The moves towards a dealer association of some kind are gathering pace. But it’s hard going – the networks even seem to have the weather on their side …
He was one of the dealers invited to attend a recent get-together promoting greater dealer co-operation. Jez Harris, owner of Birmingham based Futurenet Communications (and a columnist for one of our esyteemed competitors) had been approached by Hugh Symons’ chief Bob Sweetlove to arrange a meeting where the idea of a dealer grouping could be discussed. Jez and I have spoken about this a few times, and so we co-ordinated efforts to get a few dealers to attend at Hugh Symons’ office in Poole, Dorset (why is every distie based in the middle of nowhere?!?)
Also among the invited was Chris Caudle, founder of the Independent Mobile Phone Dealer Association, along with other well-known figures in the indie community. The idea was one of how we could take the IMPDA forward to benefit dealers. There was no obvious benefit for Hugh Symons, but the feedback from Bob Sweetlove was that a strong dealer community could only be good for all distributors.
Of course, as is bloody typical, the day of the meeting was greeted with Arctic weather. Of the nine invited dealers, only four of us actually made through the snow – Dan Schama of ThatPhone, Byron Gambold of The Phone Box, Alex Taylor of Quadra Telecom, and me. Determined not to let the day be a waste, we shared some good ideas on how we need to move forward as independent dealers.
And it’s amazing how the discussion turned out. Having been presented with a snapshot of where the industry seems to be heading (the gospel according to Bob Sweetlove) we realised that it’s all well and good saying we need to work together, but ultimately, for this grouping to work, it needs to have some shared goals – and maybe even a quality criteria, for quality is the key word in our industry at the moment.
It’s what the networks are wanting from us, and it’s what is going to stand us in good stead in the long term. It’s what those of us who plan to be in the business for a while, are looking for in our customers.
Lets face it: for the past few years, the industry has been focussed on volume, and too many dealers have followed the quick-fix quantity approach – it’s epitomised in the mass cashback deals that have almost become the de facto method for luring in customers.
But finally, we seem to waking up to the fact that there’s only so much you can flog a dead horse. We’ve seen so many dealers going bust because they’ve can’t compete with the mass-cashback deals being offered by their peers, and because they have no other sales tactics in their armour to keep them competitive. And we haven’t even touched upon churn!
We constantly blame the networks for our current state, and some of their practices are shameful. It is appalling that they don’t allow us to offer the same deals as their direct stores, or that they reward upgrades so poorly, when compared to new connections.
Yet we’ve devalued ourselves so much that the networks feel safe trouncing all over us. What we need is for dealers to start demonstrating what we can deliver.
3 has taken a lot of stick recently for some of its policy changes. But while the methods may leave a lot to be desired, the general move has been in the right direction – against dishonest cashback, against high fraud, against high returns, against poor quality connections. This is something all dealers should be aspiring to.
3 deserve criticism because it has gone from one extreme to another too quickly, without giving its partners time to adjust, or to move in the right direction.
But it is a direction in which we need to head.
Ultimately, if we are going to have a group of dealers working together, it needs to be one that the networks are keen (even desperate) to work with. And so we need to show our quality – decent ARPU, low churn, low fraud, low returns and high quality, coupled with a sound business foundation.
This stuff isn’t always easy to measure, but we need to be able to demonstrate that we are a collection of dealers worth working with. It then puts us in a position of strength when negotiating with our network partners.
Between the networks and the multiples, independent dealers have their work cut out. It is so cut-throat that many dealers are struggling to cope.
But we really need to help ourselves, and make sure our businesses have the right focus. And then work with a collective voice to make us a force to be reckoned with …
THIS MONTH’S TOP THREE DEALS
1- MDA Compact 3 on FlexT 35 and Web & Walk 12 months – free phone. Still the best phone going, on the best price plan around.
2- Orange Canary 40 with 850 mins, 150 Orange mins, 300 texts, free Sony Ericsson W880i or LG Shine, unlimited 8MB wireless broadband and unlimited calls from home to Orange phones and UK & International landlines – all for £45/month. Read it and weep, Virgin!
3- 3’s VideoTalk 500 for £15 a month (18 months) with free Sony Ericsson K610i. Great to push with 3’s International Caller bundle, giving 3,000 international minutes and 500 UK minutes for £30 per month.
THIS MONTH’S TOP THREE GRIPES
1- TalkTalk. Mr Dunstone, when I’ve had to wait five months for my broadband, it’s not exactly going to encourage me to push customers to TalkTalk, is it?
2- I could think of lots of things to say; but to sum it all up, I’m putting all my 3 connections through the network’s “recommend a friend” scheme. I get a £30 credit on my bill, without all the procedural headaches, and I can match the direct deals! Guys, where has it all gone wrong?
3- Motorola. it’s quite bleak when not one of the handsets in my contract portfolio is made by the American manufacturer. What do you expect, when the most exciting is the KRZR K1!
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