Monday, November 18, 2002

Is Comdex Still Relevant?

Charlie Cooper says NO -- Comdex is dead. So did my cab driver here in Las Vegas. My cabbie believes that there are even fewer attendees this year than last -- the post Sept 11 Comdex. And anyway, as he points out, Key3Media is going bankrupt, aren't they?

Well I'll offer a contrarian viewpoint, and since its Vegas I will offer odds. There will be another Comdex next year. And the show will grow again. But it will be a different show than the one Charlie Cooper cut his teeth on as a young tech reporter. Or actually it will be the same one -- a sort of "back to the future..."

You see, Comdex lost its way in the world. The thing it has always done well, still does well, and will do well in the future is bring together the people who make up the distribution channel for computing products. Resellers, VARs, distributors... the feet on the street that sell technology products.

And the people who get it most are the people who live in the center of that channel. Publications like CMP Media's CRN -- Channel Reseller News. At Comdex this year, the most important event on Monday night was CRN's Industry Hall of Fame -- presented by CRN, and Comdex jointly with the Computer History Museum.

And this year the inductees were a little different from past years. In the first five awards shows the hall of fame has honored such industry greats as Steve Jobs and Andy Grove and of course Bill Gates. Who joined these titans this year?

Michael Krasny -- founder of CDW Computer Centers

Izzy Schwab -- CEO of D&H Distributing

There were a few "industry" folks (manufacturers) recognized as well -- Jerry Sanders of AMD, John Chambers of Cisco, Michael Ruettgers of EMC, and Gary Starkweather of Xerox (the only science guy). But the message that all of the inductees had was -- the distribution channel matters. That's what made us successful -- all of the people selling these products.

Izzy, of D&H Distributing, told a great story. He talked about how his father had founded the company as an RCA distributor. And how in 1986, RCA was acquired by Thomson, a European company. Well Thomson didn't understand the value of their distribution channel and so within a year they cancelled all of their distributor agreements nationwide with 30 days notice. As Izzy pointed out, this action destroyed RCA's (Thomson's) market share, a mistake they are trying to recover from to this day.

For D&H though, it was a rebirth -- they applied their sales experience and channel presence to the computer industry and are now a $900 million business. Not just taking orders but creating demand and selling into that demand.

Comdex just needs to remember this lesson. Its about the distribution network. Its about connecting manufacturers with the resellers and VAR's and distributors that actually sell the manufacturers' products. If Comdex can re-focus on this key market that it serves, maybe it will be reborn just like Izzy's company was.

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