PCR sits down with Realtime managing director Mark Reed

Keeping it Realtime

Over the past 20 years, Realtime Distribution has established itself as one of the UK’s leading distributors of specialist IT products. Andrew Wooden talks to its managing director, Mark Reed about the past, present and future…

Realtime Distribution has been in business for 20 years and in that time has developed a reputation for offering innovative, personalised solutions to its customers by specialising in the enthusiast, gaming and high end market.

It has developed key alliances with many high-end hardware vendors, including Sapphire, BFG, Corsair, MSI and CoolIT among others, and with an annual turnover that exceeds £20 million, Realtime looks set to endure for another 20 years to come.

How was Realtime set up and by whom?
Component Resources was set up by Chris and Steve Reed in the late ’80s selling Maths co-processors, Zip memory and upgrade boards that went into Amiga systems. The business quickly developed into built systems. Wanting to do something on my own, I decided to pick up the component business they left behind and set up Realtime.

All the way to 2003, Component Resources and Realtime ran side by side utilising the same resources such as warehousing and support staff until I bought out Component Resources, allowing my parents to retire, and bringing everything under the Realtime brand.

What have been the biggest changes in the company since it launched 20 years ago?
The biggest change has to be the acquisition [by VIP] in 2006, for many reasons. It means that the logistics side of Realtime’s business is now handled through our national logistics centre in Warrington. Moreover, it has allowed Realtime the financial support and backing to move our business onto the next level. Realtime is completely focused on driving profitable sales through our head offices in Huntingdon. As a team we can get on and do the job we are very good at – which is selling product.

How would you say the wider market compares to that of 1989?
The industry has matured. Back in 1989 almost anyone could make money if you had the right relationships to buy right. Today all of those avenues have dried up as they were often from the local system integrator companies which have all but disappeared. That means companies such as Realtime beyond the late ’90s had to look for official relationships with manufacturers, and today it is the only way. But distributors often get caught in the trap of wanting brands that may have prestige or volume but are difficult to provide bottom line profit.

What have you been most proud of in your history?

It would have been easy to be sucked into trading processors or give up when the going got tough, when we couldn’t find a direction to make money – but we didn’t. So the answer is I am most proud today because not only are we still here, we are still strong and still able to run circles around companies much bigger than ourselves. Today we still offer value to our customers and still grow our business profitably.

What would you say your most important product area is?

75 per cent of our product range is PC gaming related. This is deliberate and has now earnt us a reputation for supplying products into that area of the market. Gaming is still growing and in our opinion PC gaming will outgrow console over the years until consoles essentially become almost like PCs. There are not many companies better positioned than Realtime to take advantage of this.

What moment or event have you found the hardest since you launched?

Without doubt, the years when the business had to change to survive was the hardest. We had to make two sets of redundancies within 12 months to ensure the business remained profitable, which changed the structure and re-focused the business.

Do small independent IT retailers have a better time or a harder time of it now compared when you started out?

It is as hard for them as it probably has ever been, for those that are still around. The independent now has to survive on services, having a niche focus like gaming or having ‘need it urgently’ products such as cables or a keyboard. The best option is to do all three. There is always a need for local IT retailers but they will find it tougher in the future. Currently the independent has the benefit of Woolworths disappearing for game sales, Dixons has had better times and now there is no Time or Tiny computers enabling them to offer local built systems. The problem may be that, with Best Buy coming into the UK over the next two years and PC World getting back to its previous strength, the independent needs to look at doing everything these guys are not, otherwise it will keep getting harder.

Where do you see yourself in another 20 years?
I will be 53 so it’s a very hard question for anyone to answer. But I will be very much involved in and round what I am doing today. I intend to retire about 5-10 years after I die…

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