Look for tablet computers to gain widespread acceptance this year in the electrical market.
I am usually not one of the earlier adopters when it comes to new electronics stuff. You won't find me camping out at an Apple store for the newest iPhone or standing online outside a Best Buy on Black Friday with the other techno-geeks.
But I must admit the iPad has fascinated me since its launch back in 2Q 2010. From the first time I got my hands on one, I was totally hooked. Instant access with no time wasted waiting for it to boot-up. Great graphics. Fast wireless access. A virtual keyboard that's easy to type on. And digital magazines and books looked great on the screen — all at a price that wasn't much more than what you would pay for a decent laptop. I broke down and bought one about a year ago.
Admittedly, it was a “want-to-have” rather than a “need-to-have” purchase, but I love everything about my iPad tablet, from the way the finely sculpted case feels in my hands, to the dependable online access I enjoy with it in my travels. And talked about feeling liberated when you go through security at an airport and don't have to haul a clunky laptop out of your carry-on luggage. On the professional level in the publishing world, with more and more of the content moving online, I figured it was smarter to jump in early with tablets and figure out how we could start adapting Electrical Wholesaling's content to this new platform than to pretend they were going to be a passing fad.
We may one day look back at 2011 as the year tablets took hold with early adopters in the electrical market and 2012 as the year when they gained widespread acceptance. EW's editors sensed something was up early last year when 50 of the Top 200 distributors said in a survey for that listing that they had already purchased tablets and another 50 said they planned to do so in the next year.
Fast-forward a few months to the RepFiles booth at IDEA's E-Biz Forum in September, where independent manufacturers' rep John Hoelz of J.F. Nolan & Associates, New Berlin, Wis., and Ken Hooper, president of the National Electrical Manufacturers Representatives Association (NEMRA), Portsmouth, N.H., were showcasing the RepFiles tablet-based content management system for electrical product information. After talking with John and Ken about RepFiles for about two minutes, I saw the impact that it could have as a tool for field salespeople and asked if Electrical Wholesaling could do an article on it (See “Point of Contact” on page 19).
After reading that article, I think you will see how tablet computers may become an important selling tool for salespeople. And when users link them to a cloud-based information storage system like RepFiles, they don't even need an internet connection on the sales call as long as they sync their devices before the appointment to download manufacturers' latest spec sheets, sales collateral and videos to their tablets. It's a powerful solution that eliminates old product information and the hope-and-pray quality of wireless connections out in the field.
Several research reports with stunning tablet adoption data were recently posted on www.tabtimes.com, a new web portal that does a great job covering trends in the tablet market. IDC Research, Framingham, Mass., says total shipments of tablets for 2011 should reach 63.3 million units. ABI Research, New York, said iPad users have already downloaded three billion apps since 2010, and that Android tablet downloads have reached 440 million app downloads to date. Tabtimes.com also reported that Verizon has already deployed 4,000 tablets across its corporate sales organization.
Despite all the promise that tablets may offer, it's important not to forget that plenty of folks still get along just fine with tried-and-true sales methods. I put out a call for “pet peeves” in this column last month, and one distributor wrote back saying one of his pet peeves with reps is when they hand him price sheets, brochures, a catalog, or other sales/promotion literature that's not three-hole punched. Said Ron Biddle, Ligon Electric Supply, Winston-Salem, N.C., “If I am going to keep the literature he gives me I will put it in a catalog binder or catalog stand. In either case, I need holes in it and if they are not there I will have to punch them. When the manufacturer gets the literature printed they should, in my opinion, always specify three-hole punched.”
That's a dose of reality that we should all factor in before getting blinded by the excitement of the latest electronic gadget, no matter how much potential it may have.