Change is Coming: Q&A With BTA President John Eckstrom

The Imaging Channel had the chance to sit down recently with John Eckstrom, president of Carolina Business Equipment (CBE).  As of July 1, Eckstrom officially took the helm of the Business Technology Association (BTA) as the new president and led the opening day at the 2018 BTA National Conference in New York this month.

John EckstromWhat’s on your mind?

There is a lot of change going on. The industry is contracting — as pressures are pushing in on dealers and as more M&As continue to occur, the BTA will need a more focused approach to help members navigate the changing environment. About a third of active dealers are members of the BTA. There is a lot of room for growth and there is strength in numbers.

How do you target and recruit the non-members?

Take managed network services (MNS) as an example. There are many dealers in this industry that are not familiar with MNS. This group may not understand the value an organization like the BTA can offer on topics like this. We’ve found that once dealers learn about the types of resources the BTA can offer, we often hear “I had no idea. I want to be a part of that!”

How do you reach out to those people?

There are so many opportunities out there. There are OEM and peer-to-peer dealer meetings, for instance. If there is a BTA volunteer who is at a dealer meeting speaking with dealer friends, that’s an easy conversation to tell them about the BTA.

Our legal support benefit alone will give you an immediate return on the membership cost. One call to Bob Goldberg and you’ve more than paid off your investment.

In addition, something I think that is overlooked are the friendships that are there. When you have that, it is not like you have to try to sell someone something. In that situation, when you get an email from me and it says, “Patricia, you ought to consider joining the BTA,” you’re going to open it and you are going to see what it is. And I might call you and say, “Patricia – I see you’re not a member. Why?” Maybe you say: “I didn’t know anything about it.” Then I tell you a little bit about it. And you say “Wow, that’s pretty cool.” That’s the opportunity.

So are you going to tell every member to bring two new members?

I have certainly done that with the current volunteer staff.  In just the first few months we have had many new members join.  I am glad to see the renewed interest but  if there is not a focused and sustained effort, it will be a flash in the pan. We have a lot of great resources and people in the BTA who work tirelessly to maintain this organization. The BTA is set up in four regions – East, Southeast, mid-America and West. It’s great to watch how each of the regional heads work on these events and puts them together.

You have been successful at MNS – how did you go about building the expertise? 

We have been in managed services for about seven years. It is a part of our business that has grown tremendously. It has absolutely paid off.

There are different ways to get into it. The traditional model is to partner, which is less expensive, but there can be culture problems with this approach. There are dynamics with the support part of this type of model that can be complicated.

People are buying on a subscription-based model now, so you don’t need all that upfront cash anymore.  As the RMM providers have changed, they have made it easier to enter into that space.  Building is still an expensive way to go about it, but in my estimation, it is hands down the best way to do it.

How many people do you have working for you and what lines do you carry?

We currently have 52 employees and we have four branches. We began as a dedicated Sharp house and remained so for 35 years. We picked up Toshiba about eight years ago, which has been a very good fit for us. And we just picked up Kyocera this past year which has been absolutely wonderful.

Do you want to get bigger?

We’ve continued to grow. If you are going to be relevant in the industry it absolutely requires that you do grow. I have not adopted the practice of growing at any expense, like we have seen in the marketplace, but we are measured in what we are doing in that arena, and as we grow organically I’m continuing to look at opportunities.

What are you the most excited about right now?

Technology is on an amazing trajectory. A lot of companies are not quite sure what that can mean. There is incredible opportunity – companies are doing all kinds of things and a small group is doing it well.

There’s a wide-open opportunity for CBE to be a good solutions services provider in managed network services in the Southeast. So much of the work we get is from people who have heard about us from someone else we are doing work for. It’s a great honor and a great way to be gaining new customers.

What are you the most concerned about for this industry?

The fact that change is coming. I’ve got to be vigilant about keeping an eye open for that change. A great way to do this is participating in groups like the BTA. We hear from all kinds of industry experts at our meetings. It is our job to understand the technology that is coming and how it can disrupt things and there are great resources available to us so we can get a handle on it. We can then go to our clients and guide them, as we point out technology to consider in specific vertical markets.

There are businesses out there that do not consider technology disruption to be a great thing, and they will try to avoid spending money on it. Those aren’t the type of clients we are interested in – they are not embracing technology. We seek the next group on the ladder, which sees technology as something that can help them do their jobs better and more efficiently.

Then there is another group that is going to approach technology in a different way. They are going to make it a strategic asset that differentiates them from the competition. This is who we really want to work with. Now we are getting into where it is exciting. With these types of companies, we get into the really different stuff. Anybody can put in a modern system and take care of your problems. That’s not that exciting. But when you actually get into a company and help people –  that’s what it is really all about it. 

Patricia Ames is president and senior analyst for BPO Media, which publishes The Imaging Channel and Workflow magazines. As a market analyst and industry consultant, Ames has worked for prominent consulting firms including KPMG and has more than 15 years experience in the imaging industry covering technology and business sectors. Ames has lived and worked in the United States, Southeast Asia and Europe and enjoys being a part of a global industry and community.