Merisel steps up service to fed resellers

Merisel Inc., which manages product supplies for a number of federal resellers, last week announced it had upgraded internal management systems to enable those companies to provide federal customers with more accurate pricing information.

Earlier this year Merisel migrated to SAP America Inc.'s R/3 enterprise management system in-house, and this week the company will start using enhancements to the system that will bring real-time pricing to resellers for products on different federal, state and local contracts.

"No longer will a reseller have to pick up the phone and call us to get the most up-to- date pricing," said Curt Cornell, director of Merisel's Government and Education Division. "The end result for the buyer is that the information is there, real-time."

While the R/3 system offered a lot of new features for resellers, it did not have the functions needed to support the public market the way the company and its partners wanted to support it.

"It did not differentiate between the federal, state and local, and education markets," Cornell said. "And many manufacturers give different discounts for each of those markets."

Even within the federal market, manufacturers have different pricing for general federal sales and sales on the General Services Administration schedule and other contracts, he said. Each product on a different schedule also has its own stock-keeping unit number, and resellers would have to search for several SKUs for a single product.

The contracts are not the only way that products change. Every time there is a price reduction in the commercial market, GSA requires the manufacturer to change the federal pricing. And any description changes in a product also need to be made for each government contract.

In the past, Merisel and its resellers changed all this information manually. Sometimes such a change happened as infrequently as once a quarter, "which is not time-sensitive enough to support GSA requirements," Cornell said.

The enhancements, developed by a large team of Merisel staff members over several months, will update all the information automatically when a manufacturer submits any changes. Resellers then will be able to search for a single SKU and get the most up-to-date pricing for each market segment. That update can be obtained from a Merisel sales representative, through an electronic data interchange (EDI) system or through Merisel's SELline II extranet system.

"It allows us to get multiple pricing for one single SKU...and the end users benefit with better, more competitive pricing," said Brian Naylor, government sales manager at reseller PC Mall Government Solutions.

Manufacturers and resellers already are doing "virtual" warehousing and pricing for their other markets, but for government orders they had to go outside the electronic process, Naylor said.

This could mean that an agency would send in a request for quotation one day, and PC Mall would have to call, fax or e-mail the order to Merisel for the pricing and then somehow get the quote back to the buyer. All of this could take hours or even days, which was an inconvenience when the rest of the process is completely automated, Naylor said.

"We're already set up with the EDI, the push-pull technology...but what was absent from it was that government/education information," he said.

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