B&W, Rotel Take Sales Online with KnowledgeLINK

Loudspeaker manufacturer B&W has been extremely aggressive in the past two years in reining in abuses of its dealer agreements. Last year, the company cut off many dealers and stocking distributors in an attempt to tighten control over its distribution. Now, as a result of a program announced November 22 by KnowledgeLINK, many B&W dealers will be able to take sales online in complete compliance with their dealer agreements. Rotel dealers are also participating.

Denver-based Listen Up is one of the first to sign on with the "affiliate" program with GetPlugged.com, an electronics commerce site. Not just anyone can participate: affiliates must have a requisite number of trained electronics salespeople, and certain unspecified hardware and software. Online sales of B&W and Rotel products will be to customers to whom the dealers can personally deliver, or who can pick up the equipment in person. "No mail-order delivery will be allowed," an announcement emphasized. Such stern warnings would seem to forestall any possible territorial violations by dealers.

Many manufacturers and dealers are wrestling with the problems and opportunities the Internet presents. Problems include how to adhere to geographical limitations imposed by what was essentially a 19th-century model of distribution, while the Internet offers a global marketplace to anyone with anything to sell.

It seems likely in this reporter's opinion that within a few years most manufacturers will go to direct sales over the Internet, an eventuality that will completely alter the traditional distribution network. Some extremists believe that local retailers are an extinct species, but others see them coexisting comfortably with their Internet counterparts. Affiliate programs such as the B&W/Rotel arrangement with GetPlugged.com are perhaps best seen as transitional steps toward a still-uncertain future.

"We view this as a major win-win scenario for everyone involved," said Sunil Mehrotra, CEO of KnowledgeLINK. "We are extremely pleased that B&W and Rotel have decided to allow their dealers to align themselves with GetPlugged.com."

Peter Wellikoff, president of B&W/Rotel parent Equity International, said the Internet venture will aid, not hinder, sales for his company's dealers. "B&W and Rotel have always been committed to supporting our specialty dealer network in helping them to build and increase sales. We see KnowledgeLINK's site, www.GetPlugged.com, as another vehicle to do just that, while at the same time adhering to our strict dealer agreement rules." Dealers who wish to align themselves with GetPlugged.com must submit to a rigorous evaluation and authorization by Equity International.