Toshiba Targets Channel with Low-Price Notebooks

The notebook maker is offering a pair of sub-$1,000 notebooks executively to the reseller channel. However, some resellers say the effort may be too little too late.

Toshiba has introduced a new line of Tecra notebooks in an effort to make it easier for businesses and the resellers that serve them to buy its products.

The computer arm of Toshiba America Information Systems, Inc., this week, rolled out the Tecra L2, a new line of business notebooks, which includes two pre-built models with set configurations that sell for less than $1,000 each and a special EasyBuy reseller channel program that allows resellers to offer the machines exclusively. Toshiba will not offer the machines for sale direct to customers.

Together, the new machines and the channel program are designed to help make Toshibas hardware more attractive and streamline the process buying and selling it via the channel.

The move, in turn, helps Toshiba compete with rivals such as Hewlett-Packard Co. and Lenovo Group Ltd., who also sell via the channel, as well as direct-sellers such as Dell Inc., and others such as Acer Corp., which has been mounting a major effort to increase its presence in the United States of late.

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"Were trying to simplify and streamline the whole process. Were excited because it delivers Toshiba quality at aggressive prices," said Craig Marking, a product manager in Toshiba America Information Systems Digital Products Division in Irvine, Calif. "One of the keys here is not only is it easy to buy, it can be on your doorstep the next day."

The program, which includes standard practices such as price protection, also gives resellers the option to market some add-ons—mainly memory upgrades—which help boost their margins, Marking added.

"This underscores our commitment to our channel partners—to our business partners," he said.

The Tecra L2 Series will offer two models at first. Both offer Intel Corp. processors, 15-inch screens and Microsoft Corp.s Windows XP Professional operating system.

Both machines will sell for less than $1,000, Marking said. However, Toshiba did not provide suggested street prices.

The Tecra L2-S022 model offers a 1.73GHz Intel Pentium M 7402 processor, 512MB of RAM, a 60GB hard drive, a built-in combination CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive and an Intel Wi-Fi 802.11b/g module.

The Tecra L2-S011 offers a 1.5GHz Intel Celeron 3702, 256MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive, the combination CD-burner/DVD drive and a Wi-Fi module capable of 802.11b and 802.11g from Atheros Corp.

Despite the gesture and its aim to underscore the importance of Toshiba reseller partners, a sampling of several channel executives who once carried Toshiba hardware found initial disappointment with the way the company outfitted the Tecra L2 models.

Right now, a sub-$1,000 notebook has little value to channel partners, said David Hudgins, president of VAR PC Products & Service, Greensboro, N.C.

"The channel is there to add value, enhance features and service the product," Hudgins said. "How much value-add can we lay on top of a sub-$1,000 notebook?"

PC Products & Services used to carry Toshiba notebooks but has shifted to other brands, namely Lenovo Groups ThinkPad. Thus the low-price Tecras arent likely to change that focus, Hudgins said.

"Early on and several years ago, the premier notebook we had was Toshiba," he said. "We used to be a big Toshiba dealer until they fell off the radar. They tried to get into desktops and other things and they lost their focus."

Michael Schwab, vice president of purchasing at distributor D&H Distributing Co., Harrisburg, Pa., said the Toshiba program was "too little too late."

D&H stopped carrying Toshiba about 18 months ago, he said, and has since focused on Acer notebooks. Customers "are not calling and asking for Toshiba" anymore, he said.

Although its starting first with sub-$1,000 machines, theres a possibility Toshiba will offer resellers a different look in the future.

It will gather feedback from partners who participate in the program and use that to determine how to outfit future Tecra L2 models, Marking said.

Meanwhile, the company added an additional channel program on Wednesday. Its Toshiba Solutions Provider Program will offer benefits to companies who bundle their products with Toshibas tablet PCs for resale to end customers, Toshiba said in a statement.

The program will target independent software vendors and independent hardware vendors who specialize in tablet PC applications for business, education and the life sciences.

Toshiba, which offers the Tecra M4, Portégé M200 and Satellite R15 tablets, will offer limited-time bonuses, rebates, and marketing development funds for reselling its tablets, in addition to offering help with service and support and customer referrals, the company said.

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