After a tough 2011, things are looking up for the PC manufacturer in 2012

Interview: Acer eyes ultrabright future

The UK Acer team is incredibly enthusiastic from the moment PCR walks in the door. And it seems they have every right to be.

In 2011 things looked somewhat bleak, with some significant declines in shipments. The CEO left early on in the year. But then Neil Marshall became MD, and industry figures began to voice some optimism about the firm.

PCR: How is business now?
Neil Marshall, managing director (pictured): Acer went through a tough period in 2011. We entered Q1 2011 with very high level of inventory, primarily driven by a downturn in consumer spending. In addition to that we went through significant management changes. Now we’re focusing on profitability and cleaning out the channel of inventory.

As we’re entering 2012 we have around one month of inventory, which is probably the best point we’ve been at. We’ve put the bad times of 2011 behind us and now we’re looking to what we can do next.

Richard Hayden, sales manager retail/etail: The key focus for us on products at CES this year was around ultrabooks. We already have the Aspire S3 ultrabook out at the moment. It’s being doing very well. As far as cost is concerned it’s in a very competitive position compared to our peers.

The main product that we launched at CES on ultrabook was the Aspire S5 – the world’s thinnest ultrabook. It has a very slick design – it’s understated compared to some other offerings and quite classy at the same time. It has a Thunderbolt port. And of course it has a mechanised panel that hides the ports.

I loved it because every time I saw another retailer I pressed the button on the front and as they saw the panel I got an instant ‘what’s that?’ response. It’s a really nice bit of kit, and we’ve had great reactions to it

PCR: Intel is calling 2012 the year of the ultrabook – would you agree?
NM: Yes, and in fact our chairman JT Wang has already said we agree with that. Ultrabooks are going to be around 40 per cent of the notebook market this year. Technology will keep on improving and price points will come down, but at the moment we’re offering the most affordable options for slim ultrabooks as far as we’re concerned.

And you have to remember that ultrabook doesn’t just mean slim. It means the ULV processor, the eight-hour battery life, the instant on, the always connected feature.

We’ve just brought out another notebook line, the Timeline ultrabook, which has 14 and 15-inch screens. They’re much thinner than normal notebooks and still have all the ultrabook features.

PCR: What can you do to help retailers sell devices like this?

NM: One of the key things about the slim ultrabook is making sure retailers can show the product off as best as they can. You have to show the product from the side to get the wow factor. The POS that we’re coming up with will display them slightly differently at an angle.

Also, we have a strong portfolio and cover every price area. Ultrabooks aren’t a niche product for us – it will be occupying all price points.

PCR: Tablets are hot property too – how do you think they compare with ultrabooks, in terms of where they sit in the market?

RH: The market needs to mature with an understanding of what tablets are. They’re primarily a media consumption device rather than a productivity device. When people really start to understand the limitations of the tablet, that’s when we’ll start to see move back towards slimline ultrabooks.

However, we’re still very much supporting tablets and recognise there’s an opportunity there.

The A200, for example, is an entry-level but fully functioning tablet, with an RRP of around £279, aimed at the whole family. It will be with retailers within the next month or so.

We have a new model coming out too that will have Olympic branding and a full HD screen.

PCR: The Olympics – which Acer is providing the IT infrastructure for – must be a huge opportunity for you?
NM: Yes. Sainsbury’s and John Lewis are part of the sponsorship programme too and we want to work together and leverage this opportunity.

RH: It’s a massive thing for us as a brand to be involved with it.

NM: We’re bringing in hundreds of partners from around the world. And we’ve done channel incentives too to get retailers to the Olympics.

PCR: What is Acer doing in the education space at the moment, and how can it benefit retailers?

Nathan Knight, BU manager commercial: Acer has a strong education programme. We have 50 partners that are working with us in terms of developing a strong proposition for it.

We have education-specific products, such as interactive white boards, and a great opportunity for indies is to look at where they service their local community and partner with us around education. One of the key things we offer is that we have such a strong breadth of portfolio.

Off the back of that, we just worked through the BETT show and had a great stand there and came away with 700 leads.

Partners in business
Acer also told us that later in 2012 it will launch a channel partner programme offering exclusive information, tools for communication, POS, pricing support, a bid tool and emodules for training on product innovations. Alongside this will be roadshows and channel partner events.

The overwhelming message that we take away from meeting the team is that this is a huge year for Acer. It’ll be interesting to see how it pays off for the firm and the industry.

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