From Inspire 2023: Want Exponential Growth? Grab Your Partner, Do-Si-Do

By: Jim Roddy, President & CEO at the RSPA

The retail IT channel can be a grind (for many reasons I don’t need to list here), but does it have to be? That’s one of my thoughts after experiencing Inspire 2023, the RSPA’s annual leadership conference, held Jan. 22-25 at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort. The conference set an attendance record for an RSPA event in Hawaii with over 225 registrants, most of them senior channel executives and aspiring channel leaders.

Inspire is known for its in-depth networking but what struck me this year was the simplicity of the event. There’s no expo hall, no breakout sessions, no security guards checking IDs, no fighting for a boxed lunch, no shuttle bus to-and-from your hotel, and no regret about wearing uncomfortable shoes. If trade shows are akin to navigating a sprawling state university campus, Inspire is a charming one-room schoolhouse.

That simplicity theme carries beyond the conference, I believe. Across three days, the group wrestled with new growth strategies, market trends, and company leadership – all heady topics for sure. But a first-time Inspire attendee, an RSPA VAR member from Canada, shared with me that the solution to those challenges and more can be found in one word: partnerships. If he said it to me once, he said it to me 10 times during our conversation. Partnerships.

To grow, you need to offer best-in-class products and services and continually expand that offering. You can’t do that alone, so you’ll need to engage in more partnerships. The flurry of emerging technologies can be confusing, but there’s help for sorting through it all. Lean on your longtime trusted partners and find new partners to give you clarity. Partnerships.

The Day 2 panel I moderated about channel trends touched on marketplaces, ecosystems, platforms, customer experience, automation, cybersecurity, 5G, AI, the transformation of the retail business model, and more. When I asked panelists Jon Moran of TD SYNNEX, Michel Sirois of BlueStar Canada, and analyst Jay McBain of Canalys how VARs and ISVs should navigate each of these, their answers had a common thread: Partnerships.

“Seek resources from your partners … master your specialty and work with your partners to educate yourself on new opportunities … look at additional vendor integration partners,” they said.

If you’re reading this at your desk thinking the solution can’t be this simple, maybe it’s because you’re chained to your desk – and chained to your current circumstance. Commit to attend more industry events in 2023 (I humbly suggest RSPA RetailNOW, July 30-Aug. 1, in Orlando) and this week proactively reach out to your distributor and vendor partners to ask for growth guidance.

The retail IT channel can be a grind, but for those who fully embrace partnerships, it doesn’t have to be.

VAR/ISV Growth Workshop: “I’m thinking about our growth 24/7”
One of the Day 1 highlights was the RSPA member panel on VAR/ISV growth followed by an attendee workshop on growth strategies. The panel featured Andrew Faulkner of VAR Staley Technologies, Danny Hernandez of ISV/VAR Global Business Technologies, and Thomas Barrineau of ISV OrderCounter. Among their top quotes and observations:

  • “As the company owner, I’m thinking about our growth 24/7. All these thoughts are going through my head, and sometimes I fail to communicate my vision to everyone. In the haste of it all and wanting to grow as quickly as possible, I neglected to mention why we’re acquiring that company and why we’re going to start selling kiosks. You need to slow down and give the vision of where you’re going – and what’s in it for everybody.” Faulkner
  • “Feedback from the entire team lets you know if what you’re communicating is getting through to them. We just finished a survey of our employees to make sure we’re aligned.” Hernandez
  • “We focus on growth in the support department, so we monitor those KPIs (key performance indicators) closely. You need to boil it down to priorities, not just a big sack of work.” Barrineau
  • “We look at revenue per head from a hiring perspective. We have a formula and track that on a weekly basis. If we go over that consistently, we get concerned as a leadership team because that could translate into a poor customer experience.” Faulkner
  • “We grew accustomed to just-in-time inventory but now we’re stocking equipment in our offices just in case. We’ve also had to diversify the product mix. That slowed us down and made our support tougher. Now we have good backups.” Barrineau

Visit the RSPA Solution Center – a web platform designed to connect VARs and ISVs to providers of innovative solutions

The Intersection of Strategy, Culture, and Leaders
The Day 3 workshop led by Chelsey Paulson, formerly of VAR North Country Business Products and now Chief Strategy Officer with Keystone Group International, focused on the importance of leadership to ensure your company strategy is executed. Paulson’s pre-conference survey showed top areas for VARs and ISVs to improve are: having a playbook and metrics for the team to follow, planned communication vs. ad hoc communication, and accountability for each position in the organization.

Among Paulson’s top insights:

  • “We all have a culture, but is it the one that we want?”
  • “Culture is the way we think, act, and interact. It’s how your people feel and believe. It’s everyone’s shared belief.”
  • “Entrepreneurial Edge: a mindset of being willing to challenge what is in front of you.”
  • “Conscious Leadership: being aware of how I act and interact and how that affects everyone around me. What is it like to be on the other side of me?”
  • “77% of job seekers consider a company’s culture before they consider working there. Improving your culture will improve your recruiting.”
  • “We need to invest and grow our culture every year just like we try to invest and grow our sales every year.”

More Quotes & Insights from Inspire 2023
I loved these two quotes from Day 1 keynote Keith Sampson of RSPA member Trident 21: “Leadership is the bridge between culture and activation of your team,” and “With a growth mindset, there’s no room for blame and no room for anger. Everything is a learning opportunity.”

  • One of the big highlights from Inspire was the announcement of the new John B. Lockington Memorial Scholarship thanks to a $50,000 donation to the RSPA Scholarship Fund by Bob Bauer of RSPA VAR member BMC. Lockington, the only executive director of the Systems Dealers Association (SDA) and a 2011 RSPA Hall of Fame inductee, mentored many of today’s industry leaders including Bauer.
  • Also announced at Inspire: Members can now reserve a limited edition RSPA 75th Anniversary Collector Coin. Only 100 coins will be minted, and all proceeds will benefit the RSPA Scholarship Fund. Each coin will be mounted in a frame with a personalized, commemorative certificate. Visit this web page to reserve your Collector Coin:
  • Inspire attendees who donated at least $50 to the RSPA Scholarship Fund on-site received a kukui nut lei and one of member Ann Maynard’s butterfly magnets. This effort generated an Inspire-record $5,750 for the Scholarship Fund. Since its inception, the RSPA Scholarship Fund has raised nearly $3 million to assist the children and grandchildren of RSPA members.
  • RSPA announced at the conclusion of the show that Inspire 2024 will be held Jan. 28-31, 2024, at the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar in Puerto Rico.
  • To view Inspire 2023 in photos, check out this three-minute montage via the RSPA YouTube channel. The photo at the 1:56 mark is real, and it’s spectacular.

Don’t forget to visit the RSPA Solution Center – a web platform designed to connect VARs and ISVs to providers of innovative solutions

Jim Roddy is the President and CEO of the Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA). He has been active in the retail IT channel since 1998, including 11 years as the President of Business Solutions Magazine, six years as an RSPA board member, one term as RSPA Chairman of the Board, and several years as a business coach for VARs, ISVs, and MSPs. Jim has been recognized as one of the world’s Top 100 Retail Influencers by RETHINK Retail, a Leading CannaTech Influencer by The CannaTech Group, and is regularly requested to speak at industry conferences on SMB best practices. He is author of two books – The Walk-On Method To Career & Business Success and Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer – and is host of the award-winning RSPA Trusted Advisor podcast. For more information, contact