By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
IRVINE, CALIF. – Over the years, BenQ has used a number of approaches to establish a foothold for consumer and business displays in the U.S. market, with less-than-anticipated success.
Those efforts saw the company step back somewhat in the U.S. market in 2006 and shift its attention to Europe and other markets as more established brands continued to grow here.
Now, with commoditization, the economy having put the display market in flux, and brand positioning up for grabs, the company is returning with a more aggressive approach for three core categories. These are designed to capture the market share being ceded by weakened Japanese brands, while helping retailers build their samestore comp levels.
In the U.S. today, BenQ is concentrating on three specific businesses: DLP projectors (BenQ is the largest purchaser of DLP chips from Texas Instruments), LCD monitors, and interactive flatpanels developed around the new Windows 8 OS.
In all cases, BenQ is bringing a design focus for aesthetic differentiation and a new way of thinking about each market segment, said Bob Wudeck, BenQ’s retail and ecommerce director
In projectors, BenQ claimed to be the second largest projector brand worldwide today, thanks to its efforts in Europe and other overseas markets.
“When we reduced our efforts in the U.S. seven years ago, we at the same time refocused our efforts in Europe, and helped supplement a declining flat-panel TV business with projectors, monitors and other things,” Wudeck said. “In Europe, we learned to look at things a little bit differently than maybe the U.S. has.”
He said BenQ’s approach has been to “drive down into the ecosystem to solve customer-specific issues and pull that back into the channel.”
Wudeck, a former TI executive, explained that BenQ will be looking to lift its current single-digit market share in the U.S. behind a high-value lineup that has placed some of the brand’s models in the top 10 conference room projectors on the popular ProjectorCentral.com website.
At the same time, the company is looking to tackle the home and entertainment projector business by bringing new value levels into a sub-$1,000 3D FullHD DLP model.
While strong brands traditionally define product markets, Wudeck said most of the best-known brands registered unit sales declines in front projectors this year, and the current U.S. market leader — Epson — only sold 13,000 units more this year than last year, on a much larger base.
“BenQ, on a relatively small base, sold 8,000 more projectors this year than last year,” Wudeck pointed out. “From a merchant’s perspective, there were only five brands that you could have picked that would have given you the opportunity for comp growth.”
Wudeck said BenQ is growing by rethinking the category paradigms, using the low-margined projector as a vehicle to sell all of the ancillary accessories and installation services that afford the dealer significantly higher-margin opportunities than flat-panel TV sales do.
“You’ll get 50-percent-plus service attached to [a BenQ projector] than an LCD TV,” Wudeck observed. “Europe figured that out ... now we want to bring those products in here to generate placement” and turns.
In LCD monitors, BenQ is attacking niche market segments, focused around an ecosystem such as PC gaming that transcends the commoditization that has reduced the monitor business to sales by the container load.
Instead, BenQ has opted to focus its monitors on the gamer by offering not just another gaming monitor, but specialized monitors designed for specific sets of games, Wudeck said.
This niche-specific monitor development was aided by professional video gamers, with whom BenQ “created partnerships around the ecosystems they live and breathe in.”
For example, BenQ developed monitors designed specifically for “Halo” and “Call of Duty” by using a Black Equalizer circuit to let gamers better see into dark corners. BenQ also offered a monitor optimized for “Counter Strike, as well as “Starcraft” and “League of Legends,” two of the fastest growing games in the market right now.
For gaming monitor screen size, gamers tend to like 24 inches, he said, but when they play competitively, they like the screen smaller to get better focus on the action in games they literally know pixel by pixel.
“The best ‘Halo’ players like a 19-inch 4:3 screen size,” Wudeck pointed out.
A precision scaling system allows the image size to shrink on the screen when the gamer is looking to intensify his competitive edge.
“Now this market has developed enough to where the mainstream retailers should carry it,” Wudeck said. “We’ve tested it with Fry’s, TigerDirect and some regional chains, and for the nationals this should blow their minds, because we are able to actually raise ASPs for monitors,” and drive customers into stores looking to buy them.
BenQ is also developing products for the Apple ecosystem, including its currently available $500 DLP pico-class projector (the BenQ GP2) with iPhone dock, 200 lumens of brightness and 720p video resolution. It has also introduced a pair of Apple white LCD desktop monitors designed to complement a MacBook using an asymmetrical bezel design, 1080p resolution and 178-degree viewing angle VA panels. The Apple-esque monitors include models in 24 inches ($250) and 22 inches ($149).
For the up-and-coming interactive flat-panel business, Wudeck said Windows 8 lets BenQ operate in a different paradigm than more traditional interactive panel suppliers have operated, “and a simpler one that makes sense for the CE channel.”
“Our interactive 42-inch is now under $2,000,” he said. “Windows 8 turns a naked interactive display into a digital sign,” he said. “You can basically use this with any digital signage package that runs under Windows 8. It’s standardized, rather than proprietary, which is how most of the Japanese competitors have approached the category.”
Going forward into the year, BenQ will also show at next month’s International CES its venture into designer LED lighting under the QisDesign line. Wudeck said the adjunct to the A/V display business should offer dealers new profit opportunities from a new technology category.
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