As the PC and AV markets continue to merge, Ben Parfitt talks to Midwich divisional director Darren Lewitt about how his firm is placed to make the most of it...

The changing face of Midwich

Distributor Midwich was founded in 1979 with the primary aim of selling products in the education sector. This remained its aim for seven years until it was purchased by Thame Systems in 1986 and became part of the MEMEC Group. Changes were to follow, and by the early ’90s the firm diversified its product range and began to sell items such as colour laser printers.

Another acquisition was to follow in 1992, when the whole Group was bought by Veba AG’s Raab Karcher division. More extensive product diversification was to follow – by 1995 the firm became the first to sell Casio digital cameras that included LCD screens, and a year later it entered the AV market, stocking a range of Sanyo projectors. By the end of the decade its range included plasma screens from the likes of Pioneer and Fujitsu.

Yet another buyout came in 2000, when Raab Karcher was sold to Arrow, AVNET and Schroder, though before this Midwich completed its MBO. The early years of the new millennium saw further product ranges join the firm’s books, including largescale LCD screens.

A new management team was put in place in 2004, after which the company began to assume the shape that most will recognise today. It’s a turbulent past, but one which has put the firm in good stead: "Midwich used to be an IT distributor with a strong AV division, which had grown dramatically since 1996," divisional director Darren Lewitt tells PC Retail.

"In 2004 it was about a 75/25 per cent split, but now in 2008, 81 per cent of our business is AV, or imaging based products. Midwich is the only IT distributor that has ever made the switch to become an AV distributor.

"Midwich is now easily the largest AV distributor in the UK and the largest single country AV distributor in the whole of Europe. Midwich’s market share of large displays is now over 80 per cent and our projector share has risen from 11 per cent to 45 per cent in just three years – more than twice that of our nearest competitor. We now have a £40m consumer TV and audio business too."

These claims are backed up by market research firm DTC, which claimed in May this year that: "For the 11th quarter in a row, Midwich was the largest projector selling distributor in the UK, growing quarter on quarter by over nine per cent. Midwich is the UK’s largest large format business plasma and LCD distributor with over 80 per cent market share in the last 12 months."

Midwich’s current product portfolio includes audio visual in both commercial and consumer sectors, projectors, large format displays, specialist display solutions such as 3D, weatherproof, interactive and displays over 100 inches in size. Other products under the Midwich umbrella include audio solutions, consumer TV products, imaging, cameras, digital camcorders, scanners and printers. As Lewitt points out, there is not one particular area that serves as the company’s primary focus.

2008 has so far proved a busy year for Midwich, with several new projects and divisions successfully launching. Included in this is its Which Lamps business, headed by Thomas Sumner, which has already grown an impressive 400 per cent. Also successful is the new HiTechnology business division, headed by Lee Hooker, along with the CEDIA-centric Invision express arm of the company.

For a company that has changed so much in such a short space of time, you would undoubtedly expect similar moves in the future – but Lewitt is remaining tight-lipped: "We have so many new things lined up for next year. We cannot tell you at present for obvious reasons, as we don’t want our competition copying us or trying to beat us to the punch.

"There are a lot of new technologies, more business divisions and if the right opportunity came along then we certainly would not rule out any more acquisitions, of course. The important thing is that we secure the best future for our business partners and ourselves. Vendors will always need their full range of products sold, which is why the major vendors all continue to get the best returns from their specialist partners.

"Focusing on what we do best has always been our number one goal."

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