Shawn Snobelen, settling into his new role heading up retail at distributor D&H Canada, sees his organization in the Goldilocks position. Not too big, and not too small. Sized just right for many Canadian retail customers.
“The largest guys have their model, and then there’s the niche distributor, but we can play very smartly in the middle,” Snobelen said. “We act like a traditional distributor, with the scale of a traditional distributor, but we can be a little bit more niche with the vendors and how we bring products to market. We’re not too big that we can’t be flexible, and we’re not too small that we can’t bring a lot of expertise.”
In effect, Snobelen is seeking to apply the balancing act between high balance and high touch which has proven so popular amongst IT distributors in recent years to the retail side of the market. By going with a more services-centric model, the distributor can serve as “an expert distributor for retail,” Snobelen said.
“We can be almost an extension of their buying office by helping with market and trend information to help [retailers’] buyers make decisions,” he said.
He suggested there are also opportunities to help its retailer partners rethink their merchandising, store design, and other key factors, as innovation is clearly becoming more of a differentiator in the challenging retail game than ever before.
“What separated successful retailers from the others is how well they do those things, how well they capitalize on market trends,” he said. “Retailing has to become increasingly innovative, creative, and forward thinking.”
As Snobelen joined the distributor late last year, Canadian general manager Greg Tobin described retail as one of D&H Canada’s biggest growth opportunity, particularly in working with the growing number of Canada-based e-tailers. The company’s VAR business is still clearly the biggest part of the business, but its business with DMRs is on the rise, and Snobelen echoes his boss’ suggestion that retail is the home of the biggest growth potential. And that’s important for D&H Canada, which has been able to continually post strong growth numbers since its launch. Nearly seven years into its foray into Canada, maintaining high rates of growth requires finding new markets to serve in addition to reinforcing more mature markets. And growth remains top-of-mind in any conversation with Tobin or D&H’s U.S.-based management team.
And it’s not unfamiliar territory for the distributor. Smaller retailers have long been focus customers for D&H Canada, and the company’s American parent has long been an active retail distributor for more than 15 years. Snobelen said the goal is to mirror the model and success of D&H’s U.S. operations in retail, but to create “a purely Canadian model for the retail business in Canada.”
That model includes types of vendor partners – and retailers – that D&H may not have served in the past. Just as IT has consumerized, so too have consumer goods picked up IT aspects. And that’s leading to crossover opportunities for D&H, as traditional electronics retailers add new categories like housewares and outdoor products, and as technology is applied to categories where technology has not applied in the past – for example, the introduction of smart personal connected devices for fitness purposes.
And it’s in that latter category where Snobelen sees the biggest opportunity to grow D&H’s retail linecard. While its got computers and related products well represented, the exploding number of connected devices that bring a tech edge to decidedly non-tech categories may well prove a sweet spot.