The COVID-19 crisis has created both challenges and opportunities for security dealers. Security distributors have stepped up to reinvent training, as well as the equipment purchase process. They’ve also added new products in response to the pandemic and have even found ways to help cash-strapped dealers pay their bills and remain operational.
“The [security] industry was deemed essential by all 50 states,” observes Bob Appleby, vice president and general manager of the North American Business unit of ADI Global Distribution, a distributor headquartered in Melville, N.Y.
That means that at a time when some businesses were forced to close to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, security distributors remained operational. Operations changed, however, as distributors complied with state, local and federal requirements, such as occupancy limits aimed at minimizing the impact of the pandemic.
Appleby notes that ADI implemented curbside pickup within 48 hours of being notified of those new requirements — a move some other distributors also made. In addition, ADI and other distributors have taken other steps to help keep customers and employees healthy, such as installing shield guards at checkout counters and signage to remind customers to socially distance.
San Leandro, Calif.-based Access Hardware Supply created a self-serve will-call area in its location in Alameda County, Calif., which was an early COVID-19 hotspot. Customers can come at any time to pick up their orders — a welcome option in an area where traffic is so bad that some people prefer to pick up orders late in the evening.
Similarly, ADI customers have been able to use lockers that the company offers for order pickup.
Distributors also are offering new payment methods designed to minimize or eliminate human contact. For example, ADI’s Digital Branch offering lets customers order online. And UHS Hardware, a door hardware distributor headquartered in Hollywood, Fla., now accepts payment via JoBox, an online payment option similar to Venmo, notes Juan Collado, senior sales manager for UHS.
Security dealers always need information and training. But with traditional counter days and conferences suspended, distributors have found that online options are more popular than ever.
Bill Smoyer, national sales manager for Access Hardware Supply, notes, for example, that the company’s learning management system had been underutilized prior to COVID-19 but has seen a substantial uptick in usage. UHS Hardware has seen strong interest in the livestream training the company has offered from an independent locksmith. And ScanSource, a distributor headquartered in Greenville, S.C., offers a wide range of educational materials via its online ScanSource University.
ADI was already developing an online initiative that the company calls “ADI Academy” prior to COVID-19, and fortuitously, the launch closely coincided with the onset of the pandemic. ADI Academy offers more than 70 online courses and 150 hours of content, some of which include continuing education units (CEUs). Current offerings are just the tip of the iceberg of what ADI has planned for the offering, Appleby notes.
In addition, ADI has conducted what Appleby calls “panels” — livestreams on which industry representatives discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the industry in an open discussion, he notes. Topics have included repositioning businesses during the pandemic and, as SDM previously reported, new opportunities in the education market.
Distributors also are creating online alternatives to conferences that have been canceled for this year.
Synnex, Fremont, Calif., has replaced its traditional regional full-day conferences with an online alternative and has seen a three- to four-fold increase in attendance because participants don’t have to travel in order to participate, notes Sandi Stambaugh, Synnex vice president of product management.
ScanSource is offering webinars that the company calls “Power Hours,” which replace the educational sessions that traditionally would have been included in the company’s annual in-person conference, explains Wendy Thacker, ScanSource vice president of channel marketing-North American VAR.
The company also has done virtual road shows to replace the ones it traditionally has done in person and even devised a novel alternative to the festivities that typically are part of the roadshow. Participants received a shipment of cocktail ingredients and mixed drinks while watching a bartender online explain how to do it. Security equipment vendors offered remarks while everyone mixed.
Another ScanSource initiative, dubbed “Go Remote,” has an online informational element and involves new product offerings, as well. Go Remote is comprised of several elements, including videos lasting approximately five minutes about how to transition to work at home. The videos tie in with equipment offered by ScanSource that dealer employees need to work from home such as headsets.
At press time in early August, ScanSource was getting set to launch a follow-on initiative, called “Go RTO” for “return to office.” As Thacker explains, the Go RTO videos will focus on specific verticals such as education and health care and will look at issues such as how to socially distance in a cubicle environment.
New Product Offerings
Other distributors also have expanded their product offerings in response to demand for new types of products from their dealers.
As Stambaugh notes, some dealers traditionally have focused on the healthcare vertical, but nowadays, she says, “Everybody has to sell healthcare.”
New product offerings to address this need include thermal sensors that detect elevated temperatures in customers or employees, as well as hand-held thermometers. To support the offerings, Synnex is creating online training, such as training from a former nurse that looks at the impact of the CARES Act passed by Congress in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Security Equipment Supply, a distributor headquartered in Earth City, Mo., has seen strong demand for elevated temperature detection equipment, as well as equipment designed to detect whether people are wearing masks, says Tony Torres, SES marketing manager. Demand is so strong that the company has seen some vendors unable to promptly fulfill orders; but, he adds, “We have enough vendors to keep on top of it.”
The COVID-19 pandemic also has driven some businesses to rework their access control systems so that users don’t have to touch door handles, release buttons and the like. To make it easier for dealers making these conversions, Banner Solutions — a Chicago-headquartered distributor focused on door hardware — has created product kits to help dealers convert their customers’ existing access control systems to operate in a touchless manner, explains Ben Smith, Banner vice president of marketing.
Clearly, distributors have been there for their dealers during the COVID-19 crisis, stepping up to offer new e-commerce, training and product options to help dealers through this difficult time.