21st century component distribution

Because quality and reliability are expected in electronics components, when electronic design engineers and those working in maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) are choosing which distributor to get items from there have to be some major factors that influence their decision.

Of course, reliability and quality of service, availability of product, speed of delivery and price are vital – but all distributors will claim to match or beat their competition in most of these areas. So there has to be something else.

Today’s engineer seeking a distributor is also looking for quality without compromise, expert staff, vast experience of the international market, and a genuine multi-channel offering.

One thing is certain: a distributor that stands still in the marketplace is not likely to be as successful as one that embraces change. And design engineers and MRO customers will be attracted by a distributor that is not merely changing to keep up with the market but is leading the way, driving developments forward and staying ahead of the game.

Making changes sounds easy enough but in the electronic components distributor sector it is anything but simple. In essence, change has been dictated by such factors as evolving customer and market needs, advances in electronics technology, demands for an extensive product range that is instantly available, and globalisation of the marketplace.

Inextricably tied to all these factors is what can only be called the ‘online revolution’. Customers now expect to be able to access online product catalogues from virtually any location, to have use of a powerful and intelligent search engine that will signpost them to exactly what they are looking for, to be able to pay quickly and easily, and to be remembered the next time they go online.

Electronic design engineers and MRO customers still want a close relationship with their suppliers but it is a completely different relationship from the one that involved huge printed catalogues that needed updating virtually from the day they were produced.

For a distributor to lead the market today, it must use sophisticated online platforms and e-commerce systems that streamline the process of selecting and sourcing products and give access to the very latest technologies from leading manufacturers. And there needs to be virtually no difference between the time taken to get a product from a distributor and going direct to the original manufacturer. To ensure this, distributors need to deliver better cost-efficiency, easier buying management, and better accounting, controlling and stock-keeping.

Customers want much more than just an easily accessible list of products and features. They want access to a host of extra services, such as equipment calibration, repair services, customised cabling, PCB fabrication and assembly.

Conrad Business Supplies knows that engineers will not choose the company as a preferred supplier of electronics components simply because of the quality of product or even the speed of delivery and price. No, it is absolutely essential that while services are continually improved and the range of rapidly available products is expanded, the online store has to be easy to use and to offer a vast range of complementary services and benefits. Such add-ons are essential if a distributor is serious about becoming a respected market leader and maintaining that status.

Two major differentiating factors for Conrad is that its automated logistics centre in Wernberg is one of the most sophisticated of its kind in the European Union, offering extremely rapid order processing and another factor is that it achieves a constant dialogue with its customers and suppliers to ensure product quality and development. Conrad also passed a significant milestone in the high service component distribution sector in 2013 with the reorganisation, enlargement and TÜV Nord certification (DIN EN 61340-5) of its EPA (electrostatic protected handling area for ESD-sensitive products).

Yet another key element is that Conrad doesn’t just distribute products from the biggest names in the electronics components sector but it invests substantially in new product development and offers a range of own-brand products that are literally not available from anywhere else. This gives Conrad another competitive edge in the marketplace that helps to attract and retain customers.

The decision to do this through the Conrad Technology Centre (CTC) – a specialist research and development and quality assurance hub – comes from the recognition that design engineers need the absolute latest products and technologies that will allow them to develop solutions that give them a genuine competitive advantage.

Of course, there are still many ‘traditional’ customers who want to have access to a heavy product catalogue that they can mark up, write in and share with colleagues. There are still those who prefer human contact and to use 20th century technology such as faxes. However, in these times of rapidly evolving communications technology, the overwhelming trend is towards online shops, web-portal access, punch-out catalogues and other e-procurement solutions.

If a distributor is to provide a true one-stop-shop experience for its customers – and to keep them coming back time and time again – it must make its online experience one that empowers them and puts them in control. Conrad Business Supplies is so committed to continually improving its internet presence.

Tailored electronic catalogues that integrate seamlessly with a customer’s own e-procurement system ensure they have the very latest information relating specifically to their needs. And the use of Open Catalogue Interface (OCI) guarantees that all data and prices are always bang up to date.

Conrad also understands that a successful website must use top quality product filters that limit the number of matches found in a search and so speed up the process from product search to product order. At the same time, the site must be intelligent enough to monitor search behaviour to ensure visitors are always getting the closest possible fit to what they need.

If a customer feels at any time that a distributor’s website is making life difficult, the buyer’s loyalty will be tested and they may simply choose to go elsewhere, something to be avoided at all costs.

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