Varlink is a specialist value added distributor of mobile computing and associated data capture products. It was established in 2005 and employs 28 staff, based at its recently expanded distribution centre in York. Here, CEO Mike Pullon talks to Mobile Business on how his IT-based company is moving into the mobile sector.
Varlink increasingly sees a case for differentiating between rugged versus commercial devices, when companies choose something cool over what should actually be bought to suit the job function itself. Here, return on investment, downtime and broken devices come into play in the early stages of technology adoption, as businesses pick the wrong tools for the job.
Fit for purpose
Pullon explains: “Three or four years ago when the recession began to rear its head, a lot of people decided that the latest technology would drive cost savings. For instance, BlackBerry’s and other smartphones were used with the idea of giving photocopier engineers up to date information, allowing the owner of the business to make the company more productive, and to provide up to date information for customers. But those devices were generally not fit for purpose, and wore out fast with semi-industrial usage.”
Resellers selling mobile telephony products or airtime contracts need a business communication tool that offers more functionality than just a smartphone, hence the need to equip mobile workers with a corporatestyle PDA, such as the Getac MH132, Psion EP10 or Unitech PA550 devices, claims Pullon. These use GPRS to remotely link up to a back office system, and include a camera for reporting purposes, a barcode scanner, GPS tracking, and sometimes a large touchscreen for electronic POD.
“Our push to market now is focused on converting the people who have been selling PDAs, smartphones and devices for data capture, to selling rugged devices with SIM cards that can read bar codes. Multi purpose terminals that can survive in harder than usual conditions, that can be used to make calls, but that look like a smartphone are key,” notes Pullon.
Hey, good looking!
Pullon states that Varlink, which has a history of working with mobile computing terminals, has noticed that recently the form factor of these devices has evolved. “The ergonomics of rugged PDAs has changed,” he comments. “Now they look like rugged smartphone devices, or just like smartphones, but they are incredibly tough.”
The way these devices look is important, claims Pullon. “People using a work phone don’t want something that weighs a ton and looks bad, so user acceptance has been much better since we’ve been able to introduce devices that look like smartphones.”
And there is money in this line of sales, claims Pullon: “Typically the devices we’re selling will enable the mobile dealer to make 25% to 30% gross profit. There are other ways to make money as well; virtually all the devices we sell, no matter who the manufacturer is, enable the dealer to also sell a five year service contract on top.”
The brands that Varlink distributes for include: Aceeca; Bixolon; Brother; Datalogic; Electrone; Getac; Janam; Opticon; Orient; Posiflex; Psion; Seagull; Trimble; Unitech; Zebex; and Zebra.
Thanks to strong growth of an 18% increase in turnover for the year ended August 2011, the company hit the £9.5 million mark. “We’d like to put another £1 million to £1.5 million over the next year, to hit around £10.5 million,” Pullon adds.
Recruiting mobile dealers
Varlink’s products are marketed to mobile computing solution specialist resellers, and IT resellers and system integrators who want to develop or build a position in the supply of mobile computing and data capture products or solutions. It is now looking to recruit more mobile dealers.
Pullon comments: “We don’t have huge numbers of people in the mobile dealer space, but it’s growing. We are definitely interested in mobile resellers, as they have relationships with airtime providers, unlike many of our current resellers who need to partner up for that. In the facilities management sector, people need something more rugged than a smartphone, with more functionality than a mobile phone; our smarter, tougher mobile devices are going out there, but to get involved, mobile dealers need to understand the opportunities in this hardware.
“I believe a lot of companies are getting free terminals with airtime contracts, whereas this needs to be sold. At the root, these are Windows mobile phones, and we want to engage with the companies that know how to sell these devices to the people that need them,” adds Pullon.
The top three devices in terms of volume on the Varlink books start with the Psion EP10, which Pullon terms as: “A hot product!” This is followed by Japanese manufacturer, Opticon, which Pullon says has three devices, the H set of terminals. And finally, he mentions Getac: “Getac comes from the rugged tablet market, so most of its products are tough, large devices. But it’s just come out with the MH132, which is like a smartphone in size, with no barcode scanner, but is used by the likes of housing association maintenance schemes; you can spill paint and plaster on it and just wipe it off, unlike with a smartphone.”
Pullon adds: “We will go on joint visits to clients to support mobile dealers, produce sales collateral and help the dealer develop this side of their business. There are lots of opportunities to be had,” he concludes.