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INTERVIEW: Farouk Hemraj, DISTREE Events

by Stuart Wilson, Tuesday 10 February 2015

The 13th annual DISTREE EMEA channel event takes place later this month in Monaco. Firmly established as the premier event for vendors looking to manage, build or launch volume routes-to-market for technology and consumer electronics products, DISTREE EMEA continues to innovate to respond to the latest market trends and channel business strategies. Farouk Hemraj, Director & Co-Founder at DISTREE Events participated in a recent Q&A session, providing an update on what to expect from this year’s event.

Q: What will the highlights be at this year’s DISTREE EMEA? What changes can we expect to see from previous years?

Farouk Hemraj (FH): One of the main changes is the increasing number of retail buyers and executives that are choosing to attend the event – we’re seeing companies like Euronics, Amazon and Darty all attending, as well as new players such as Lick from France. DISTREE EMEA has become a major purchasing event and a powerful opportunity for all retailers and e-tailers to identify new brands that they can work with. In addition, it is also important for established brands to use the event to showcase new products and maintain and extend their existing relationships with retailers and e-tailers.

There are hundreds of brands attending DISTREE EMEA, all keen to expand their routes-to-market across the region. In categories such as wearables, smart home products and connected devices, all distributors, retailers and e-tailers need to stay ahead of the curve and up to speed with the latest technology developments. Product lifecycles are getting faster and new brands – some with the capability of becoming category killers - can emerge very quickly.

The DISTREE difference

Q: So how exactly is the event structured? What makes it different from a standard channel conference or exhibition?

FH: Structure is the key word here. We aim to take the randomness out of the event experience. You won’t see exhibitors standing idly at a booth hoping their perfect channel partner comes along. And you won’t find distributors, retailers and e-tailers wandering aimlessly around the exhibition area.

DISTREE EMEA is an exclusive, trade-only, invitation-only event for senior executives and buyers from distributors, retailers and e-tailers. In the weeks leading up to the event, every single delegate – vendors and channel partners – uses our powerful web platform to research the attendees, book pre-scheduled one-on-one meetings and build a unique personal agenda suited to their own precise business needs.

That’s the DISTREE difference and it is a format we have perfected over more than a decade. The structure creates efficiency and ensures that each delegate reaps significant business benefits from the time they invest to attend.

Q: Do the delegates spend all four days of the event holding pre-scheduled one-on-one meetings or is there more to the overall format?

FH: There is so much more for delegates to experience at DISTREE EMEA. Meeting existing and potential suppliers is important to distributors and retailers, but there are many more benefits from attending. There is an extensive conference and workshop programme that forms part of the overall DISTREE EMEA experience. This includes keynotes from research houses such as GfK and presentations from leading retail players such as Darty. GfK will also run a series of workshop sessions and also run a new GfK Clinic service where delegates can book a one-on-one appointment to discuss their own specific business issues with a GfK expert.

This year’s DISTREE EMEA also includes the Smart Channels Summit hosted by CONTEXT, which will assess how the retail channel in Europe is evolving to sell wearables, connected devices and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to consumers. This is a critical business issue as the industry as a whole works together to drive some of these emerging product categories towards mass adoption in mature markets.

We’ve also got specific breakout sessions on wearables, M&A trends in EMEA channels, the Retail-to-Business (R2B) channel, new channel models and much more. As an independent event, we’re able to gather speakers and channel experts from a number of organisations, giving delegates access to a wide range of viewpoints and perspectives. It is also worth pointing out that everything at DISTREE EMEA will be under one roof in 2015. The exhibition area, auditorium and breakout rooms will all be located in the Grimaldi Forum, giving us more space and making it easier for delegates to get around the event.

Sophisticated models

Q: You mentioned new channel models. What trends are you seeing in the EMEA market and how do you see channel structures changing?

FH: I believe we have reached a very interesting – and possibly pivotal - stage in the development of consumer channels in EMEA. Product lifecycles have become incredibly rapid and categories such as tablets and smartphones have also become increasingly commoditised. This creates significant challenges for the major brands and also for distributors and retailers when it comes to determining what products they should stock and sell.

We’ve seen the erosion of traditional marketing and the rise of social media marketing, viral campaigns and even celebrity endorsement. This has implications for how the traditional vendor-distributor-retailer model is structured and financed. What we’re also seeing is true product innovation becoming democratised by the use of crowdfunding platforms such as Indiegogo or Kickstarter. This is a whole new way of financing the costs of innovation and the creation of new brands and it is a challenge that major brands will need to respond to.

