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By | Chris Mellor 20th February 2009 10:10

Acer pushes Gateway back into Europe

Direct brand reborn as SME channel sell

Analysis Acer has relaunched the Gateway brand in Europe, restyling the cow spotted direct supplier as a channel only brand pitched at SMEs.

Gateway Professional consists of three parts: the Gateway brand's residual value in Europe, a restricted set of notebook, desktop and server products, and a specially-recruited channel which gets a remote management service to sell to its SME customers alongside the kit.

The market segment is the mid-sized business where dealers influence sales more than the product brand. Acer is looking for VARS and system integrators (SI) and offering them a simplified business process, one distributor per country, no retail or e-tail competition for the Gateway Professional brand, good margin - which everyone promises - and an added value service to sell as their own and which should deliver recurring revenue.

Acer insists the products won't be 'boring grey boxes' and will have a buzz about them. On an initial look at the overview specs and range - three middle of the road notebooks, three desktops, a couple of flatscreen monitors, two rackmount and one tower server, all black - the only buzz being EMI. Don't bother looking for the Gateway Professional Air for example or a solid-state drive-equipped server.

Actually Acer is carrying out a carefully contrived and calculated gamble here and, marketing announcement spiel aside, the initiative is impressive. First of all the products are not flashy but solid good value ones for business use, not SOHO and not enterprise but the middle enterprises. Acer is building the equivalent of taxis for cab drivers and not people carriers for consumers. Everything has to work and last.

Brand manipulations

Acer has, Kevin O'Donoghue, EMEA Gateway division product business manager, said no direct sales force and no enterprise presence. Its Acer Professional division sells servers in the USA to this market and others, but US SME businesses buy more from retail. Here in EMEA that's a dealer sale, so Acer is setting up Gateway Professional as a separate company and brand just for dealers. It won't be punted through a retail channel and, to reduce competition still further, Acer will recruit relatively few high-quality dealers with little geographic overlap rather than going all out for dealer bandwidth.

There will be one distributor per country - C2000 in the UK - and a brand headquarters in Manno, Switzerland.

Acer reckons it can use this AGP initiative to help it catch up with and surpass Dell and become the number 2 PC seller worldwide; the recession being an opportunity to build market share. It even has the top spot in its sights. It reckons that there could be PC and server supplier mergers and exits from the market. Bulked up with the Packard Bell and Gateway acquisitions made a year ago Acer reckons to benefit from this consolidation and, as this is a $20bn corporation talking, we can be confident that Acer isn't a dead man walking.

Whether Gateway Professional has legs as a brand is questionable. It's an EMEA tactical branding exercise with Gateway not using the Acer brand here because it thinks a new high-level brand is needed, not a sub brand of Acer, a sort of Lexus analogy. Gateway will be an Acer consumer brand in the USA. Fortunately SMEs tend not to be multi-national.

The Acer Gateway Professional (AGP) notebook and desktop products are available now with the servers coming in a few weeks time. The systems only run Windows Professional and not Vista's various consumer manifestations. Linux is also available. O'Donoghue said that blade servers were on the roadmap. They would fit into a Gateway-designed and built chassis and not into IBM or HP blade chassis.

This is a big deal that might not happen. Acer doesn't currently build blade servers or a chassis to rack 'em into. Blade servers and chassis tend to be an enterprise sell, yet Acer has no enterprise sales force or product line. Blade servers are certainly not a retail sell so it sees the Gateway Professional channel as the way to offer blade servers to mid-sized businesses in EMEA if the dealers say they can sell 'em.

Think on this for the moment; there is no AGP channel currently; there are no dealers to say, yes, there is a blade market. Even if there were Acer would want a track record of sales through them before believing assertions that there really is a blade server market satisfiable by a VAR channel. So don't hold your breath waiting for Acer blade servers.

The same calculation applies to any AGP NAS product. The servers have their own direct-attached storage but no shared storage. Again Acer's going to wait for a while before seeing if getting into the shared storage market is worthwhile.

AGP will have a data centre in London providing remote hardware and software monitoring of AGP systems sold by the dealers. This will take care of patch management, etc, with reports per customer available for dealers, which they brand and deliver to their customers as their service. That's neat. Dealers could love that, and the additional margin and recurring revenue. They could look at this and say: "What the Dell", and walk away from their Round Rock supplier or their HP one.

Acer says the mid-sized business market is composed of thousands of vertical markets and it will look to encourage bundling or availability of its products with specific applications in the bigger segments. Sales Force Automation was supplied as an example.

So ... here we have the world's number 3 PC supplier flexing its newly-acquired muscles and entering a new market segment in EMEA with a new brand, new products and new dealer channel that is still being established and, by the way, in the middle of a recession that could deepen into - well, we don't want to go there. Yet, it's Acer, and it has its track record, and it's jumped into netbooks and become their leading supplier. When Acer asserts its ambition it seems to achieve its aims. ®

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