Laikin: BrightPoint is the ‘complete package’

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The ‘device life cycle services’ provider’s CEO speaks exclusively to Mobile News about its evolving proposition

Distribution has become an increasingly loose term in the mobile industry.

Many ‘traditional’ players in this space have long argued that the term is out of date and, when used in a descriptive sense, does them a disservice. And many now have a point, because in recent years, distribution has increasingly become the sideshow to a much wider offering.

Of course, handset supply will always remain at the core, and manufacturer partnerships, particularly direct ones, still remain a sign of status.

But it seems that the main talking points increasingly surround services and other value-adds available to the customer and end users, each distributor attempting to provide a sense of  differentiation in a bid to win new business.

20:20 Mobile, Brightstar and Data Select have all spoken at length in the past 18-24 months of their value-added offerings to the market rather than about the devices they have in their warehouses. Each has set up their own partner programmes and clubs – designed to help fuel partner growth and ultimately provide a more rewarding business model for themselves – such has been the squeeze on device sales margins.

BrightPoint is no different. It too has partner programmes for its dealer partners, albeit manufacturer-specific ones (Motorola, BlackBerry, HTC). But handsets are just one dish on an extensive menu of services and offerings to the entire mobile industry.

During a rare interview, BrightPoint’s founder and CEO, Robert Laikin, and the company’s president of EMEA, Anurag Gupta, protest at being labelled a ‘distributor’. Instead they each repeatedly describe the business as “a leader in device life cycle services”.

PR talk? Perhaps. But listening to Laikin discuss the evolution of BrightPoint – which he founded in 1989 – and what it now provides for the mobile industry, the description begins to seem more convincing.

Evolution
Gupta spoke about some of these changes to Mobile News before Christmas (issue 502), describing how the business has changed out of all recognition in terms of strategy.

Perhaps the most notable illustration of this shift is that just 20 per cent of the 112 million handsets handled by BrightPoint in 2011 (valued at more than $14 billion) accounted for what it calls ‘traditional’ box distribution.

The remaining 80 per cent were handled on behalf of its partners, be they MVNOs, operators or manufacturers, providing each with up to 110 different “life cycle” services covering a device’s entire lifespan from cradle to grave.

“The business was started back in 1989 and a lot of people looked at us as just a distributor,” says Laikin. “That’s how the business was started. But times have changed and we have evolved significantly.

“We have, of course, remained a mobile distributor, but we have become a leading logistics company in the mobile space also. A lot of manufacturers and companies saw us as one or the other. That is simply not the case.

“Three quarters of the 112 million devices we handled in 2011 had nothing to do with us owning the product and redistributing the unit.”

All very impressive, but relaying this message to customers, both existing and potential has not been easy.

Laikin is no fool. He understands BrightPoint’s identity in the global market has lacked clarity, but he has now made changes to help make the company’s position more clear, which is the basis for our meeting.

Rebranding exercise
To do this, BrightPoint recently undertook a major rebranding exercise (see boxout, right) – the first in its 23-year history.

Laikin says the new branding is designed to reflect the firm’s evolution and its key business areas. It replaces BrightPoint’s previous logo (pictured on next page), which depicted a solar eclipse and was bland in comparison.

As part of the image refresh, BrightPoint now has five clearly defined service areas.

These include:
• Plan – sales forecasting, predicting demand, achieving targets, managing orders, monitor performances and real-time stock and order management;
• Market – helping customers (such as retailers) determine their product portfolio, sales training, promotions, network configuration and testing, online ordering and financing;
• Customise – flashing devices, software updates and installation, bespoke packaging;
• Move – detailed warehousing, logistics and support;
• Recover – repair, returns including reflashing and packaging, recycle and resell.

Laikin explains: “A lot of people forget about some of the pieces in our supply chain. So it was important to get our message out in a solid, clear and crisp way.

“I know many companies who spend a lot of money on rebranding just to feel good about themselves, but that’s certainly not the reason we are doing this.

“We have a corporate goal to grow faster than the market, which we have done for the past 10 years. This is one tool to do that.

“It really was an essential exercise because logistics means different things to different people.

“We needed to clearly show what we mean by it, and all of the different services we provide for the whole life cycle.

“We have worked really hard to achieve this.

“It’s cleaner, it’s brighter with a succinct message logo and from a marketing perspective, it reflects more about what we do. Device life cycle services is what we do.”

Gupta adds: “From the time the device is born to the moment it’s buried, we are involved in the entire ecosystem. We provide over 100 different unique services. We have the capability and we have this à la carte menu of these we provide to our different customers.”

Full article in Mobile News issue 514 (May 21, 2012).

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