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Nimble Marketing Helps White-Box Builders

Things are looking up in the PC market. Research firm Gartner reported this spring that worldwide computer shipments will jump more than 13 percent this year while forecasting that nearly 100 million PCs will be replaced. Even better, Merrill Lynch issued a report earlier this year that showed systems builders worldwide have increased their market share in the PC business, with customers citing low cost, customization and local support as the primary drawing cards for white boxes.

"I see more people leaning toward white boxes, especially in the SMB space," says Bill Hook, president of Keystone Computer, based in DuBois, Pa. "They want to deal with a local company that can offer them true support and customization."

But for systems builders to continue that growth and keep up with brand-name vendors, they'll have to tackle a few obstacles first. The problem, according to many white-box makers, revolves around marketing. The premise is a major PC manufacturer has marketing power, and a local systems builder doesn't. As end users get bombarded by special offers and discounts for low-cost machines from Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Gateway, systems builders fight an uphill battle.

"The mentality of today's buyers is twisted by advertising by the big corporations," says Jim Crews, president of Swifteagle, a solution provider based in Harrisburg, Pa. "My systems have superior quality, and while you'll pay more for them, they're worth it in the long run."

Thus, systems builders must sell customers on the idea that paying more up front for a longer-lasting, more reliable machine with a higher level of support is worth the effort. That's not always an easy task. Solution providers insist that, compared with a basic, bargain PC, white boxes are better all-around systems with higher-quality manufacturing and parts, reliable technical support and longevity that most brand-name vendors can't match.

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