Navigating the challenges of a slow economic recovery is no easy task, but Newark element14’s Paul Buckley says there are bright spots on the horizon—especially for innovative companies that are trying to stay ahead of industry trends. For Newark element14 that means becoming an even more crucial part of the customer’s buying decision from early in the design process through to product maintenance and end-of-life. It also means a continued focus on innovation by enhancing its element14 online community and integrating it with other aspects of the business.
Global Purchasing sat down with Buckley this summer and asked him to weigh in on the state of the industry and the key trends shaping the electronics supply chain. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:
Global Purchasing: With half of 2013 behind us, what’s your outlook for the electronics industry for the remainder of the year?
Paul Buckley:The electronics industry in 2013 was greeted by the U.S. federal government sequester, which had an obvious impact on businesses throughout the sector. Market conditions for the remainder of the year will continue to create challenges, but new product sales are healthy, and numbers for development tools and single board computers are the strongest I’ve seen in years. Our customers are starting new designs, which is very encouraging.
GP: Looking at the various customer groups you serve, where are you seeing the most growth today?
Buckley:Over the past three to five years, we’ve positioned ourselves well in the engineering space. In particular, we have had a lot of success with the design engineer audience over the past 12 months, and customers are continuing to start new projects with help from, among other sources, our element 14 community and The Knode.
We see a strong potential with dev kits and the open source movement, and there are opportunities for us to gain market share in non-board level areas such as maintenance and repair and test and measurement.
GP: Distributors continue to add to their service offerings, both online and offline. What services, existing or new, do you find most in demand among your customer base?
Buckley:The biggest challenge our customers routinely have is getting their products to market faster than the competition. As a distributor, it’s our job to help make that happen. The line between online and offline is blurring. We don’t look at the world in those two disparate ways. Instead, it’s about the journey, and while many of our customers start their journey online, it’s in our best interest to provide them with a variety of multichannel offerings. It’s not just about getting new products on the shelf; it’s also about giving our customers the tools and resources that allow them to get the most from those products. Our community, for example, has more than 180,000 members and provides a wealth of information for every stage of the design and development process. Newark element14 continues to invest in this area.
GP: In line with that, electronics distributors large and small remain focused on enhancing their online presence. As a company that was out in front of this with your element14 online community, how would you assess the online landscape for purchasing electronic components?
Buckley:When you look at the digital landscape, it’s clear that customers demand choice. Certainly more and more business is being conducted online, but to truly put the customer first we need to acknowledge that every customer is unique and may have different purchasing preferences. A customer that starts online today may not tomorrow.
At Newark element14¸we feel that we have a leadership position in the online space, but we need to continue to innovate. Our goal isn’t simply to be best-in-class; we want our user experience to rival that of big e-commerce players in other industries. We continue to invest in our element14 community and create a strong link between the community and the transactional site so, as requested by our customers, they have seamless access to the products they need.
GP: Looking ahead to 2014, what do you see as the key challenges facing electronics distributors as they strive to better serve engineers and other buyers of electronic components?
Buckley:Customers are looking for an electronics distributor to be a partner that can work with them from the time they start design and pre-production through to maintenance, repair and end-of-life. They want you along for the journey. That also means customers are looking for the latest and greatest products, and they’re looking for them earlier and expecting them on-demand.
A few years ago, you’d have a supplier launching a product and the distributor might get access to it a month later. Now we are working with suppliers to sync product calendars so we are launching them the same minute of the same day. Looking forward, Newark element14 will increasingly work with suppliers to take an active role in shaping what the next generation of products will look like, through feedback from our customer base.
Meeting customer needs has always been paramount, and that will never change. What’s changing is the voice of the customer, which is louder and more transparent than ever. The key for us is to be flexible and continue to innovate.
Paul Buckley is president of Newark element 14, which ranked 6th on Global Purchasing 2013 Top 50 Electronics Distributorsreport.