The traditional computer market might be in decline – but consumer demand for bespoke systems is on the up. Ahead of the PCR System Builders Workshop this September, we talk to those behind the resurgence in custom-built rigs…
Many retailers offering system building services are seeing sales rise as standard desktop computers become less popular.
Elan Raja III, director at Scan Computers, told PCR of the potential in the custom desktop market. “The underlying trend is that worldwide PC growth has been declining to flat,” he stated.
“However, PC growth for the channel players is strong as these consumers are faster to act on technology trends for traditional desktops. This trend applies more to custom built PCs irrespective of personal use or business use.”
Jonathan Carter, owner of FiercePC, added: “I definitely feel that the system building market is gaining in strength when it comes to gaming. We deal mainly with end users, and sales of any other kind of PC are dwindling unless it’s for gaming.”
Carter added that one prospective audience is gamers disappointed and underwhelmed by the release of the Xbox One and PS4 games consoles last year.
“We have customers come to us complaining about the Xbox One, saying that they’re not impressed at all and would like us to design a gaming PC for them,” he said.
Carter believes that the upcoming Steam Machine systems, which run on Valve’s free SteamOS platform, could also be set to expand the accessibility and appeal of the PC gaming sector.
“If Valve can get game producers to release major titles that will work on SteamOS, it will make a huge difference to the sale of gaming PCs as the price will be reduced by about £80 – no Windows required – making them instantly more attractive than an Xbox One or PS4,” he stated.
Duncan McAuley, director of distributor VIP Computers, agreed with Carter’s observations: “We have seen healthy growth in the system build market and see lots of potential moving forward.”
He added that smaller firms should particularly consider system building as a supplementary provision: “As the bigger PC manufacturers are leaving to focus on other growth areas, it has handed opportunities to local system builders who, due to their smaller size, can be more flexible in terms of meeting customer demand and are less reliant on shifting larger quantities,” he explained.
Craig Hume, director of Scottish system builder Utopia Computers, added that UK businesses should focus on differentiating themselves from the crowd, and warned that simply offering a system building service isn’t enough.
“The UK system building market is very mature,” he told PCR.
“You only have to look into Europe to see that we have some of the best system builders in the world.
“[However,] a lot of builders do not create a USP. They simply put a combination of parts in a case and think that this is enough to succeed.
“Due to this, our market lags behind the likes of the US with regards to pushing the envelope, with most UK system builders playing it safe and sticking to what they know best. I can understand why – it’s hard work building high-end PCs and even harder selling and supporting large numbers of them.
“System building isn’t for everyone – the margins are tight and the technical requirements are high – but when its done right, there’s nothing more satisfying.”
Hume added that in addition to gamers, creative professionals are also contributing to sustained demand for custom PCs.
“We regularly sell our systems to game developers, indie start-ups and professional workstations for CAD, graphics and video editors,” he explained.
“All of these groups appreciate that the level of power, reliability and support on offer allows them to be even more productive. So, while they may be paying £1,500-plus for their system, they will recoup this cost from the huge amount of hours saved over time.”
David Scott, production manager at Cyberpower, suggested that system builders can make the most of their service by providing other retailers with custom systems – while retailers without the capacity for building can benefit by outsourcing from builders.
“Our pre-built systems are mainly sold through retailers,” he told PCR.
“We find the feedback and reviews on pre-built systems help the customer decide on a brand and spec. It is crucial that systems receive good reviews to increase demand.”
Several system builders are already seeing major collaborations thanks to the growing mainstream demand for bespoke desktops – YoYoTech appointed etailer Ebuyer.com as an official reseller in March, and Utopia similarly signed a supply agreement with Argos for custom systems in April.
Scan’s Raja added: “Building systems is a win-win for retailers and customers – most importantly, customers are provided with a fully working solution, while retailers get to upsell the components along with a labour charge. The trick lies in the choice of components and brand positioning.”
Customers may be willing to splash out more too – Scott reiterated that, although affordability can be attractive, customers’ needs often take priority: “Customers know what level of performance they require regardless of price, and most custom-built PCs are high performance.”
This doesn’t mean they can be overcharged, however.
“Consumers may not require high performance in all areas,” Scott advised.
“It’s key to listen to the customer’s needs to strip out the parts not required and increase the performance for their specific tasks.”
Becoming a member of a partner programme can offer many benefits for builders.
“When we work with system builders we offer direct tech support to ensure the rigs being built perform at their best,” Matt Wright, consumer sales manager for distribution at graphics specialist Nvidia, told PCR.
“This is a benefit that traditional retailers do not receive. Combining this support with training on all product launches and early samples means system builders are a step ahead of the competition.”
AMD recently updated its AMD Partner Programme (APP) to increase its support for system builders, designating builders who sufficiently promote AMD as ‘Hero Builders’.
Once awarded the Hero Builder title, a firm can make use of early samples, additional support and other exclusive benefits.
System builders can also use their ties with major firms to increase their presence and relationships with prospective tech communities.
“As part of our reviews programme with media and the gaming community, we work closely with system builders to provide reviewers with the best overall PC setup available,” explained Wright.
“It goes without saying that if we can provide a best of breed system with Nvidia tech inside, it’s a win-win for us and the system builder that made the rig.”
In addition to this, vendors often provide exclusive material and products for giveaways to firms that utilise social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
FiercePC’s Carter praised the collaboration between vendors and system builders: “For any company to grow and provide great pricing for their customers, the support of a partner manufacturer is a must in my opinion,” he stated.
“Since we started working closely with Gigabyte our sales have increased by a huge margin.”
However, at the end of the day, being able to provide a system building service depends on the strength, passion and determination of your firm – and the ability to get your voice heard among an increasingly noisy crowd.
“Utopia prides itself on the unique relationships we have with our vendors,” said Hume.
“But partner programmes can only take you so far. They often fail to encourage more unique builders to climb the ladder of success – instead benefitting box shifters.
“That’s when meeting the people behind the programmes and showing them the systems that you build becomes vital.”
As bespoke sales boom and vendors and builders strengthen their bonds, the market for custom-built rigs isn’t just keeping the desktop market alive – it’s building the foundation for closer collaboration and greater consumer engagement across the entire industry.
So pick up that power supply, slide open a tower case and get building – custom PCs are here to stay.