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INTERVIEW: High Tech distribution

by Ronnie Dungan • in
  • MMR Global
• Created: July 22, 2015

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Distributor High Tech, has to be one of the UK’s smallest MI operations. Essentially it’s a one man band in the UK. And yet, if you look beyond that, you will learn that it is a cog in a much bigger machine, being part of one of France’s biggest MI distributors… 

 

The UK division, based in Salisbury, is run by Ben Whatsley, who came to it from a retail background after stints at local store Percy Prior and then at Wembley Guitar Centre.

Whatsley starting working for High Tech in 2007. The relationship came about because Percy Prior was essentially the only outlet for Vigier guitars in the UK. Patrice Vigier also owns High Tech distribution. In France it distributes major brands such as Schecter, Orange, Levy’s Leathers, LR Baggs, Di Marzio and Ernie Ball Music Man among others. 

When Percy Prior became a Music Room outlet, Whatsley went into distributing the Vigier brand for High Tech.

Other brands followed  – Rapco Horizon cables and Larson acoustics – and the operation was on an upward trajectory until the market slumped. Since then it has been on a pretty tight rein with its French owners, but Whatsley’s dedication and the return of some stability to the market has convinced Vigier to allow the UK operation a little more independence. 

New lines such as MusicNomad accessories, Crossrock bags and more recently Canadian brand Norman acoustics (right) have been added.

What the firm offers is flexibility with dealers but also the added strength that comes with being part of a major distributor.

“We do pride ourselves that we are not just one-size fits all,” says Whatsley. “We are very flexible with dealers. We try to say to them ‘how do we tailor ourselves in a way that works for you’. 

“We do scheduled shipping on the Crossrock range for instance. We can actually give dealers the cheapest gig bags against quality in the market. They can do one order at the beginning of the year and then we drop ship depending on their orders. We approach it from the point of view of ‘how do we take the headache out of your business?’. They don’t want to be seeing reps all the time. They’ve got shops to run and customers to talk to. 

“So we schedule small drops and then a bigger drop in November/December for the Christmas period and they can do split payments with us. And that’s not just for the bigger shops either. If they only sell 100 gig bags a year, we will schedule that across the year, so they’re not buying 100 at once. 

“It can be dangerous to have a one size fits all model. Dealers like you to understand their needs.”

To get MusicNomad for instance, across a range of 12-15 products, store owners can pick what they want and exactly how much, with no order too small. The firm also offers a 15 per cent introductory discount and a 10 per cent ongoing discount on the range.

“It’s an open playing field. To open up a Music Nomad account costs around £300 and it’s good margin product. A lot of it is around 69 per cent and it’s quite a big range so dealers can pick and choose.

“We do an amp and case cleaner, which is very specialist but some dealers do well with it and buy 20 at a time and some only buy one. That’s why we try to find out how best to work with individual dealers.”

A previously cautious French head office is now allowing the UK operation a little more freedom to make decisions on an autonomous basis and it is helping the firm expand its reach among stores. 

“We’ve opened more accounts in the UK since we’ve been more flexible. They know we’re doing something right. It’s about building a reputation and being trusted.

“We’re here to grow. Having that support means that the brands that we do offer, we can offer good margins on. When it comes to big brands there is no loyalty any more so it comes down to price and margins. 

The Vigier guitar brand is still only available in four UK dealers at the moment and there are no real plans to look for many more. The exclusivity of the brand is part of its appeal to guitar enthusiasts.

“Some big shops took it on but did it wrong. We need specialist shops. There’s a bit of brand snobbery with the brand. It’s those dentist/lawyer guitarists that like Vigier. They don’t want to go to mum and dad shops. They like the exclusivity. So going to smaller independent stores really does work for us.”

The firm has also recently taken on Canadian acoustic brand Norman.

“The Norman factory is right where all the wood comes from. So they supply all the other Canadian brand such as Seagull, SM Patrick etc.

“The guitars are all solid back and sides and they offer much bigger margins than anyone else. The price range is between £339-£600 but we also offer the Studio series which goes up to £1,000.

“We’re offering dealerships and we’re doing a VIP deal – eight pieces for a massive discount. So an indie can make as much margin as GAK etc. It’s low-risk because it’s low investment and we don’t dictate which eight pieces they have to take. Again, it comes down to offering that flexibility.”

Like the Tardis of UK distributors, High Tech seems tiny on the outside, but is much bigger once you start to enquire further. But by offering an independent service for independent dealers that small exterior may be about to change.

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