But over the last several years, VARs have become increasingly identified with personal computers as the PCs have become more powerful and as computer owners have become more focused on buying machines that offer a specific business "solution."
"In the early days of PCs, you were seeing buyers with enough technical ability on their own to operate them. But to reach the next wave of less sophisticated buyers, retailers need to offer the value that VARs provide. Buyers want machines with solutions already built around them," Dataquest's Peterson said.
Computer consultant Crooks said that the growth of VARs is also a result of the "cross-fertilization of computer users with technical people."
"Most of the start-up VARs spring from the industries they serve. As people in those industries have become more capable in applying computers, they have seen opportunities for further automation and have specialized in providing the tools needed," Crooks said.
Indicative of the "vertical" or niche approach most VARs take to marketing is the fact that most advertise not in general-interest computer magazines but in "trade publications specific to their industry," Crooks said.
Sensing that part of their business is slipping away, increasing numbers of storefront computer retailers are taking on characteristics of VARs, said Alice Brown, president of Dallas-based StoreBoard, a market research firm specializing in computer retail sales. Stores are trying to "differentiate" their products from other retailers' by saying they are "selling solutions, not boxes," Brown said.
"The big retailers have not moved into the proprietary software areas. But they are offering the hand-holding that has been traditionally done by VARs," Brown said.