We’re also seeing situations where established retailers want to explore new categories such as wearables but have concerns about the investment required and whether sales would justify the expense. It is a problem e-tailers do not necessarily face. We’re seeing the breakdown of traditional channel models and the emergence of new sophisticated models that embrace a larger portion of the value chain. I’ve seen one company recently that uses its retail stores as showrooms to drive wider demand for products that its distribution business holds the rights for.

The use of multichannel models is now a given in EMEA. The days of exclusive product rights and preferential pricing terms are fading away. The next generation consumer uses the internet as the research tool and finds the product, then decides where to buy from. This decision could be based on price, delivery speed, instant availability, voucher codes, loyalty schemes or myriad other factors.

The channel is changing fast and new models are emerging all the time. DISTREE EMEA brings together brands, distributors, retailers and e-tailers in one place at one time to try and make sense of these changes and understand how channel businesses will need to evolve in order to survive and prosper.

Q: EMEA is a wide region for a single event to cover. Obviously, within EMEA there are some markets facing difficulties at the moment. How do you deal with that?

FH: It is a huge region and each national market has its own unique channel landscape and challenges. We understand that and this is why we believe it is more efficient to bring together all of the key players in one place at one time. For vendors, it is much more time-effective and cost-effective to attend DISTREE EMEA and meet the key partners from across the region in one place. The alternative is the extra time and expense associated with travelling to dozens of different destinations across the market.

There are specific markets facing economic challenges at the moment, such as Russia. We are actually running a dedicated session at DISTREE EMEA focused on the Russian market where vendors will be able to meet the country’s top retailers and distributors to discuss current issues.

It is important not to shy away from the challenging markets. What we want to do is provide the platform and opportunity at DISTREE EMEA for the channel as a whole to address and work through current issues. Similarly, the DISTREE EMEA delegate base will also include the leading distributors and retailers from the Middle East.

New products

Q: Is DISTREE EMEA just a showcase for prototypes and new products? What’s the core focus?

FH: That’s an interesting question and I think we’re starting to see the product mix that is displayed at DISTREE EMEA begin to change. In the past, there was a focus on products that were ‘ready for retail’ – packaged, available and ready to ship. Now, we’re starting to see more interest from brands that are at the beginning of their product lifecycle that may be at the prototype stage or even just the idea stage. With product lifecycles shortening all the time, brands need to set up their channels quickly and efficiently and DISTREE EMEA helps them do this.

We will be running the ‘Fresh’ new products showcase session on the main stage at DISTREE EMEA in association with The Sightline Group. This is an opportunity for new companies and new brands to display prototypes and products that may not yet be available in the market. We’ve also got the ‘60 Seconds to Convince Awards’ where participating vendors deliver an elevator pitch for their latest products. The dedicated wearables session will also feature some of the latest products ready to make an impact in EMEA consumer channels.

Successful technology and consumer electronics products create end-user demand, and the manufacturers and brand owners make sure they have the channel breadth and depth to push inventory through quickly and efficiently. It is not rocket science, but you would be amazed how many great products are let down by a poor channel strategy. We’re here to help companies make sure they don’t make that mistake in EMEA. Attending DISTREE EMEA is the simplest and most effective way to understand the intricacies of the regional channel and for a brand to make sure it has an effective route-to-market in place.

Q: DISTREE EMEA will also host the ‘EMEA Channel Academy: 2015’ Awards Gala Dinner on Thursday 26th February. Can you tell us more about these awards?

FH: We’ve always tried to create open and transparent awards designed to reward channel excellence in EMEA. These are not your normal event awards where every sponsor gets a prize and we keep creating new categories until everyone is happy. There are three sets of award categories for vendors, distributors and retailers. At the Gala Dinner there is a live electronic vote where retailers and distributors vote for vendor of the year across 17 product categories. The nominations process closed today and we will have a shortlist of five vendors per category. This year we have added new categories for portable speakers, smart watches, smart health products and mobile power products among others to encompass new categories and cover the diversity that now exists in the accessories space.

We have changed some of the voting processes this year as well. For the distributor awards, we will be asking retailers to vote for the overall winner by region. They know better than anyone which distributor provides the best overall service. And for the retailer awards, we will be asking vendors to select the winner. For all the awards we continue to stress that these are not to reward the companies with the biggest revenues or market share in EMEA. We ask everyone to vote for companies that have demonstrated the best overall channel strategy or go-to-market approach in the last 12 months. With close to 1000 executives attending DISTREE EMEA, the ‘EMEA Channel Academy: 2015 Awards’ will be a great occasion and a chance for the industry as a whole to reflect on what has happened in the last 12 months. We look forward to welcoming all delegates to Monaco later this month.

Media Partnership

We are pleased to confirm that Channel EMEA is an official Media Partner for all DISTREE events in 2015, including DISTREE EMEA. Readers requiring more information about DISTREE events in 2015 should contact

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