As IBM and OfficeMax ramp up their store-within-a-store test targeting small businesses, Compaq countered with an announcement late last month that it plans to roll out its Prosignia line of small business computers in office superstore chains such as Office Depot, OfficeMax and Staples, along with CompUSA and others.
Though no Compaq Prosignia -- or for that matter, Presario -- computers will be offered at IBM test locations, there's no accident about the timing of Compaq's latest maneuvering. Compaq, like IBM, is eagerly and aggressively vying to serve small- and medium-size business customers.
However, it's still unclear what kind of services and support options will be offered, or how dedicated retail personnel will be involved. While OfficeMax proceeds with the IBM pilot, sources say Compaq could be sealing similar deals with Staples, Office Depot or even CompUSA. A Compaq spokesperson wasn't available for comment.
Compaq, like IBM and other PC OEMs, is trying to navigate a tricky course, developing all channels of distribution without alienating its resellers. It recently suspended all Presario Internet sales as it re-evaluated its direct strategy.
Hybrid distribution models seem to be the order of the day, with indirect vendors mulling a variety of approaches, including direct to consumers, direct to resellers via customer order, build-to-order kiosks, and store-within-a-store programs a la Gateway Country Stores.
For example, Compaq's PartnerDirect program is a direct-to-reseller offering that enables resellers to customize systems and have them sent directly to the retailer or the customer.
In response to Compaq's Prosignia plans, Steve Erdman, sales VP Americas for IBM's Consumer Division, said, 'Last year, they were going to be a direct alternative. Now, by offering it through retailers, that says maybe their strategy hasn't paid off.' However, he added, 'I don't spend a lot of time worrying about Compaq, the marketplace moves so fast.'