What Can 1991 Teach VARs About 2021?

By: Jim Roddy, VP of Marketing at the RSPA

A passionate retail IT reseller shared this interesting viewpoint with me. He wrote, “Commodity computer resellers have focused on the retailer as a primary vertical market. The end result is a tremendous increase in competition for (us). The new competitor’s commodity hardware and, in many cases, inexpensive software, are now attacking our traditional customer base. They come in many forms. We must exploit the one major competitive edge we have always possessed: our thorough understanding of the retailer’s needs. The rapid increase of new competition, advances in technology, and today’s business climate are forcing each of us to re-evaluate the way we operate our business.”

Those statements weren’t shared with me via Facebook, Twitter, or a LinkedIn post. They weren’t texted or emailed to me. They were published in the ICRDA’s Data Link newsletter in 1991 – 30 years ago! – by Jim Hart, back then the association’s president and the owner of reseller Hart Applied Retail Technologies in Paducah, Ky. Scroll back up and read Hart’s words again. They apply to the retail IT channel today as much as they did the same year LeBron James celebrated his seventh birthday.

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

Dave McCarthy of reseller DUMAC Business Systems introduced me to Hart, now retired, at RetailNOW 2018. The focus of our conversation then was our industry, especially resellers, coping with painful change. Hart told me the technologies and business models are different from when he served on the association’s board, but the game plan is the same: understand the market forces, understand your strengths, embrace the changes, and move forward as quickly and intelligently as you can, ignoring the headwinds generated by naysayers.

Let’s put that in bullet form so you can use it as a guide for this year:

  • Understand market forces
  • Understand your strengths
  • Embrace the changes
  • Move forward quickly and intelligently
  • Ignore headwinds generated by naysayers

In a July 1992 Data Link piece titled “Hardware, Software, and Headaches,” Hart wrote, “There are many valid reasons for a dealer to dislike the use of PCs as a POS device, and I must admit I agree with them all. But what I dislike more is losing my customers to a software programmer or VAR who has the foresight to write a vertical software package around my customers’ needs.”

Right now you may dislike how the competition is marketing to your customers, and you might think it’s unfair you have to compete with their seemingly infinite resources. You might think they offer an inferior product, and you sure as heck dislike when they win over customers you know you could have served better. You might even say – to yourself or out loud – “I wish we could go back to the way things used to be!”

Ironically, you and other retail IT solution providers are smack dab in the middle of the way things used to be. Jim Hart and the ICRDA dealers of 1991 navigated unprecedented changes and, three decades later, so can you.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Listen one last time to Mr. Hart through his Data Link writing. He implored his fellow resellers, “We must demonstrate (our) willingness to lead the industry into the future.”

Retail IT VARs and ISVs have never been afforded the luxury to coast or be spectators. Now is the time to embrace today’s changes and adapt your organization for whatever the future may bring our way.

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 Vice President of  Marketing for the Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA). He has been active in the POS 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 is regularly requested to speak at industry conferences and he is author of The Walk-On Method To Career & Business Success and Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer. For more information, contact JRoddy@GoRSPA.org.