Don't forget the niche man

Don’t forget the niche manRichard Wilson
You cannot pick up a UKtrade journal today without reading the words ‘Pan-European’ distribution in one context or another,” says Steatite’s John Lavery. But Lavery, sales and marketing director for the Steatite Group, believes the importance of the ‘Pan-European’ handle might be over-played and he suggests that the niche component supplier is playing an important role in the distribution sector.
It is accepted that some customers expect their suppliers to offer global purchasing agreements, but as Lavery is quick to point out, the requirements from most customers regarding service levels and competitiveness are the same whether you are in one of the top five European distributors or in a local supplier of specialised products.
“The customers are basically all the same,” adds Lavery. “They require competitive pricing, acceptable stock management and flexible trading conditions with ease of communications.”
It is hardly surprising that Steatite’s Lavery should champion the cause of the ‘niche’ distributor. However, what he says has broader relevance when you consider that the UK has one of the most active communities of small specialist distributors anywhere in Europe.
Despite the growing size and strength of the multinational groups, the specialists continue to prosper, which Lavery puts down to two things; a high level of technical support within the distributor, and an increasing awareness of the importance of providing value-added services, such as design, test and even full product manufacture.
As an example, Lavery points to Steatite’s new ability to offer value-added product, which has recently extended to offering complete Steatite manufactured product. The company is currently a manufacturer of timing systems, battery packs, as well as a growing list of other assembly work. This is serious business for Steatite which includes the MoD amongst its customers. “Some 30 per cent of the Group’s business is its ‘own’ manufacture,” says Lavery, who adds that the recent acquisition of Phase Two Electronics has extended the company’s manufacture and assembly capability.
As Lavery points out the world has moved on during Steatite’s 60 years in the electronics component distribution business. In that context, the rise of the Pan-European company can be viewed as simply one of a number of capabilities being offered by distributors of all sizes designed to give the customer what they think they want.

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