Monday, April 21, 2008

UK Software Distribution: Centered in Devon

Devon is located 4 hours by car from London to the Southwest. It’s something of a “vacation land” boasting a beautiful coast line and a national park (the Dartmoor) inland with higher evaluations and weather extremes.

Devon is a place where the devil visits the taverns and ghosts frequent abandoned mansions. (Could J.K. Rawling, who was educated at the nearby university in Exeter, have been inspired by these surroundings?) Our distributor for the UK, Sigma Software Distribution, is based in Devon and has a diverse cast. One speaks to the llamas in the hills (I don’t mean religious monks, but the glorified hairy beasts with long necks ). Another sports a long red coat and goes fox hunting during lunch (talley ho!). Another is a woman with 9 children who doesn’t live in a shoe, but after work marketing software by day operates an inn owned by her family (now that’s true manpower!). Another staff member greats you with a wide smile flashing large white teeth – he’s not a vampire, but a 5th degree black belt in martial arts. If ever there was a little town where the children are above average and the women are strong (the female managing director of Sigma Software distribution is a former army officer), is Devon not the "Lake Wobegone" of England?

Back to business with this cast of characters – Sigma Software Distribution represent a few good software brands including TechSmith, MindJet and now SmartDraw. All three softwares could be classified as “business productivity.” Sigma have worked magic with MindJet and TechSmith, driving sales at heavenly growth rates that can’t be matched by world-wide distributors such as Ingram Micro. One of their techniques for doing this is with the “funded head” a concept I had first run into 15 years ago with the now defunct distributor Tech Pacific in Singapore. The disty's pitch goes something like this.
a) We want exclusive distribution rights to your products
b) We want really good margins
c) We want you to pay for the advertising
d) We want you to pay us for allowing you to talk to our sales reps (well, the distributor doesn’t say that, but the resellers certainly say that!)
e) And now, we want you to pay our staff expense. (You pay us, and we’ll hire someone to sell your products.)
I always found this proposition troubling – because we were providing our distributors with more than enough margin to sell our product, promote it and to pay their staff. Look, if you’re going to ask me to pay so you can go and hire staff, I might as well hire the staff myself! Therein lies the challenge – hiring an employee in a European labor market where there is no "employment at will".

I allow the Sigma Sales Director (the self-described "thug" among this cast of characters with his fashionable bowling ball haircut) to make his pitch for the funded head, and he starts by talking about a 5 to 1 return on our investment. Now he’s got my attention, because the numbers make sense. What’s more, we can start with ½ a person, with an initial commitment of 6 months, paid quarterly, with a portion of the payment “earned” from achieving sales targets. So in our case, given our anticipated growth in UK reseller sales, the funded head makes sense, especially if we found a good person in Devon, at Devon wage rates. I wonder if this person will also talk to llamas, chase ghosts and go fox hunting?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

London Revisited 31 Years Later: Distributing Software In The UK

London – The DSGi computer group invited their best customers – IT managers from leading companies, government and education institutions—to attend a series of lectures and see the latest software and computer products at a mini exposition in Weybridge, an affluent suburb southwest of London in the Surrey district. The venue is an old car race track from 100 years ago, which now hosts a museum of race cars, a mothballed Concorde supersonic jet [the 2nd Concorde I’ve seen today as I passed by one at Heathrow this morning on my arrival] and a car dealership, Mercedes Benz World. Not just a place to purchase vehicles, at Mercedes World a professional driver will take you an obstacle course testing the latest Mercedes vehicles’ ability to accelerate, stop in water (without skidding out of control) and to swerve around objects at high speed (without rolling over or spinning out). This was an added attraction for the attendees [and a good place for me to practice driving on the wrong side of the road]. I was there in a booth representing SmartDraw, the leader in business graphics software, along with our distribution partner in the UK Sigma Software Distribution. I found the quality of the attendees to be excellent and was equally impressed with Sigma’s ability to engage customers. They shared the same philosophy I do, that you might as well throw money on the ground for each attendee who passes by whom you don’t engage and tell about SmartDraw. That’s a polite way of describing “kick ass and take names.” It was quite refreshing to see that in a reseller – someone who actually works and hustles for business--and I believe that we obtained more leads than anyone else at the show (especially given our location near the back where there was less foot traffic). I’ll be following up with Sigma staff on Monday, calling and qualifying the leads, and bringing orders right into the hands of DSGi’s sales reps in an effort to further grow SmartDraw’s sales in the UK to at least 15%, or more, of US sales.
Headlines in the BBC news today are the 150th anniversary of the installation of “the bell” in the Big Ben clock tower, and newly released videos from the 7/7 July terrorist bombers saying goodbye to their families. The London Marathon is tomorrow, and I’ve walked at least half that distance today through London’s major streets, parks and alleys. Having travelled to many European and Asian capitals during the last quarter century except London, I find the central parts (Trafalgar Square, Covent Gardens) magnificent to view, and bustling with activity. No wonder the city is such a popular destination. Dinner Friday night is with Nick & Steven Thompson of Marinesoft, our reseller partner for more than nine years. The company name comes from their passion for sailing. Instead of taking me sailing across the English Channel, we head for Rules, London’s oldest restaurant, established in 1798, where I take revenge on a rabbit who has been splendidly roasted and stuffed. Nick gives me a lesson about English character and management styles. "Non emotional," he says. I tell him that also describes the culture of SmartDraw: decisions are made based on facts and reason. Back at the hotel an urgent message awaits from the home front 8 time zones away, “Caught a gopher and don’t know how to get the corpse out of the trap. What do I do!?”

