Christos Papakyriacou, Managing Director at Alpha Micro Components looks at business streamlining to stay ahead of the game in the current economic hard times and beyond

The last 18 months have been a difficult period for many companies within the electronics industry, yet Alpha Micro has just experienced its best quarter in nearly two years. The distributer believes its strength lies in the value added services it provides. By offering design assistance to its customers it can help them speed up the design process and tailor its engineering solutions to fit customer applications, rather than pushing a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

This design-based method means it can deliver both finished products as well as specific add-ons to improve functionality that customers can incorporate into their existing offerings. Many of the customers that approach Alpha Micro may lack the know-how or the engineering resource available to implement some of these developments in-house. Other distributors keen to adopt this kind of approach, need to ensure that a quick turnaround time is top of the agenda. By delivering to tight deadlines and offering customers a faster turnaround, it is possible to improve customer satisfaction and guarantee their continued business. Setting up an in-house development team is costly. As a niche distributor Alpha Micro are filling these gaps wherever possible.

The distribution market has changed drastically in the last decade, as has the nature of the sales cycle. As any niche distributor will tell you, the sales cycle in this market can be very long – sometimes taking up to a year to secure an order. As with many buying decisions in today’s economic climate, the sales process seems to be taking even longer and by assisting customers with technical solutions distributers can try to speed up this process as best they can.

This approach helps the customer to get to market quickly and also helps to reduce the sales cycle, which in turn results in a quicker return on the engineering investment. Alpha Micro is feeling really positive about the upcoming quarters, but like other distributors out there, it is essential to keep up the sales momentum in a bid to buck the trend of falling sales that others are experiencing. The distributer believes the key to running a successful distribution channel is to streamline the business.

One step at a time to success

By keeping things simple, without over-complicating processes, distributors can stick to their core areas of expertise and excel. One of the things Alpha Micro have done to rationalise the service they provide is review existing business practice. They have invested in bespoke CRM software and VoIP telephony which permits the remote teams to be linked seamlessly into the systems and to monitor and improve success rates even when the team is “out in the field”. Spreadsheets can be very subjective and time-consuming to manage and analyse, and in many cases leave space for error. The distributer has found that the new way of working ensures higher efficiency and has resulted in increased productivity and sales.

It goes without saying that companies should review their strategies and approaches on an individual basis. What works for one, may not work for others. The current financial turmoil does not have to be a bad thing; it can be a good opportunity for customers and distributors alike to review their practice and install new methods to cut costs and improve efficiency. Cutting costs is not just about cutting staff, it is about working smarter and more efficiently. The most valuable assets within a business are staff, so it is important that people spend their time in areas where the business will see the best return.

Support your local manufacturer

Businesses can also benefit from selecting UK-based manufacturers. When you factor in shipping costs and exchange rate fluctuations, certain products can be built more cost effectively in the UK rather than going offshore. The drop in the exchange rate earlier in the year saw many companies facing up to 30% increase in the cost of goods that were manufactured offshore. Volatile fuel prices also have an effect on the cost of importing goods and when you factor in the price of your carbon footprint, it can very often be more cost effective and friendlier to the planet, to use a local contract manufacturer. Very often building locally can result in price stability and less risk of price increases due to outside forces. Distributors have an important role to play in helping to promote and support the UK manufacturing base. Without UK manufacturers, UK distribution will simply die.

Distributors should also address the types of product lines they carry in their portfolio to ensure that they meet the demands and requirements of their customers.

As a niche distributor, Alpha Micro do not and cannot accept every business opportunity that presents itself. They carefully qualify opportunities and focus in on the areas that best fit their business. Distributors looking to offer quality service should look to do the same. Just because a customer has an order to place, does not necessarily mean it is the right deal for you.

The financial turmoil has been a worrying time for all but by planning in advance and preparing for a recession, Alpha Micro have managed to buck the economic trend and continue to sail through the turbulent times.