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because they are a machine now: they’ve got a really good website, five really good stores and they will work with us as a partner. There are other people I would have liked to have worked with as well, but against that you have to realise that one guy isn’t going to do a lot of work that is going to benefit someone else.” But isn’t opting for a chain that doesn't currently operate West of Epsom rather limiting? “It is, and it’s something that we thought about very carefully. But the business is changing and a lot of people are buying things online anyway. Not very many years ago I was saying in meetings at Fender that no one was going to buy a Custom Shop guitar online - well, I was wrong. It’s amazing, but over here in the States, the biggest companies selling online are the ones doing high-end products.” Another man with experience both sides of the counter and who now wears a UK distributor’s hat, is Jay Henson at First Line Distribution. His opinion is

While the direct to retail model isn’t new, it is growing and for the right retailer and the right brand it can be very successful.

valuable because when he was with West Country retailer Mansons, he had experience of importing boutique brands direct, but as a distributor he has tended to stay with the same type of products - notably the boutique pedal brand Carl Martin and, most recently, Carvin. “If you have a product that is going to appeal to only 10 or 12 dealers then, really, it doesn't need distribution,” he says. “A lot of products are finding their feet that way, but that’s just not going to work for a product that should have 100 dealers. Some people have been saying for years that the role of the distributor is dead, but I disagree. Some products are too small but some are at the other end of the scale, where you have one or two giant companies dealing with multiple brands that they own and, frankly, they just aren’t doing the job properly. Look at some of the brands that have been swallowed by these big companies which you never see any more: great brands that have virtually disappeared from the stores. Ironically, some of those lost brands would be ideal for the small to medium sized distributor catering for maybe 40 or 50 dealers.” Henson says that Carl Martin is a growing brand because it has

24 February 2012

Big name American effects maker Wampler is just one of the rare brands brought over to the UK by the recently formed Tone Tools distribution company.

distribution from a company that tries to make it grow. If it were restricted to one or two dealers, no one would be promoting it because it wouldn’t be in their interest to boost a competitor’s sales.

One of the hottest names in the pedal

market is US brand, Wampler – extremely sought-after by the cognoscenti at the moment and one of the companies to sign- up with former retailer Gary Sharpe’s new Tone Tools distribution company. Wampler's international marketing is handled by Jason Wilding. What had led him and Brian Wampler to decide the time was right to move to a distributor? “Initially, Wampler were handled by

Gary Sharpe when he was with Sounds Great and they were the only dealer for the brand in the UK. Subsequently, they started to sub-distribute to other stores. Part of my job has been to regulate the distribution and ensure that the brand is as visible in store as it is online. When Gary left Sounds Great, I approached him and eventually made the decision that the brand should stay with the person who knows the company, and the product, best – so we’ve gone from a store who also distributes to a distributor. The focus for me was wanting someone who understood the brand and would get them into the right stores around the country. People

won’t buy a £200 distortion pedal on a whim, they need to try it and the only way was to make this move. It was a difficult decision but one that had to be made. We are an emerging brand and we have to be in front of people”. It remains the issue of available margin

that really defines when direct and indirect distribution works best. So how about some hard numbers for this? Someone who can oblige is Gavin Mortimer – who just happens to represent a brand that made the big jump from direct to dealer distribution (it started life with Chandler’s Guitars in London) to full distribution – PRS. “To my mind you need to generate at least £120,000 turnover on a product and you won't do that on a boutique brand,” he says. “You could be even harder and say it needs to be £200,000, but I’d say ten grand a month is the benchmark. Manufacturers of boutique products tend not to have discounts for export – you might be lucky and get 10 per cent of the US dealer price and that means there really isn't a distribution margin available and it makes sense to go direct. “However, if the product has the potential to exceed those numbers then you are going to hit ceiling at some point, unless you put in your own infrastructure.

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