The UK personal computer industry’s first direct sales trade association was launched on May 21 both to try to protect customers from a business reknowned for its cowboys and to guarantee customers a certain level of service quality. The Personal Computer Direct Marketers’ Association, PCDMA, is the brainchild of sales and marketing consultant Keith Warburton, […]
The UK personal computer industry’s first direct sales trade association was launched on May 21 both to try to protect customers from a business reknowned for its cowboys and to guarantee customers a certain level of service quality. The Personal Computer Direct Marketers’ Association, PCDMA, is the brainchild of sales and marketing consultant Keith Warburton, and includes not only companies that sell hardware direct to the corporate or business user, but also off-the-page systems integrators, value-added resellers and dealers. The eight founder members are Viglen Ltd; Granville, which includes Time and Colossus; Dan Technology; Kamco Computer Systems; Evesham Micros Ltd; Mesh; Centerprise International Ltd; and CIC Computers Ltd. Each paid Warburton an insignificant amount to underwrite development as well as an initial UKP500 application fee and an annual membership fee of UKP2,200. Hi-Grade was originally on the list too, but pulled out due to a personality clash, while Elonex Plc did not want to get involved. Others confused the new body with the Direct Marketing Association, a link that Warburton firmly refutes. The Direct Marketing Association, he says, has about 500 members – mainly financial services firms, publishing houses and charities – but its primary aim is to raise the public image of direct marketing. While membership of both organisations is not mutually exclusive, he added, the Personal Computer Direct Marketing Association was set up to protect customer interests and the interests of the direct sales computer industry alone. Despite the dearth of big names, Warburton believes it is still early days and claims he is pleased with the interest shown so far. The problem with the big boys, he reckons, is they believe customers already equate their name with quality, which is not necessarily true. Other newly-joined launch members comprise MBC, AJP, TSL, and Compusys Ltd, but Warburton expects three major names that are currently fence-sitting and will join very soon. The three, he said, would add another UKP50m in revenues to companies with a combined turnover of UKP200m.
Represents 20% of the total
As he values the entire UK direct sales market at about UKP1,000m, this means his association already represents 20% of the total not bad, he reckons, for an association that has just been launched. But the PCDMA, he says, although not a closed shop, won’t just let anyone join. Members must have been trading in the UK for at least two years and must disclose their turnover and profits – lack of profits are not a bar to membership however, he added, because we would hate to disallow the big international business machine companies. Firms that have directors on their boards, who have headed failed organisations, will also not be eligible for membership because of the instances when companies have gone bust and then resumed trading almost immediately under a different name. As for codes of practice – members must deliver their products within 14 days and are not permitted to debit the full amount of a credit card sale until at most three days before they ship goods. They cannot advertise prices for sale to the public that do not include value-added tax, and are not allowed to submit products, quoted at base model price, to magazines for review or to customers for evaluation, if they exceed the usual specifications. Moreover, sales staff are not permitted to speak in jargon and are obliged to help the layman understand exactly what their products are all about. Lastly, companies must operate money-back, satisfaction-guaranteed schemes, and be willing to submit to independent arbitration in cases of irreconcilable disputes. But Warburton reckons that although this is a good public relations move, it will be the members that benefit most. The best firms, he said, usually just give in, whereas under arbitration, they could actually win their case. Each member has one democratically elected representative on the board, who, in turn, has one vote either to admit or reject new members. This vote can als
o be used to eject organisations that continually offend against the customers charter. Warburton’s next aim is to set up a fund to help users should a particular company go into liquidation. While no decisions have been reached on how this would be organised or financed, he is also holding discussions with various insurance companies. Although Warburton acts as co-ordinator for the association, meetings will be held alternately at different company headquarters. These meetings, in his opinion, are starting to assume the status of an industry forum, where ideas on such issues as what direction the industry should take are exchanged and discussed.