Even in normal times, distributors occupy a unique place between hardware and software makers on the one hand and resellers on the other.
These, however, aren’t normal times. With the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting businesses, schools, and government agencies coast to coast, D&H is one of many distributors hustling to be the real-time connection point between partners with urgent customer requirements and vendors struggling to overcome severe supply chain constraints.
“That’s really been occupying our time: reaching out to identify what those needs are and then working very aggressively with our manufacturer partners to acquire the inventory to make sure we meet those needs,” says Dan Schwab, D&H’s co-president.
With roughly a third of Americans under orders to avoid all but essential travel at present, most of those needs revolve around staying productive while working from home.
“What do they need to conduct business virtually with their customers?” Schwab asks. “That’s really where we’re spending the bulk of our time.”
Acquiring those products isn’t easy at the moment, thanks to a trio of issues that combined to leave everything from laptops and monitors to network gear and webcams in short supply. “You had the Chinese New Year, where manufacturing typically takes a break in Asia,” Schwab notes. “Then you had the coronavirus, which required a shutdown of a lot of large manufacturing areas. Then on top of that you had this unprecedented surge in demand.”
Schwab, who’s been impressed by the speed with which vendors are overcoming those hurdles, expects the inventory shortages many channel pros are now experiencing to start easing in about a month.
“We’ve seen a lot of these manufacturers getting ramped up,” he says. “By mid-to-late April we really expect to have a tremendous amount of the backlog filled, certainly by the time it gets to early or mid-May.”
Until then, in an effort spearheaded by a task force composed of representatives from the company’s logistics, procurement, sales, and customer service groups, among others, D&H is collaborating with partners to get as many end users as possible operational again as quickly as possible.
“It’s almost triage in many respects, working with manufacturers to get all the products we can,” Schwab says. “They’re working within their own prioritization mechanisms, as are we, to make sure that we support the greatest needs within our communities.”
Pinpointing the first of those needs didn’t take the task force long, he continues. “Where we’ve had the greatest demand is within education and medical,” Schwab says. D&H is currently developing bundles of hardware and software for remote learning and remote healthcare to address that demand. Additional pre-assembled solutions for meeting work-from-home requirements are likely to follow.
Credit initiatives will be coming as soon as next week too. Those will be on top of more customized efforts already underway to help partners cope with cash flow challenges, the company’s preferred approach to dealing with financing issues.
“Some customers may need 60-day terms, because they’re working in an education or medical institution that’s going to take longer to pay. Some of them may need longer than that,” Schwab says, noting that D&H is tackling those requirements on a case by case basis. “We’re historically very flexible with our partners,” he says.
Flexibility has been required in other areas of the business as well. As recently as early March, D&H was planning to host its first major in-person partner conference of the year tomorrow in southern California. Safety concerns sparked by the COVID-19 crisis subsequently caused it to replace that event, however, with an online “D&H THREADcast” offering all-day access to interactive “solution channels” on cloud computing, K-12 education, Pro AV, and eSports led by D&H itself, plus additional channels hosted by Cisco, HP, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Lenovo, Microsoft, and other vendors.
“Partners can go in and really pick the channels that are relevant to them, so they don’t have to go in and kind of weed through five or six hours of content,” says Jennifer Walcott, D&H’s vice president of marketing. “The partner’s time is at a premium right now.”
Their interests are more focused as well, so much of the THREADcast’s content will be about helping clients with business continuity. “We’ve really honed in on what are the needs in today’s climate that people are asking for,” Schwab says. To as great an extent as possible, he continues, sessions will emphasize specific, actionable advice. “It’s very brass tacks,” Schwab says.
Attendees will get resources they can start putting to work immediately as well, adds Walcott. “They can actually download a lot of tools right in the channel live and reference them or use them after the fact,” she says.
Partners will also have post-event access to the solution channels themselves. “This is going to be available 24/7 for our partners,” Walcott says, along with a variety of other resources D&H is presently developing to help partners find and deliver turnkey collaboration and other solutions.
As it happens, D&H has accumulated first-hand experience with collaboration solutions itself lately. Concerned about the health of its employees, the company has all but abandoned the brand-new headquarters facility it moved into late last year.
“We did that within really 48 hours,” Schwab says. “We had our entire company working from home, and that’s been seamless. The collaboration is exceptional.”
It will need to remain so, for D&H and the rest of the industry, in the demanding weeks ahead.