Sharp End

Every month we ask our panel of three dealers to comment on a hot topic of importance to the dealer community. This month’s issue is distributor-supported marketing: Instead of offering cash incentives, some distributors are investing in providing marketing support for their customers. Is this now becoming common? How effective can it be? Most important, is it helping your business?

Faisal Sheikh, fone doctors:

It’s a wholesalers mantra; “ your business is our business” . And never has it rung truer for Mobile Distributors.

With the game long shifted from volume to quality, they need us dealers to be on top of our game, and that’s why for the quality dealers who are still in the industry, the distributors are falling over themselves to be as helpful as possible.

Quite simply, if we do well, they do well. If we don’t, well, they’re in trouble. One of the keys to a strong dealer channel is marketing.

That’s why Hugh Symons, EBS, Dextra and gang all seem to be keen to offer

their expertise in marketing. And for a lot of dealers, it makes sense. Many of us don’t have time to think about marketing, and if someone can help do it for us, then why not.

But it’s not for us at fone doctors. Despite our being a small company, marketing cannot be an afterthought. It’s a fundamental part of our strategy. It’s what makes us unique and stand-out, and it’s one of the things we do well. Look at our pilot TV show at fonedoctors.com/ lym to see the effort we put in. When we invited 20 dealers to breakfast at our London Bridge store in January, before our meeting with Ofcom, many of the group were surprised that we had only five staff because our advertising made us appear a lot bigger.

As a repair centre with trade customers of our own, it’s important that our customers are able to benefit from strong marketing, and we’ll often help them devise posters and flyers.

Where distributor support can be effective is where it leads to dealers sharing a recognised brand. I thought Hugh Symons’ Unity concept had a lot of potential (along the lines of Euronics). But with the current owners, I don’t think it will be developed in the way it can.


The panellist:

Faisal Sheikh is Head Surgeon at London Bridge based mobile business fone doctors. With a themed retail store, and a dedicated ‘accident & emergency ward’ for phone repairs & unlocking, fone doctors has developed an expertise in the non-warranty servicing sector industry. It was the first in the UK to mass-unlock the NEC E616 and Nokia BB5 phones, and to date has unlocked over 1,000 iPhones. As well as a retail service, fone doctors has built up a thriving trade business, offering services to mobile businesses across the UK. It recently launched its own TV show, Love Your Mobile, with the purpose of “ spreading the love about mobile phones” (www. fonedoctors.com/lym). fone doctors also offers contract connections, specialising in HTC, Symbian, BlackBerry and iPhone packages, and sells SIM-free and accessories.

Faisal Sheikh
Of course, whenever you mention fone doctors or Faisal Sheikh, you instantly think of Jaffa Cakes – they’re all addicted!

Chris Caudle, Mfonex:

Up to now our team has done all our marketing ourselves as there has been little help available from the existing distributors. Businesses can sell more with the right marketing; and cash incentives are ok, but we would still prefer marketing assistance.

A good (and important) move which will help businesses like ours is exemplified by the new Hugh Symons Assist team. They will deal with your business customers, sending them letters and contracts for instance, doing the proofs for you, and more.

I don’t believe marketing support is common yet across all distributors – but it should be. Most of the distributors are much the same these days, and it’s addedvalue services that would genuinely make for working in partnership with us. We want the distributor to demonstrate that it does take an interest in wanting to grow our business rather than just supplying handsets and airtime connection.

Importantly this approach should be applied to consumer marketing and not just B2B, as consumer sales is still the bread and butter of most dealers.

In today’s competitive market any edge that we can gain through marketing with the help of our distributor will benefit both of us. I think distributors need to be innovative in what they provide in their support for dealers and our business to maximise sales and increase customer loyalty and retention.

Holidays, designer suits and cash are ok – but after the glitter has gone it’s not as effective as good targeted assisted marketing. I would like something that’s going to help the business grow. Distributors should be planning and implementing marketing support for their dealers and not relying on the current system. If they already have a marketing system to help dealers then for goodness sake – take all your clothes off, run down the street and shout about it, because up to now dealers have not heard much.


The panellist:

Chris Caudle is a relatively recent arrival in the mobile business. He set up the web operation FreeMobiles2U as an authorised Orange and 3 dealer in 2004, expanded that business into other online marketing solutions, and took over Mfonex in 2007.

At the time the business had a small portfolio of e-commerce solutions; Mfonex has since been restructured and developed into a full-service provider of e-business solutions for the mobile phone and telecoms industries (and others). Essentially Mfonex has a hosted service that allows businesses to sell products and services online – particularly contract and PAYG mobiles, accessories, and value added services such as CPS and broadband.

Chris is also the MD of Opal Mobile, the new MVNO we highlight elsewhere in this issue; and

Chris Caudle
he is chairman of the Independent Mobile Phone Dealers’ Association, which he was instrumental in getting off the ground last year.

Chrissie Mayers:

Based predominantly in retail with only a small number of B2B customers (and possibly as a result of the fact that I am located in the Scottish Borders area) I do not find distributors offer either cash benefits or wide variety of marketing support.

Maybe I just am not asking, or didn’t realise it was available.

As far as I can see, though, offering marketing support in preference to cash incentives can only be beneficial for both parties –distributors having access to a more varied and cheaper product for bulk purchasing, to pass on to retailers giving them more useable selection of products, to increase sales, and theoretically to increase profits too!

It does not produce negative feedback from lower levels of staff, with managers getting extra bonus for extra sales, but should increase customer satisfaction and experience.

Within retail I find it important to have up-to-date point-of-sale material. But frequently I have to pick and choose what I can supply to customers based on marketing budget for the month. Sometimes I will decide that it’s more important to order basic stationary than a flash new poster. On the other hand, if these items were supplied at a reasonable price then I wouldn’t have to do the design and print costs alone.

I have no problem in sourcing some PoS material. For example Sony Ericsson is both plentiful and wide ranging. By contrast, PoS for Motorola products is non-existent. Access to any unavailable product can only be beneficial.

While I would always rather show a customer a working handset, that is not always possible – maybe because the handset is unavailable or because of the sheer cost involved in stocking the product. For on-the-road salesmen there’s also the risk of carrying stock around, which means the product simply won’t get shown.

Good brochures – or better, dummy handsets – decreases customer queries and therefore increases the chance of making a correct sale first time around.


The panellist:

Chrissie Mayer has been in mobiles for 15 years. in April 2004 she opened up Border Mobiles, a retail outlook in the Scottish borders town of Hawick – population 15000, 60 miles from Carlisle, Newcastle and Edinburgh: “ lots of sheep and farmers, a very particular and unforgiving bunch of people … some very old fashioned ways and very gossipy!”

She says she should have done the self-employment thing years ago when there was serious money to be made In mobiles. Now she doesn’t expect ever to make a million at it – “ but I would love to see us independents treated fairly by networks, distributors and competitors, able to earn an honest living and giving me something to leave my kids other than debt!”

Chrissie Mayer
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