Plug in and switch on to the future

Exertis seeks out the latest products and trends from across the world to offer consumer electronics retailers the best in the market. This year, in order to demonstrate these solutions in a practical setting, the company is hosting its Plug In to Exertis event once again in May.

Jack Cheeseman spoke to Rod Slater to get further details.

Working alongside various manufacturers and their associated products and brands from across the consumer electronics and home appliances industry, Exertis is one of the UK’s largest technology distribution providers.

The company was one of the first to market with smart technology a few years ago and it has since developed this range using its experience in other sectors as well as its competitive logistics capabilities.

Discussing the importance of emerging technology and how independent retailers can get involved to help drive sales in-store, Rod Slater, Head of Smart Tech & IoT, says that Exertis helps to define what the markets look like through reporting from analyst companies, such as GfK, bringing consultancy, market knowledge and brand relationships to retailers. This is followed up with its long-tail logistics services, such as next-day delivery and even installation to expand the offering that retailers can provide to their customers.

Plug In To Exertis will be held onThursday 16 May 2019 at the Silverstone Race Circuit. Resellers and retailers will have the opportunity to spend a day immersed in technology with four dedicated exhibition areas focused on business, AV, enterprise and consumer solutions.

The exhibition will also comprise a seminar programme, guest speakers and a host of show-floor features designed to inform, educate and provide opportunities for customers to increase their sales into existing clients or start conversations with prospective ones.

Last year, Plug In To Exerts welcomed a record number of 1,100 attendees with almost 700 resellers and retailers in attendance and 116 vendors exhibiting.

Here, Rod Slater explains more about the event…

Rod Slater: It’s all about demonstrating the breadth of products that Exertis can bring to the market. Sometimes it’s very easy for customers to lose sight of everything we do because we cover so many areas, but we’re out to showcase the breadth of our portfolio and that we’re very much a one stop shop for these products.

The real key difference with Exertis, and what we will be showcasing at Plug In, is that we have dedicated, expert teams that look after domestic appliances, VR, audio and the smart tech business unit. This gives us the opportunity to demonstrate our specialist knowledge.

At the back end of last year, for example, we introduced service bundling for smart home products, allowing retailers to put a service together with the product at the time of sale, which encourages people to think about things like finance in a single transaction to make it easy for the consumer.

Q: What are your hopes for this year’s event?

RS: While previous events were very successful, we’re hoping this year to build on this even more. Our aspirations are about making technology more accessible to the marketplace through the event.

Q: What can retailers expect to see this year?

RS: One thing we want them to realise is that a significant amount of business disappeared when Maplin closed down, and that hasn’t been replaced on the high street. The company had about 300-plus stores, and 50 were geographically unique, i.e. no competitors near to them. So, this has really opened up the market to wider retail stores.

This year, we’ve virtual reality, premium audio, including an immersive experience for visitors, and lots of smart products integrated into the home living space that we’ve specifically designed. Also, for the first time, we’re actually showing our first robot and our first SDA products from recent signings.

The key thing for independents to take away is that everybody is now buying these products, so they need to get involved. We are hoping they will engage with our manufacturers and will get face-time with them. Equally, that they come away with a good understanding of what we can provide to help them develop their business and satisfy their customers.

Also, 60 lucky customers will get the chance to hurl themselves around Silverstone race track with our special promotion!

Q&A

Q: So, what are some of the big areas in electrical retail at the moment?

RS: Things like virtual reality is a rapidly growing category, for example with Google and Facebook really driving this marketplace; premium audio is another – smart speakers and smart assistants are growing so fast it’s unbelievable.

In the development of large and small domestic appliances, we’re seeing the ‘smartification’ – for want of a word – of traditional categories that haven’t really seen this before. Washing machines have been around forever, but smart washing machines are new, and consumers and retailers are trying to understand what the smart element offers.

With the changing climate and improvement in British summer time, this is driving people back into their gardens and smart tech will be going out there too. We’re seeing more and more manufacturers enter this space with outdoor audio products. This presents an opportunity to attract customers.

Consumers will go into a retail store if they know what they want to buy – but they’ll investigate and engage with the retailer if that retailer is talking about and showing things that are new, interesting and innovative and are relevant to their needs.

We’re seeing small investment in smart technology at the moment, but the numbers and data we have is saying that this is ready for a much broader adoption.

Q: What exactly is your data telling you?

RS: Well, in reality, this smart tech category is going to be growing very fast over the next few years. It’s not just about what’s here now, our forecast says that we’re going to see significant growth in the retail value of smart tech over the next five years.

One of the key things for retailers is understanding, for example, what are the ‘baked beans’ and ‘toilet rolls’ of smart tech – the fast- moving consumer goods? It’s important to capture the purchasing journey that consumers are on, and we can help with that.

It all starts with a £29 smart speaker, for example given as a gift at Christmas. Something like 70 per cent of the six million units shipped in the UK in 2018 were in the peak pre-Christmas period. Once the customer gets their first product and they start adding smart stuff to it, they start to realise that it’s relatively low-cost technology.

In addition, we’re at the tipping point with voice assistants – these will grow even faster with new assistants coming out, and ear buds with smart tech built-in, not to mention car adapters, smart displays and most TV sets today. When it’s ubiquitous and your home responds to you, that’s when it becomes compelling.

Q: How do you see this kind of technology developing?

RS: One of the first things we saw, for example, was that it wasn’t until voice technology came along that the smart home made any sense. Prior to that, the smart home promise and vision wasn’t that appealing.

In many cases, I use the term ‘smart home’ with a great deal of reservation; there’s far too much conversation about machine learning and artificial intelligence in smart home, but that’s some time away. My vision is looking at a road map of technologies that have relevance at the right time. A smart kettle makes sense, but a smart dishwasher or washing machine doesn’t make sense to customers right now because the model isn’t fully developed.

Q: How can retailers take advantage?

RS: Retailers need training and understanding of how they can take their customers on their smart tech journey. Hopefully that is what our Plug In event [more on that, right] will demonstrate – in a real context where they can see over 100 products in a home setting. They wouldn’t necessarily keep all these in stock, but they’re definitely selling, and they need to be available to the retailer, and that’s where we come in. We actively encourage our retailers to develop relationships with us and our manufacturers.

Q: Your focus for this year is on the independent retailer, tell me more.

RS: We’ve got manufacturers with brands that are ready and relevant to engage with the independent retail space. We’ve got the installation service bundling and we are looking to line up the brands, the right services and the right support for independent retailers to then execute in the style they feel best suits their customer base.

We’ll heavily overlay that with experience and guidance and consultation around what will and won’t work in-store. It’s not about filling up a store with control TVs and fridges, it’s about equipping stores and their staff with the knowledge and access to products to be able to fulfil the journey with the customer.

Q: What is unique about the independent retailer offering?

RS: They are the trusted advisors in their locality; many of them have been going for a long time and they are well known and trusted. They can take their skills and expertise out to their market and expand on it as well, not just in traditional categories but in smart technology, premium audio, in VR, in smart displays and smart speakers  – these are the products that are attracting customers right now.