Over the last quarter of a century, COMM-TEC has become one of Europe’s most well-known pro-AV distributors. The Germany-based company – which is also active as a manufacturer – attributes much of its success to providing ‘added value’ solutions to dealers and integrators. Sales & marketing managing director Rainer Sprinzl (pictured) spoke to David Davies about the creation of a well-rounded portfolio and the new challenges heralded by AV/IT convergence.
What factors make for a successful distribution operation?
From our perspective, it’s very much about adding value; we don’t see ourselves as a ‘box-mover’. As a pan-European business that is unrestricted by borders, we offer skilled support as well as training and ‘webinar’ concepts that allow us to connect with dealers and integrators.
Adding value goes beyond the sale itself, taking in pre- and post-sales support, guidance and training. It’s a core element of our business and goes hand-in-hand with our concept of selling only to dealers and integrators. A clear concept for distribution is very important.
How do you go about developing a well-matched product portfolio?
For us, it’s a blend of having the right new products and technologies alongside the ‘cash cows’ that sell in large quantities. In terms of new developments, we analyse AV and IT trends continually through trade show visits and news media, and take the necessary steps to optimise our portfolio.
We also monitor the requirements of integrators and end-users, and how they see the relevant technologies developing. It’s very much a two-way approach: what’s happening on the manufacturer and market sides. Collectively, this guides us towards the appropriate portfolio.
Has the industry distribution model – and yours in particular – changed in recent years?
The advent of news portals and increased trade show presence has meant that many manufacturers have moved closer towards the integration market. This contrasts sharply with the situation ten or 15 years ago, when many companies were remote from the distribution set-up and distributors were left to fulfil more or less all tasks.
For COMM-TEC specifically, the biggest change was the introduction five years ago of a four-unit segmentation for our portfolio: control, signal management, presentation, and racks & support. We have developed an extensive portfolio with more than 25 brands, and it is our belief that segmentation makes it easier for customers to identify the right solutions and products.
As a distributor, which fixed install products have been most successful – and why?
In the control segment, the COMM-TEC AVIT control system has been very successful, in part because it utilises non-proprietary technology. In the signal management segment, we have enjoyed great success with Gefen’s digital signal management products, which offer the right solutions for a host of future-oriented installations. Our presentation segment is led by dnp denmark with products including Supernova, which enables high-quality front projection even under challenging lighting conditions. In the same segment, the Vidyo IP-based video-conferencing system has demonstrated its advantages over traditional desktop systems.
I would also highlight Middle Atlantic’s dedicated install rack solutions and our ability to provide a ‘one stop’ package for digital signage, including content players from BrightSign and signal management products from Gefen and COMM-TEC. Digital signage is a fast-moving market and we see strong demand for these solutions.
COMM-TEC began releasing its own branded products in the mid 1990s. In what ways do your own manufacturing interests complement the rest of your distribution portfolio?
The basic idea is to fill gaps that are not occupied by products from our partners. So, if we see a niche where the right solution is unavailable, or if we want to work with a manufacturer that is not well-known to the European market, we look to introduce something under our own brand. For example, COMM-TEC ProTUNE – a digital TV tuner with RS232 two-way control – is really unlike anything else available.
What do you see as the principal challenges for distributors over the next few years?
The main one is how to deal with IT. With this in mind, we started to investigate IT solutions some years ago and now have a number of IP-based products in our portfolio. Again, technical support is very important to help guide customers towards the right products to satisfy AV and IT tasks. The number of staff we have with an IT background has increased, and will continue to do so.