Mon, Dec 21, 2009 - Page 12 News List

Acer uses European strategy as guide in boosting China sales

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Acer Inc (宏碁), the world’s second-largest computer supplier, will boost sales training and expand its China retail network by 30 percent as it chases Lenovo Group Ltd (聯想) and Hewlett-Packard Co in the fastest-growing major PC market.

Acer also will advertise more after customer interviews pointed to a lack of recognition contributing to its fifth place position in the company’s top priority market, country head Oliver Ahrens said in an interview. The company will raise its profile in computer malls, where 80 percent of China’s PC sales are made.

Acer overtook Dell Inc as the world’s No. 2 PC vendor last quarter yet isn’t replicating that success in China, where Lenovo dominates with 29.4 percent of the market. Ahrens took over on April 1 and is revamping Acer’s marketing, product line and vendor training.

“This has been done very well by Lenovo, by HP, by Dell,” Ahrens said. “There’s something Acer was lagging behind, and now we are spending efforts to improve this.”

China’s PC sales volume will rise an average of 18 percent annually during the next five years, compared with 8 percent globally, and the nation will be the world’s biggest computer market by 2013, said Bryan Ma (馬伯遠), director of Personal Systems Research for Asia at Framingham, Massachusetts-based IDC Corp.

The China operation depended too much on local distributors for marketing and sales while headquarters focused on making acquisitions and boosting US and Europe sales, said Gokul Hariharan at JPMorgan Securities Inc in Hong Kong.

“It’s a low-cost model, but you’re not running your own business,” Hariharan said. “You still need people on the ground to track demand and see for yourself how things are going.”

Acer’s struggles in China prompted chairman Wang Jeng-tang (王振堂) to replace Lay Tai-yueh (賴泰岳) with Ahrens, who ran the Europe, Middle East and Africa peripherals business, including monitors and projectors.

Ahrens, 44, who joined the company in 1991, employed a different approach. He participated in focus groups, visited two customers’ homes and listened through an earpiece as staff polled shoppers in electronic malls about their habits.

Ahrens went to a family’s house in Weinan, central China, and learned that the Chinese father, who earned 4,500 yuan (US$660) a month as a civil servant, visited the mall as many as 10 times in three months before buying a new laptop.

“The people here grew up with a lot of quite cheap offers, but the quality of the product was not very good,” Ahrens said. “If I did not do this, maybe I would have put the focus on, say, ‘Acer: We are super-affordable. Buy us,’ and that would be totally wrong.”

Acer is No. 1 in laptops in Latin America, and in Europe, the Middle East and Africa; and No. 3 in the U.S. But in China, Lenovo leads with 30.3 percent of the market, followed by HP, Asustek Computer Inc (華碩), Dell and Acer, which own 7.4 percent, IDC data showed.

“They did not prioritize China,” said Calvin Huang (黃文堯) at Daiwa Securities Group Inc in Taipei. “If they fail there, definitely the company fails.”

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