VARTECH 2016: a wild start, a changing channel


VARTECH, the annual conference hosted by value-added distributor BlueStar, has a reputation for being the most unusual event in our channel.

A parade through New Orleans led by a WiFi-enabled elephant? Been there. Shutting down rush hour traffic in downtown Cincinnati to march in the middle of the street to a baseball game? Done that. Trade show on a cruise ship? BlueStar’s actually pulled that off twice.

But VARTECH 2016, held Sept. 12-13 at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas, became strange-but-true in record time when, less than a minute into the Day 1 general session, a sea lion bounded onto the stage. Yes – a live sea lion named Luna helped open this year’s show. Because VARTECH is being held in the Bahamas, I expected to catch a glimpse of ocean wild life, but not on the conference’s main stage.

After that memorable start, VARTECH delivered several insights about our rapidly changing channel to the approximately 1,300 executives in attendance. Here are a few of the nuggets I picked up:

  • BlueStar President and CEO Steve Cuntz highlighted the Internet of Things (IoT) during his opening talk. “At this conference, you're going to hear a lot about IoT,” he said. “We are getting orders by the day.” Cuntz was talking to both data collection and point of sale resellers, and I hope they were listening. All indications I’m hearing is that IoT will make a major impact in retail over the next few years, both in the warehouse and inside the store.
  • Cuntz also pressed VARs to go beyond hardware and to embrace digitization. “How aggressively is your company pursuing strategies for the digitization of your business?,” he asked. “We aren’t just in the hardware business or the software business. We are in the business of empowerment for enterprise.”
  • During my Day 1 payment processing panel discussion – officially titled “Digital Transactions 2016 and Beyond (EMV, PCI, NFC, and More)” – we talked about what’s holding up EMV adoption. The panel agreed that many merchants are waiting to adopt EMV-enabled technology until their next hardware refresh. Merchants, especially in hospitality, are conducting cost/risk assessments and feel the numbers are telling them to sit and wait.
  • The audience for our payment panel was super engaged during our session. After the first question from BlueStar moderator Mark Fraker, the resellers and ISVs in attendance peppered our panel with about a dozen questions about EMV, PCI, NFC … and more, of course.
  • Non-technology observation: Is there a reseller in the world who is satisfied with their sales team? When I engage with VARs, I ask about their biggest challenges, and nearly every one mentions hiring and retaining quality salespeople. Through my role as a Reseller & ISV Business Advisor for Vantiv’s PaymentsEdge Advisory Services, I am engaging with several resellers to help them build a system to address this issue.
  • Not so long ago – I mean I’m talking just last year – I never heard the acronym “MSP” at POS/AIDC events. But a handful of solutions providers I’ve engaged with here at VARTECH identified themselves as MSPs (managed services providers). I’m telling you – increasing your recurring revenue through payment processing and managed services is an important profit center for resellers! Some channel experts believe it’s the future of a healthy channel.
  • In his VARTECH keynote, speaker Jeff Havens attempted to simplify the generational conversation (think getting Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials to cooperate). I agree with Havens’ thinking that you can’t define employees based solely on age-related stereotypes. “Nobody is all the way old and nobody is all the way young,” Havens said. “We're all somewhere in the middle.” Here are five more great quotes from Havens I think apply to reseller and ISV executives:
    • “Loyalty is earned and should not be assumed. Get to know your colleagues as people, not just as co-workers. Ask employees what they want from their job over and above the salary an  benefits.”
    • “None of the older people you work with got where they are overnight. We do everything slowly – that’s the way our planet works. Appreciate the fact that advancement is a process.”
    • “Younger workers only know a fast rate of change. For older workers, things seem to be changing faster than ever.”
    • “Some of what you're doing is outdated and can be done better. That's just a function of the rate of change.”
    • “No matter what generation you are a part of, you do not know everything there is to know.”

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Jim Roddy is a Reseller & ISV Business Advisor for Vantiv’s PaymentsEdge Advisory Services. He has been active in the POS channel since 1998, including 11 years as the President of Business Solutions Magazine, six years as a Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA) board member, and one term as RSPA Chairman of the Board. Jim is regularly requested to speak at industry conferences and he is author of the book Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer.

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