A lack of distributor options see the market for emerging vendors “radically underserved,” says U.S. distributor Climb Global Solutions.

Christine Horton, Contributing Editor

March 19, 2024

4 Min Read
Focus
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U.S.-based Climb Global Solutions is gaining momentum in EMEA following a series of strategic acquisitions. The most recent target was Irish distributor DataSolutions in October.

The firm’s business model is based on incubating challenger or emerging technology brands that can’t gain traction within broadline distribution.

“We think there’s a ton of room to focus on emerging vendors because [the market] is so underserved — radically underserved in North America, but underserved in Europe as well,” said Climb CMO Charles Bass.

Climb Global Solutions' Charles Bass

Turning Lifeboat Around

Climb is headed up by CEO and channel veteran Dale Foster. Foster was responsible for the strategic direction of Promark before its acquisition by Ingram Micro in 2012. He went on to oversee the Promark emerging vendor division within Ingram.

Foster reunited with fellow Promark exec Bass to take over New Jersey-based Lifeboat Distribution in 2020. The pair found Lifeboat was missing a couple of key elements upon taking the reins: an outbound salesforce and vendor recruitment. The execs have spent the next couple of years righting the ship. They also changed the company’s name in 2021 to Climb Global Solutions.

“We changed the name to reflect the change in the company and the culture and the strategy,” said Bass. “The company that was Lifeboat originally was trying to get out-Ingram Ingram. It was trying to act like the big multibillion-dollar guys … It had almost 500 brands but wasn’t growing very fast. So the name change was a marker, to put a stake in that we were going to focus on emerging challenger brands in the marketplace.

Climb Global Solutions' Dale Foster

“Before we ever came to Europe, we were going to behave like a Western European-style distributor in North America.”

European Distributor Acquisition Spree

Foster got permission from the board to start investigating acquisition targets. The search forced Climb to look beyond the U.S.

“In the United States, there were [more than] 40 distributors in 2005. Now there are three big ones and three small ones and nobody else,” said Foster. “When you come to Western Europe, there are a lot of sub-$200 million distributors that serve a specific category of products, or maybe a geo. So that’s really our target for acquisitions. We have a strategic plan that says, ‘Where do they fit in? Is it a vendor? Is it their DNA? Their go-to-market? Is it a geographic reach for us?’”

Climb began its haul in Canada with the acquisition of Toronto-based Interwork in April 2020. Climb then acquired UK distributor CDF in 2020. This was followed by another UK distributor, Spinnaker, in 2022, and DataSolutions in 2023.

The challenge now is to get their brand out into the market.

“One of the real focuses for us this year from a marketing point is really push that name Climb further out throughout the EMEA market,” said Gerard Brophy, Climb’s CRO, who also is responsible for its EMEA operations.

Big Distributors Not Equipped For Emerging Vendors

The execs are adamant that Climb can provide value to emerging vendors they can’t get with broadline distribution.

“As strange as that sounds, there are several thousand companies in the Gartner upper left challenger segment that are taking bites out of the big guys. A lot of times the big guys don’t even know it,” said Foster.

The CEO admitted it sounds “like we’re bashing Ingram a lot, but that’s just because we lived there.”

He said Ingram has “4,000 brands, just like Arrow, just like TD Synnex, but [fewer] than 20 brands are over 80% of their gross margin, over 80% of their revenue.

“They have an emerging vendor group. But the reality is their contracts, their finance, their operations, their marketing are built for Cisco, Microsoft, because they’re not stupid. They know how they make a living. They’re intelligent, capable people who make good decisions. They’re focused on that Gartner upper right quadrant.

“We’re doing emerging vendors,” said Foster. “Every one of the big disties does it as well, but they do it so far down in their stack, that they get lost. And I could argue there are no more tier 1s being made. We don’t have any new Microsofts. All these ones below are emerging, and what kind of mindshare can they get from the customer?”

Looking ahead, Climb is eyeing more acquisitions and more EMEA expansion.

“I have about 25 targets and we’re looking at will continue to grow that way," said Foster. "And we’ll continue to really double down on our organic growth.”

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About the Author(s)

Christine Horton

Contributing Editor, Channel Futures

Christine Horton writes about all kinds of technology from a business perspective. Specializing in the IT sales channel, she is a former editor and now regular contributor to leading channel and business publications. She has a particular focus on EMEA for Channel Futures.

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