French market, and what’s next for this multinational organisation.

Over the past two years, AV distributor Maverick has been rolling out national offices across Europe – most recently in France. Paddy Baker spoke to Maverick Europe director Jon Sidwick about the process of setting up new distribution businesses, his hopes for the French market, and what’s next for this multinational organisation.

Maverick France is now up and running. When did it start?
Officially we started on 1 May. In France we’re in the lucky situation to have a very strong, robust Techdata business that is already a top three distribution performer in terms of revenue for AV in France. I could say it has a generalist/broadline approach, but less so than other countries, it’s quite high-touch broadline, if there is such a thing.
We’ve taken that business, taken the team they have, and we’re recruiting some specialist team people, injecting some true audiovisual DNA, and then putting the Maverick name as an umbrella over that existing business.

When you say ‘injecting some audiovisual DNA’, do you mean just in terms of the expertise of the new people?
It’s a bit of a journey. Firstly we make sure we bring in a country manager who’s got expertise in this area. We’ve brought in Philippe Baracetti; he spent 10 years with Procolor, working with various roles but latterly building the distribution network. Prior to that he was at an AV rental company. So Philippe understands the channel, the people in the channel, the role of distribution and how an AV distributor should tick. He’s finalising the last recruits, who are audiovisual recruits; that will take a team of four or five people up to ten, all focused on sales, marketing and product support for the Maverick business.

As we proceed, he’ll be ensuring that we take the knowledge that he has ­– and other external knowledge, such as InfoComm courses – to make the team more expert on the AV side.

Most of the guys there have been working in AV for a while. We’ve got business managers, for example Marissa – she’s worked for the AV side for three years now, two of which have been as business manager for Promethean in the French business. So the starting point is far more than zero. What we want to do is take that good strong team and make it into a true specialist team. That won’t happen overnight – you’ve got to employ the right people and educate everybody in the business.

A lot of what Maverick does is very programmatic. To what extent does that allow for the quirks and nuances of individual national markets?
Almost 100%. If something isn’t right for a country, I wouldn’t ask the country to do it. I’ve found that 90% of what we do is the same for each country. For instance, if you look at our ten different country websites, the look and feel is exactly the same. And they’ve got what resellers are looking for: e-commerce, product information, delivery tracking, the whole lot. But they allow for local flex – so our businesses can put in their own brands and offers. I gave the guys the option of the templated approach or doing their own thing. By far, everybody said it was a well-constructed template, and they contributed ideas and changes before we gave them the final piece – and they like it and they’ve run with it. And it makes life so much easier, because you don’t have to invent the wheel every time.

Can you give me an idea of how the French business is doing at this stage?
You’re never going to find out in the first six weeks how something’s going to progress. All we can say is, the reaction from vendors and resellers has been incredibly positive. But they do say, “You’ve got to put your performance where your mouth is.”

Vendors are looking for distribution partners that can offer great breath of touch into the reseller base, strong credit, both buying and selling, and full expertise support where required. And they want all that at a price that’s not prohibitive. Our margin model allows us to invest heavily in marketing development for that vendor, rather than using the vendor’s margin to support non-efficient businesses. Vendors say, “If you can deliver all that, fantastic – you’ve got to prove it”, and you move on a step-by-step basis – but they want to do it.

Resellers are less driven to buy from us from that point of view – they buy off people who give them good stock, good service and good price. If you look at Hotlamps, we’ve taken a business that didn’t exist in France two years ago to being one of our major Hotlamps businesses, because we’re doing what we say we should do.
And, of course, we’ve already got a 20 million euro business in France, so we must be doing something right!

Are there any brands that you have particular brands that you have high hopes for in France?
We have a great brand set. One of the things we don’t want to do is go hunting for brands to support the new business. On the projector side we have strong partnerships with Epson and NEC, and it would be nice to see the growth of the Casio brand through us – they’re only with us in France and Spain. On the large format side, Samsung is a strong player for us. We’re strong with those well-known brands across Europe. Recently we brought Sony back into Maverick France on the back of a European deal that we’ve just done – we’re now one of the major distributors for Sony across Europe. And we’ve launched Vision: now that we have the Maverick vehicle, we’re comfortable to do that in France.

How about the rest of Europe?
Germany is up and running – it’s a tough one to crack because it’s such a traditional area. Austria is similar. In Belgium and the Netherlands – that’s been up and running for a year and a half now – we’re probably the largest AV distributor across the two countries as a whole. Denmark has just started, Italy is just starting: we’ve recruited a country manager and will probably launch officially in July. Portugal and Spain are very strong; the Iberian business happened straight after the UK. So we’re up and running, either fully or close to fully, in ten countries.
Next will be the Nordic countries. Denmark has been the start point there, but I hope we’ll be looking into the colder climes of northern Europe some time after the summer.

It would have been very difficult to do all this without the support of the Techdata side of the business, but because we have that platform it’s relatively straightforward – though nothing’s ever easy. We’re learning – we’ve learned a lot in the two years since InfoComm 2009 – and the process is becoming more straightforward and more understandable.

And it’s exciting! No other AV distributor has the touch that we’ve got. What we’re looking for is to get geographical breadth and then specialist depth. What we want to do is spend the next two years developing greater depth of product and expertise. You’ll see more focus on the education market – as we’ve done with Promethean, which we deal with in six or seven of those countries. We’re focusing on digital signage, and one or two other areas that might surprise people, which I can’t talk about yet…