Friday, April 4, 2008

Another Great "Intelligent Projector" from Nippon Avionics, the AVIO iP-60E

One of my personal goals at Alliance International was to introduce unique products to the North American market. One of those has been the AVIO projector series, built by Nippon Avionics in Japan. You may never have heard of this projector manufacturer before, but their products are excellent. I first met their management team at the INFOCOMM trade show in 1994, and year after year they keep plugging away, delivering a projector with a unique, built-in camera, that allows you to show crisp, clear live images of documents and 3-D solid objects. The quality of the AVIO products is excellent.

Alliance Int'l has just released the AVIO iP-60E, a 3,500 lumen LCD projector with a 4-million pixel high resolution camera built in. The first shipment arrived at LAX on March 31st, and is sold out already. The next shipment should arrive at the end of April. Here's the text of the press release:

Alliance International Introduces AVIO iP-60E 3,500 Lumen LCD Projector With Built-In High-Resolution Camera

April 7, 2008 (San Diego, CA) -- Alliance International, North America distributor and authorized service center for Nippon Avionics, has introduced AVIO's newest LCD "intelligent projector', the iP-60E. The iP-60E features 3,500 lumens, and is the choice for organizations requiring a brighter projector with "all-in-one" capability of document camera, scanner, electronic whiteboard, large screen projection TV and PowerPoint presentations.Because it incorporates a high resolution camera, the iP-60E is used to project live images of documents and 3-D solid objects, in addition to tradition projector functions of computer presentations and video. The main benefits of the iP-60E are:

**Clearer image in well-lit rooms, because brightness has been increased to 3,500 lumens.
**Quicker set up time and less clutter, because it has a built-in camera. There is no need to set up a separate document camera and connect it to the projector.
**Ease of showing documents and 3-D solid objects; just lay them on the flat platen, as you would a photocopy machine or scanner.
**Clear image--even when showing full page documents-- because of the high-resolution CCD camera built-in with over 4-million pixels.
**Improved video image, by utilizing LCD technology.
**Easy to save images and annotate over images, using the built in image capture and electronic whiteboard annotation features.

Unlike other projectors with an optional camera arm or using a traditional document camera or flex camera which is a separate device, the AVIO projector has a camera built-inside, allowing users to easily place documents and 3-D objects on a glass platen incorporated into the images tops.The AVIO iP-60E projector offers users convenience, because they can project clear images of full-size documents and 3-D objects without having to set up and use a separate document camera. Showing documents and 3-D objects is as easy as using a traditional overhead projector (OHP) or a photo-copy machine--just place the document on the glass platen and the image appears.Nippon Avionics, based in Japan, has been producing LCD projectors with cameras built-in for over 12 years. In the past, the projectors have been bulky, with a depth of 12 inches, or more.The AVIO iP-60E is now shipping, and available to government customers on the GSA contract through Tierney Brothers, to education customers through CamCor or available on-line at The list price in both the US and Japan is $8,495.Early adopters of the AVIO iP-60E have been manufacturing companies, who use the projector in the office for presentations and training.

About Alliance International:

Alliance International Trade & Investment Group, Inc. was founded in 1997 as a wholesales distributor and international trade consultant to the professional audio visual, telecommunications, computer and software industries. The company's clients have included JABRA Corporation (hands free Earsets), InFocus (projectors), PolyVision (electronic whiteboards), Yokogawa (document cameras), Media Go Engineering (Digital Class electromagnetic LCD monitor with annotation software) and SmartDraw (business graphics software). In 2004, Alliance was appointed U.S. distributor for Nippon Avionics AVIO projectors with built in camera, and completed service center training in October, 2007.

ALLIANCE INTERNATIONAL Trade & Investment Group, Inc. San Diego, California, USATel: (858) 558-2030 Fax: (858) 558-2031 Corporate Website: E-store: E-mail: