About half of all PCs sold in Australia are whitebox. It is a vibrant sector of the market that has traditionally enjoyed a lot of success in education, government and small business due to low prices, flexible configuration and speed to market.
And yet, as with all communities within business and life in general, there are the haves and have nots. For every example of a company that has started small but gone on to bigger things by providing a positive customer experience over a long period of time, there are many more that disappear without a trace or continue to eek out a living from one week to the next, dreaming of that juicy contract or broader market opportunity that will catapult them to a new level.
There are serious challenges at the moment - the price of the branded competition in general continues to fall. Companies such as Acer and Dell have realised it makes little sense to try to take a percentage point or two off each other when such a large proportion of the industry has little or no marketing budget with which to fight its corner.
Acer's Delivery Now and Dell's Build To Order initiatives are both examples of aggressive plays that have been designed specifically to tackle traditional whitebox strengths. The most recent research from IDC suggests these tactics are working, with both these brands significantly outperforming general market growth while whitebox sales have stagnated.
But there are two sides to every coin and, despite the obvious challenges, there are also new trends, from consumer to corporate, that offer tremendous opportunity. The PC market continues to mature and an ever growing number of potential customers are savvy about what capabilities they want rather then depending on a badge they know and trust. Furthermore, open source software is offering ways of differentiating for those that can tell a convincing tale and execute well on their promises. A new digital home market will make a success of those who tackle it correctly.
But for such a large community, there is little sense of cohesion in the whitebox market and there is no forum, as far as I am aware, for the people making and selling these boxes to come together and pool their knowledge.
Many of you reading this are running small businesses and, like the similarly sized customers you often sell to, it is hardly surprising that you are fiercely protective of any little advantage that you may have established over your competitors. For many whitebox resellers, boundary blurring is also a fact of life and you will happily sell HP, Acer, Toshiba or whatever a customer insists upon buying if you have the necessary vendor relationship to supply it.
However, getting back to the idea of community, whitebox is a more powerful performer than any of the major brands and has a broad market reach that would have any tier-one manufacturer drooling.
It is now time to put your cards on the table and help each other to succeed. With that in mind, ARN's two half-day seminars in Sydney and Melbourne during the next week are designed to help the whitebox community get its collective head around emerging opportunities being driven by digital convergence in the consumer market.
Intel will present its vision, as will Microsoft, and probably the greatest Australian whitebox success story to date, Optima's Cornel Ung, will take his place on a discussion panel. Let's make this a starting point for putting some much needed structure into a market approach that has been, quite frankly, too individual to date. The major brands are on the attack - does anybody fancy fighting back?