VARs Say They Welcome Best Buy's Microsoft Service Move

By John Hazard  |  Print this article Print

Best Buy's drive for Microsoft certifications doesn't threaten SMB VARs' sales, Microsoft says—and some VARs agree.

Going by the chatter in the channel, it sounds like VARs don't expect to lose any business to Best Buy for Business or the Geek Squad, the consulting and field service arms of electronics retail giant Best Buy.

When the store announced with Microsoft on May 18 that 300 of its Best Buy for Business small business experts had achieved Microsoft Certified Professional certifications and 600 more would follow by December, Microsoft addressed channel concerns by saying the rising tide in SMB (small and midsize business) would benefit all involved.

And channel companies seem to agree.

"I think it can only help us," said Martin Brys, president of Brys Consulting, in Holbrook, N.Y. "It is an opportunity to go after someone else's marketing effort. They will be out there educating small business owners about the need for Small Business Server. Some will go with [Best Buy's] Geek Squad, some will call their local IT shop."

Best Buy, based in Minneapolis, Minn., is positioning itself to drive more sales to the SOHO (small office/home office) and SMB markets with its Best Buy for Business solution centers, "stores within a store" catering to small business customers, found in about 115 of Best Buy's 940 North American outlets.

All Best Buy Business Technology Specialists and field-based Business Technology Consultants, as well as the chain's 12,000 field services agents, are required to pass the MCP exam that covers Windows Small Business Server 2003 by December, the store said. At the district level, some agents will be required to achieve an MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) certification.

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Microsoft executives felt the move would not conflict with channel sales because the retail channel reaches customers that would not have otherwise sought a channel partner, said Lutz Ziob, general manager of Microsoft Learning. According to Microsoft, 45 percent of the SOHO market procures PCs from retail outlets and 22 percent buys productivity applications, such as server software, from the same.

In the end, Lutz said, the increased IT adoption and spending would likely make its way to the partner channel.

Microsoft partners hold one of three views on the subject, Brys said. "A lot of people just don't care. They don't see it as a threat and they don't expect to see anything from it. Some see it as bad, potential competition for the SMB space. A lot of us see it as good news. I think we have all had people come to us to clean up the mess from Geek Squad."

Channel businesses will always stand out, partners said, because of their reputation as business consultants.

"I understand the challenges small business owners face and how they need someone whom they can trust to help guide them toward their goals," said Bob Nitrio, president of Ranvest Associates, a Microsoft partner based in Orangevale, Calif.

"As a well-educated consultant who has walked the walk, I bring a far different skill and tool set to my clients than anyone at Best Buy will ever have to offer," he said. "I don't sell technology and convince my clients that I know how to set up a network. I become a part of their company, I earn their trust and I treat their business as if it were my own. Does anyone really think they are going to get that from Best Buy? I certainly hope not."


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