PC Connection Launches Line of Business PCs

PC Connection Inc., a direct marketer of name-brand computers and related products, is launching its own line of desktop computers for small businesses to give its customers a lower-priced option and more flexibility in configuring their systems.

The company said it had contracted with a third-party manufacturer to build the machines, which will be offered through PC Connection's telesales division and catalogs and online through its Web site (www.pcconnection.com) under the Epiq PC Systems brand.

“There are a certain number of customers who are not necessarily tied to a specific brand name and are more interested in components and function; and if they can buy them at a more cost-effective price, they'd like to do so,” said Tracy Turner, a spokeswoman for the Merrimack, NH, company.

The line will include the Epiq Business Performance System 4000, 6000 and 8000 series, which will be powered by Intel's Celeron, Pentium II and Pentium III chips, respectively. They are being offered at prices ranging from $599 to $1,599. In addition, PC Connection will offer Epiq-brand monitors at prices ranging from $149 for a 15-inch color monitor to $379 for a 19-inch version. Speakers, a CD-ROM drive and modem can be added for $99.

Although PC Connection is offering a pre-configured small-business version of the product, the company is emphasizing its ability to offer free custom configuration. Most of the name-brand systems are offered in a limited variety of configurations through the PC Connection catalogs.

Turner said the company did not have any additional marketing initiatives planned for the line. The Epiq machines were featured on the cover of catalogs that were recently mailed out, and has been available on the Web site since late last month. The company's telephone sales staff also has been detailed on the systems, she said.

Although the prices are somewhat lower than those of the products from name-brand manufacturers that make up the majority of PC Connection's sales, Turner said the Epiq line is not expected to siphon off sales from other brands.

“We see it as a supplement, not a substitution,” she said. “We still have lots and lots of customers for whom Compaq is what they want, or IBM, or whatever, and they will wait for that brand and pay a high premium for it.”

In addition, she said, laptops have been making up an increasing portion of the company's sales mix, and the brand manufacturers still dominate that segment of the business. The Epiq line currently includes only desktop computers.

Meanwhile, the company tapped Anthony Adams as senior product line director of original equipment manufacturer systems to head the Epiq line. Adams, who most recently was director of desktop product development at NEC Computer Systems, will be responsible for managing the company's OEM relationships and further developing the Epiq product line.

Other direct resellers of computer products have offered so-called white box computers, including PC Connection rival Insight Enterprises Inc. The Tempe, AZ, marketer discontinued its name-brand line in 1995, citing higher back-end costs and other factors.

Insight originally had launched the line for some of the same reasons as PC Connection — it was hoping to fill a void for its small-business customers.

“We started it at a time when people weren't finding what they wanted in terms of configurations,” said Insight spokeswoman Susan Heywood. “Then what happened was a lot of the name brand companies started offering some of the features that we had been offering.”

She said that although the company initially realized higher margins on the line, and it received some industry awards for its performance, the costs of providing service over the long term diminished the line's profitability.

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