The frontline of PC retailing in 2007 has been very much characterised by polarisation.
The mass merchandisers and direct sellers have been engaged in a battle to the end, with price apparently the only differentiator between the various players. Inevitably this had led to plummeting RRPs and it’s now not at all clear how anyone makes any profit from selling a £300 laptop.
At the other end of the scale it has been a year of great innovation in the components industry. And consumers who believe that you get what you pay for – and are willing to spend a bit more to get quality and reliability – are able to buy PCs of astounding power for what are historically still very low retail prices.
These awards represent the full spectrum of those companies operating on the frontline of the PC and IT market in the UK, from the smallest indie to the largest mass merchandiser. But PC retailing is also about a lot more than the High Street, so we’ve included a category for online retailers, one for value added resellers and another for technical support.
This last category is particularly topical as many smaller retailers are finding themselves unable to make a profit simply from selling equipment due to the price pressures mentioned previously. So they are turning to service and repair as their primary activity. And thus it is important that this growing industry is properly represented in these awards.
HIGH STREET INDEPENDENT
Jennings Computer Services – Scarborough
Mike Jennings established his business in 1980, mainly supporting local pre-press and printing production. Since then, Jennings has gone from strength to strength and now provides sales, service and support to individuals and businesses nationwide. Over the years, Mike has forged loyal relationships with many businesses and home users.
Mighty Micro – Manchester
Mighty Micro pioneered specialist computer retailing in the UK when it opened its first retail shop in Manchester in 1983. It’s a family operation with customers ranging from consumers to FTSE 100 companies and universities. The company’s e-commerce site was established in 2001 and initially listed 6,000 IT products which has now grown to over 20,000.
PC Warehouse – Halifax
PC Warehouse specialises in a bespoke approach to selling PCs. It encourages customers to come into the shop for a full consultation on what they intend to use the PC for and what their budget is. This hands-on attitude and emphasis on customer service has meant that PC Warehouse has been able to keep a PC building outfit going where many better known contemporaries have failed.
Shasonic – London
Shasonic has been a real retail pioneer through its Sony Centre operations. The largest Sony Centre Galleria in Europe sets the standard for home entertainment shopping in a friendly, futuristic and accessible environment. Spacious, air-conditioned and tastefully designed, the Galleria incredibly houses all of the very latest Sony products under one roof. Split into two levels, it’s the first to combine all of its products.
Yoyotech – London
Situated just off Tottenham Court Road, Yoyotech is an oasis of high performance personal computing in an increasingly commoditised market. MD ‘CK’ and his team live for cutting-edge components and thus can offer as good a level of service and expertise as you will find anywhere. Yoyotech is also a pioneer in combining the unique merits of both traditional and online retailing.
HIGH STREET MULTIPLE
Due its unique retail model, Argos has mainly stayed away from selling PCs themselves and focused instead on the peripherals and accessories market. The range of products available to collect immediately remains impressive and Argos has continued to improve its web interface to make shopping there more convenient still.
Being a consumer electronics generalist, Comet hasn’t made the mistake of trying to take on the techies. Instead it has concentrated on a simple PC product offering and, crucially, some clear and to-the-point in-store messaging to help less tech-savvy consumers make confident buying decisions. In so doing, Comet has played a part in the growth of the UK PC market.
John Lewis remains a bastion of a bygone age in retailing – when quality, service and after-sale support were considered as important as price in the mind of the consumer. It continues to provide a ray of hope for retailers dismayed by the trimming of margins, proving that there is still money to be made from retailing well – even in the PC sector.
The giant of the UK PC retail sector had its work cut out in 2007, both due to increased competition from the other names in this category and seismic product events such as the launch of Windows Vista. In spite of this, it has remained synonymous with PCs for many consumers and has continued to keep home computing high in the public consciousness through its strong ad campaigns.
Tesco’s position as the predator in UK retailing is exemplified by the rapid growth of its non-food offering. One of the most remarkable developments has been its move into PCs, peripherals and even own-brand software. While Tesco has now started sharing the blame for disappearing margins with Dell, there’s no denying that it’s making PCs available to an ever broader market.
CCL Computers has become famous for its support, one of the reasons it has won ‘Best Online Retailer’ for two years running at the PC Pro Awards. “CCL is the Paula Radcliffe of online retailers,” said PC Pro after the 2007 awards, adding: “CCL enjoys leading from the front, taking this crown for the second year running. And it’s quick on its feet, too, topping the charts for delivery.”
