The Changing Face of Distribution; Zappos; fast-food chains such as Panda Express, Papa John's and Jimmy John's promoting specials on food items and offering online ordering-more and more people are turning to the Web to buy products and services. It's an extremely safe way of doing business and it's fast and interactive.

Distributors are starting to get their Web wheels in place and ready to gun it for the finish line. Many have revamped their Web sites and offer new ways to buy products as well as packaged solutions. Systems integrators can have a direct online chat if they need more information or can phone a designated help number. Once ordered, they can have products direct-shipped to the customer location or their offices or arrange for after-hours pick up at a distributor branch or another remote location.

There are so many ways to do business with distributors and so many ways in which products come into the hands of the systems solution provider. While many have been hard pressed by the recession, they are doing their best to provide incentives and new programs. Here's what these distributors told us about how they are changing or adapting their models.

Have you revamped your online ordering or Web site recently?

Tony Sorrentino, vice president of Sales, ScanSource Security, Greenville, S.C.: "Our online presence has increased through our social media efforts. We recently launched a comprehensive online community, The Source, which offers blogs, groups and media galleries enabling resellers to learn about the latest trends in the industry; search for discussions and Q&As relating to technologies and vertical market offerings; find educational material; and start a dialog with manufacturers, Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) and distributors. We also introduced SUMO, created to provide networking and partnership opportunities for our dealer partners and resellers. The international online tool allows members to seek out potential partners by entering specific search criteria into a search bar, which then returns companies that match the search criteria. This allows resellers and dealers to extend their reach by finding partners in other technologies and geographies. We also continue to offer online educational tools for our partners, including the IP Center, which provides information on video surveillance and the available solutions; the Wireless QuickStart Center, designed to help security dealers and IT installers discover the benefits of IP video surveillance using wireless; and links to Web seminars and online training opportunities."

Mike Capulli, director of Sales, Security General International (SGI), Austin, Texas: "Our customers' main concern is if they buy online, will they still be able to get their price? We don't post the prices online but instead, they have to get this through access codes. We created a more user-friendly Web site offering easier site navigation for our customers. Customers are also able to view monthly flyers on our site."

Lauri A. Christiansen, director of Marketing & Business Development, U.S. Lock, Brentwood, N.Y.: "We recently launched a new Web site in January to make it easier for our customers to do business with us. The site offers account management, advanced search parameters, custom catalogs, Web specials and many new features. We are also adding thousands of products to our online offering this spring.

Are you getting a sense that integrators are ordering online more? Why or why not?

Sorrentino: "Yes, we are seeing more customers buying online. However, for those who want to talk with a sales representative, we are more than happy to work with them."

Capulli: "Yes, initially the Internet started as a resource center where users could gain knowledge. Now, distributors and their customers are utilizing the Web more to their advantage to buy online and take advantage of other services."

Christiansen: "We find that more of our customers are ordering online today than ever before. Our customers are a mix of integrators and locksmiths and security dealers and we have improved our search engine making it easier to find product."

Do you offer online chat and 800 numbers?

Sorrentino: "We have always offered our customers 800 numbers that provide dedicated account managers, as well as systems design and technical support professionals. Our sales and technical support teams are available via instant messaging for resellers and dealers who prefer to use that mode of communication."

Capulli: "We offer 800 numbers but do not currently offer online chat. All of our marketing materials are posted to our Web site. Customers can gain access to their accounts through using access codes. We are also looking at social media as an opportunity to utilize quick and inexpensive marketing tools to get a message out quickly to our dealer network and the public. This is something that we are in the process of examining our structure, which social media resources we want to work through and what ways social networking will help us."

Christiansen: "We offer both Web site support as well as product technical support. We don't offer online chat, but instead buyers can e-mail our techical support department with any questions or concerns. Most of our questions come through our sales people."

What type of product delivery is available; free shipping or reduced rates for volume buys?

Sorrentino: "We provide free ground shipping on most orders, which, for the U.S. means approximately 90 percent of the country receives their packages second-day because of our close proximity to the major delivery service hubs."

Capulli: "The market right now is very competitive. Instead of three people looking at the same job, now you have 20 people fighting for the same job. The value-added services that we provide and all of the other components that fall into the distribution bucket outweigh the freight and shipping costs."

Christiansen: "We have five distribution centers around the country and guarantee same-day shipping and, in most cases, next-day delivery. We recently lowered our volume requirements for free shipping and although we don't have outside sales, occasionally there are some shipments that have to go far distances."
How does the state of convergence influence what products you offer?

Sorrentino: "We created our business with a focus on IP-based security solutions, so we have always been ahead of the curve as it relates to IP technology. We continue to add best-of-breed manufacturers that support value-added distribution and IP-based solutions and want to experience the benefits and efficiencies of two-tier distribution. To that end, we recently added Cisco's networking and physical security products to our line card."

Capulli: "We have aligned ourselves with the systems side of our business. We are seeing more opportunities in CCTV and fire but we've also aligned ourselves with specific vendors. We are going through an educational process with our dealers while we merge into more of those type of products. Customers are looking for new revenue channels."

Christiansen: "U.S. Lock continues to update its products, focusing on expandable systems so we can continue to support our customer's evolving business needs and keep pace with the general state of industry electronics. We offer mainly access control and standalone access control solutions as well as more upgradeable products."

PSA Distribution Model

PSA Security Network is the world's largest electronic security cooperative. However, you no longer need to be an equity owner to take advantage of this powerful distributor. By combining PSA's purchasing power, job sharing, lead generation and of course PSA-TEC with the strengths and personal attention to detail of locally-owned companies, these leading security systems integrators within the PSA network have access to the latest security and commercial sound products, certifications and best practices necessary to develop cost-effective security solutions. To learn more about leveraging the power of PSA, please visit E. Cole, Director of Marketing, PSA Security Network, Westminster, Colo.

AMAG Distribution Model

AMAG Technology, an access control, IP video and intrusion management solution provider, sells its complete Symmetry Product portfolio via Symmetry Authorized Resellers located throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico. A subset of the products, Symmetry Business Security Management System (SMS), is sold through the PSA Security Network to provide a powerful solution for entry level applications. Symmetry Professional, Enterprise and Global versions are also sold through national accounts partner Johnson Controls, to offer customers the option of a unified reseller across the U.S. All Symmetry Authorized Resellers must be AMAG Certified before selling and installing any Symmetry SMS and Symmetry Video Management System.-Kim Rahfaldt, Public Relations Manager, AMAG Technology Inc., Torrance, Calif.