Hewlett-Packard announced its new PC line-up and sales strategy just as first quarter sales statistics from Dataquest showed it breaking into the worldwide top four.
The company is the fastest growing PC major, according to the analysts, and it believes it can close the gap on the big three with a new approach to channel partners and customers.
In a conference call, Jacques Clay, HP's vice president and general manager of its commercial PC business, announced that the company has signed up 10 US distributors for a channel assembly programme already under way in Europe and Asia-Pacific.
Comparing HP's channel plans with similar initiatives at Compaq and IBM, Clay said these competitors have produced "a lot of noise, but not much action". He said HP's plans were further advanced than those of either competitor.
He added that, unlike competitors, it has not been overloading its channel with inventory. This has been a consistent claim from HP, which blamed excess stocks from the likes of Compaq for the general slowdown in the PC market, which hit its figures in the last quarter.
Jacques Clay said HP is moving from a "low touch" to a "high touch" relationship, both with channel partners and customers. The channel initiatives - including assembly to order and better communications - are only the first step, with the next stage being to develop a "high touch" relationship with customers, using the Internet to get timely information to them.
Clay gave few details about the plans, though he did mention one intriguing prospect - HP customers will be able to find product roadmaps and forward looking pricing predictions for PCs on the HP Web site from next month.
"People want to know what they will be able to buy three, six, nine months down the road," Clay said, adding that HP is looking into the possibility of using push technology to send customers information tailored to their specific needs.
On the product front, HP introduced its most complete ever notebook line-up, as well as new desktops based on Intel's new low end Celeron processor (see separate story). In both its entry level Brio product line and its Vectra VE line of managed PCs, prices now start at less than $1,000 for Celeron models.
According to Q1 data from Dataquest, HP cornered 6.3 per cent of the worldwide PC market in the quarter, up from 4.2 per cent a year ago. This makes HP the number four PC vendor, after Compaq, IBM and Dell, but jumping over Packard Bell/NEC on 4.7 per cent. With 72 per cent year-over-year growth, HP was the fastest growing major PC vendor.
James Staten, an analyst with Dataquest, said the new announcements are "definitely a step in the right direction" for HP. "They show that HP is becoming more efficient," he added, pointing at both the new products' low pricing and the fact that the company has avoided the inventory glut that has plagued Compaq.
Staten said the low price points on the new systems will help HP. "The sub-$1,000 business is already a huge part of the consumer market, and it's becoming a bigger part of mainly the small and medium sized business market, but also of the corporate market," he said.
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