CyberPower was one of the first e-tailers to capitalise on the demise of the domestic system-builder sector. The easy to use website is a goldmine for the mid-level PC user who knows a thing or two about components, but lacks the technical expertise to build a PC themselves. CyberPower PCs are regular winners of consumer PC press awards.
As its name implies, OCUK has dedicated itself to servicing the high performance and enthusiast end of the market. It has built a reputation for consistently being one of the first to stock the latest components and if you want to know what sort of kit the PC enthusiast community is using you could do worse than visit the site.
Scan was formed in 1989 and is a family-run business employing 150 people at its main office in Bolton. Scan’s principal business is to build and supply high performance systems and PC hardware/software. Heavy investment in its back-end systems, combined with a corporate commitment to ‘specification, service and satisfaction’, has allowed Scan to achieve an award-winning service level whilst remaining competitive.
Stuff-uk.net was formed in 2001 by industry veterans Alan Stanley and Richard Loveland. Both come from a memory module manufacturing and distribution background. They decided to put their skills, knowledge and industry contacts to the test. “We fully understand the needs of our customers, our prices have to be competitive and above all we have to offer customer service that is unsurpassed,” they claim.
VALUE ADDED RESELLER
Axia Computer Systems – Watford
Axia is an IT infrastructure and services company. It offers a high level of service to clients by understanding how each works and giving the customer the ability to grow their business with the aid of Axia’s services. It is an IBM Advance, Lenovo Premium and Citrix Silver Partner.
Hi-Grade Computers – Barking
Hi-Grade’s approach to dealing with customers guarantees them not just leading-edge products and service, but value for money. Its reputation stands or falls on the delivery of solutions that best meet customers’ needs. Proof of Hi-Grade’s competence lies in the fact that many of its customers are involved in the IT sector.
Keen Computers – Colchester
Keen Computers has taken its expertise in computer building to a new level by creating an ISP. Whilst many ISPs use brand name servers, Keen used its own servers and has won a national award beating a number of much larger ISPs, including Tesco. Owner Anthony Knee says: “If you want to see Tesco being beaten by an indie, you need look no further than Keen Computers!”
PC Paramedics – Sandhurst
PC Paramedics provides IT support for the SME sector. Founder Stephen Ling says “We have a team of dedicated professionals who have gained experience in large international corporations and understand the challenges and pressures faced by growing businesses. We place strong emphasis on customer service and giving value for money.”
Stone Computers – Staffs
Stone Computers is a computer manufacturer and reseller specialising in the supply and support of products to the public sector. Stone has a reputation for stability and reliability with over 150,000 PCs already in the marketplace. In particular it has earned the confidence of the education sector, with many UK Schools, Colleges and Universities making regular purchases.
BEST TECHNICAL SUPPORT
Bear IT – Nottingham
Bear IT provides IT infrastructure for SMEs, offering technical expertise, specifically in implementation and networking, plus a range of support options. One of the most popular of these is a back-up service, with the company stating: “Your data is important to you, it has taken a large amount of time to prepare and could take even longer to recreate. It’s essential to have a contingency plan.”
Connecting London – London
Since 1983, Connecting London has been supplying computer and communications systems and support – with a difference. It states that its primary task is to support its clients, not just their systems. Though most of its work covers complex corporate systems and networks, it is also happy to deliver big-company standards to homes and SMEs.
Forum Computers – Lincoln
Forum believes that it offers the best domestic sales and service advice to Lincolnshire. Repairing over 20 systems a week, its team will go the extra mile to preserve customer data and get their computers up again. Equipment sold is set up before it leaves the shop and the firm’s repair centre is open six days a week.
Positive Computing – Kings Lynn
Positive Computing is a local IT support company covering all versions of Windows and Mac OS. Having been a Mac user since 1989, Positive Computing feels that no other local company knows the mix of PC and Apple as well. It also feels that, with many PC makers launching units running Linux, it is in a strong position to advise its clients in this area.
Wyvern Business Systems – Hereford
Established In 1984, Wyvern Business Systems has become the premier IT solutions provider in Herefordshire and the surrounding counties. Wyvern builds its own brand of bespoke PCs and offers services including design, installation and configuration of networks, including servers, hubs and cabling.