Why Bother Being an Apple VAR?

By Pedro Pereira  |  Print this article Print


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Opinion: Is it worth being an Apple partner, considering the shabby treatment from the vendor? Unfortunately, making a complete switch to PCs is a challenging proposition.

When shopping for a PowerBook last spring I visited an Apple VAR who couldn't stop singing the praises of the Mac OS, which he considered far superior to Microsoft Windows.

He had no PowerBooks in stock, and as I looked around his cramped quarters I realized most of the machines being serviced were Windows-based, a couple of which had the brand of channel enemy No. 1 Dell Inc. The VAR would have to order the PowerBook if I chose to buy from him.

I also visited the nearest Apple store. It was all fluorescent lighting, brushed metal and sleek white plastic. At least one PowerBook of each size—12-, 15- and 17-inch—was on display.

The contrast with the VAR's location couldn't be starker.

Apple stores are inviting places designed to dazzle, not unlike the products themselves, which are far more attractive than anything in the PC world. I won't get into whether PCs or Macs are better, which is not my place, but suffice it to say that I am writing this on a PowerBook.

The contrast I noticed between the VAR and the Apple store is emblematic of Apple's relationship with its channel partners. The VAR was all too willing to gush over Apple's products, but he hardly made an effort to sell me a machine.

And when you think about that, it really isn't that surprising. Apple partners have grown accustomed to being called on for service, but they often lose the hardware sale to an Apple store or Apple's Web site. Some partners have even accused the vendor of telling its salespeople to underbid VARs so they can take the sale direct. A lawsuit over unfair practices was filed by Apple partners earlier this year.

Not only is Apple competing with its partners through its retail stores, but the vendor also actively courts VARs' corporate accounts, occasionally succeeding in taking over the account.

Considering the company's shabby treatment of partners, one can't help but wonder why these VARs even bother.

Click here to read more about why it is practically impossible to sustain a channel business focused solely on Apple products.

After all, they are fighting for a mere 3 percent or so of market share of the overall computing market. And even though Apple's share is projected to increase to 5 percent this year, it will be as a result of the wildly popular iPod MP3 player.

And that's not exactly a product on which a VAR can hang a shingle for a thriving business.

It is no wonder that even Apple Specialists, those VARs with the highest level of Apple authorization, cannot avoid asking themselves sooner or later whether they should diversify into PC products. Many have found they have no choice.

What they can't do, however, is turn a switch to focus exclusively on PC products, which is what Apple roundly deserves.

It takes time, effort and money for an Apple Specialist to build a PC business. Because of the differences between Macs and PCs, it is necessary to hire technicians and salespeople with Windows experience.

Adding to the challenge is Apple's requirement that a high percentage of its specialists' business be Apple products. While it is not impossible for a VAR to completely divest itself of Apple, as some have done over the years, the vendor certainly has made it as tough as possible.

Apple should either ease up its specialist requirements or stop trying to poach partners' customers.

Anything less is but a continuation of a grossly unfair situation. It makes me so mad I feel like transferring the thousands of music files in my iPod to a competing product.

Pedro Pereira is a contributing editor for The Channel Insider. He covered the channel from 1994 to 2001, took a break, and now he's back. He can be reached at ppereira@ziffdavis.com.


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