“Anybody remember owning a Maxell cassette tape?” asked Dave Labuskes, CEO of InfoComm International, to the room of about 200 industry members gathered for Stampede’s annual vendor summit in Buffalo, NY, eliciting a bemused reaction and some nostalgic chuckles.

He reminded attendees that an image Stampede had used in the title slides of its PowerPoint presentations—the iconic picture of a man in an armchair getting blown away by hi-fi audio, his hair and necktie fluttering behind him from the force of the sound pressure—was the advertising image of the once-ubiquitous manufacturer of recordable cassette tapes.

“Nobody’s buying Maxell cassettes anymore,” Labuskes continued, “but what they are buying is that experience. That experience is being created by completely different technology today than it was being created by back then. But the value of that experience continues.”

 
Dave Labuskes, CEO of InfoComm International, delivered the summit's keynote address. 
This message, which Labuskes conveyed in his keynote speech during the summit’s state-of-the-business presentations, was an apt metaphor for the overall theme of the day’s addresses: in order to convince end users to spend more on AV systems, you have to sell them solutions and outcomes, not products—and that a value-added distributor like Stampede, with its programs and global reach, can help manufacturers do just that.

The three-day summit, held from October 3–5 at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, provided an opportunity for Stampede employees to get to better know the representatives and products of its 90 partner brands in attendance, and vice versa.

In addition to vendor meetings, which were conducted in a “speed dating” style, the summit included an evening social gathering at the Hyatt Regency, featuring food, cocktails, screening of Monday Night Football, and casino table games.

On Tuesday morning, Kevin Kelly, president and COO of Stampede kicked off the business presentations with a recap of the company’s successful year—including the addition of 36 new vendors, extension of its global presence to some 7,000 new customers, and record growth figures in sales, gross profit, and gross margin—and an overview of its initiatives for 2017. Among those are two programs, Solution Builder and Vertical Planner, offering tools to help vendors reach more customers in more verticals.

“More and more vertical market customers aren’t thinking in terms of pro AV in the old product-centric way they used to,” Kelly said. “And the new generation of vertical market customers don’t think in terms of AV at all. They think in terms of experiences, and they want us as an industry to provide the solutions that create these experiences. This is a paradigm shift that is creating entirely new classes of resellers, end users, markets, and opportunities for everyone involved in our industry.”

Next, Ashley Flaska, SVP of vendor marketing, took the podium to explain the company’s new initiatives in greater detail. “The goal of our vendor marketing strategy is to simplify the reseller’s world, while scaling it globally,” she said. “We want Stampede to be the one place where resellers go for everything they need.”

And a new way of doing that, going forward, will be through Stampede’s Solutions Builder and Vertical Market Planner, which the company announced for the first time and will roll out beginning in January. To utilize these services, Flaska explained, vendors will define key markets they want to own in the Solution Builder, use the Vertical Market Planner to determine the best vehicles and targets, and then select products to promote to each vertical. She also stressed the value that Stampede’s Big Book of AV Tour can bring to vendors in the form of pre- and post-show customer engagement, as an extension of their demo showrooms, and as a training opportunity for resellers.

 
Jeff Willis, senior vice president at Stampede, presented on product management. 
Jeff Willis, senior vice president, Stampede, then provided attendees with a presentation on product management, with a series of charts showing product growth in all major categories. Especially noteworthy are the emerging markets of drones, Internet of Things, and virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR), which Willis expects to have a deeply profound influence on every vertical that pro AV companies serve.

Affirming Stampede’s commitment to the AR/VR market—which it entered in June through its distribution agreement with VRstudios—Tuesday’s business presentations concluded with an address from Douglas Sheer, CEO of D.I.S. Consulting, which has been conducting a global study on VR. Titled “Virtual Reality World 2016,” the study takes a bottom-up approach of assessing the industry, from end-users to manufacturers and distributors of the technology.

The focus on VR and AR was a fitting way to send attendees off from the business presentations and back to the expo floor: this category is not only poised offer tremendous amount of opportunity as a technological solution, but as a tool to sell other AV solutions. (At its booth on the convention center floor, VRstudios demonstrated an application of its technology: a simulation of a home theater that allows potential customers to see and hear a variety of theater setups, from any seat in the room.)

As a solutions provider—an entity between manufacturers and end users that creates value for both endpoints, as Labuskes put it—Stampede certainly looks to have its bases covered.