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Retailers May Finally See Visor

3/12/2001 02:00:00 AM Eastern

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIF. -The Handspring Visor, a much coveted but unobtainable product for most regional consumer electronics stores, may become available through distributor Ingram Micro as soon as late March.

The product, which now has an approximate 26 percent market share in handheld computers, according to PC Data, Reston, Va., has become the second most popular brand to Palm.

At least one Western retailer claimed that Ingram Micro said it will begin selling the Visor to retailers at that time. Handspring confirmed that it is "in talks with Ingram" but said it "could not comment on when this relationship might go live," according to a spokeswoman. Similarly, an Ingram spokeswoman confirmed the discussions but said no agreement has been signed.

Until now, the Visor has been available only through select stores, including Amazon.com, Best Buy, Comp-USA, Staples, Target and Wal-Mart.

Distributors are also petitioning to sell Handspring. For example, D & H Distributing, Harrisburg, Pa., which sells the Visor only through education channels and also sells third-party add-on modules, said it is trying to distribute the Visor for retail.

D & H marketing VP Mark Greenwald said his company is "constantly talking to the Handspring people and showing them why we believe it's in their interest to open it up to distribution. But they have a serious situation in that they can't build enough fast enough to fill the channel."

Greenwald, who believes Handspring could increase its market share 5-10 percent by opening up more retailers, said the add-on modules for the device are proliferating at a fast pace: "Every day we get calls from developers who have a new module for the Visor, and they are asking us to take it on. We're adding one or two a week."

Handspring product marketing director Greg Shirai said the company is planning to expand distribution "within the next six months.We've established ourselves in the basic consumer channel and see an opportunity to expand into more retailers, such as the office superstores and others, as well as distributors."

Commenting on the Handspring Visor, a buyer for a Midwestern regional chain said, "My guess is we'll be up two-and-a-half times this year in handhelds. But if I could get Handspring, we would be up three times, and if I could get Handspring and Compaq, I'd be in great shape right now."

Although it is available to regional stores, the Compaq iPaq, with its "sexy" design and bright display, has been in severe back-order since its introduction last year.

"I can't get enough," D & H's Greenwald stated. "The iPaq is the sexiest piece out there. The color, the brightness of the screen is incredible. We could sell thousands of them. We get a couple of hundred at a time."

The iPaq sells at a $459 suggested retail price.

At R.C. Willey, Salt Lake City, computer products buyer Tim Hess said, "The iPaq is very hot. I think it's the Compaq name combined with the Win CE OS which is attractive to someone who needs a little more powerful handheld. It has Pocket Word and Excel, and much more memory and a very bright color screen."

He added, "Handheld sales will probably quadruple for us. We weren't pushing them a year ago because of the Internet pricing, but since Palm got a handle on their MAP pricing, we think it's the next huge category for us."

Retailers also said the Sony CLIE has been selling better since the manufacturer began offering a $50 rebate on the $349 unit in January.

And although it's more widely available than last year, retailers said the Palm line-which has a 60 percent market share, according to PC Data-is still frequently hard to procure.

Noted Rob Standley, electronics merchandising manager for Vann's, Missoula, Mont., "Most of the year, we've had more demand than we were able to secure product for the Palm. Right now we're sitting well with inventory, but what happens is, you get some in, and then advertise them and they are gone."