AOpen Plans Premier White-Box Solutions Network

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AOpen America, looking to increase its share of the SMB white-box market, has been quietly laying the groundwork for two new programs aimed at helping upgrade its solution provider relationships.

The company is preparing to launch a program in conjunction with its distributors to identify the top independent solution providers in each geographic area as candidates for a franchise of partners that small businesses can turn to for a variety of solutions.

At the same time, AOpen is planning to roll out a Premier Reseller Program to increase the support it offers its top 1,000 or so solution providers.

Paul Su, president of AOpen, based here, said it is still difficult for small businesses to find a reliable source of solutions, so it wants to set up a network of solution providers every 10 miles or so to provide a full range of services.

The franchise, which has yet to be named but which Su expects to sport a vendor-neutral name such as IT Service Center, already has a partner in the New York/New Jersey area, Hi and Low Computers. The Plainview, N.Y.-based solution provider also acts as a regional distributor of motherboards and components from AOpen, BenQ and Asus.

"We want to announce to small businesses, 'you need a solution, come to our IT Services Center,' " said Su. "Hardware, software, services, financing--we will offer three-year leases so customers don't need a big cash outlay and can write it off as a business expense."

The franchised solution providers will carry a limited number of brand names, such as HP printers and IBM servers, as well as AOpen products, in much the same way The Home Depot carries a wide range of products but a limited number of brands, said Su. "We want to be the Home Depot of IT," he said. "If you think of IT, think of us. We take care of small businesses. Who else does? Not HP. Not Dell."

The program is still in the initial stages, with much of the current planning going toward looking at how to support smaller solution providers, said Thomson Koon, sales manager at Hi and Low.

Once the program is running, AOpen and Hi and Low will handle marketing, including placing ads and special promotions in local end-user media listing the solution providers, Koon said. "Instead of individual resellers, which have no budgets for advertising, AOpen will place the ad . . . and help bring in new service work," he said.

AOpen and Hi and Low will also help provide their franchise partners with local repair and other services, said Koon. "Local support is important," he said. "Gateway had a good idea with its Country Stores--offer mail sales with local service. The idea was good, but the execution did not work. It would be nice for small businesses to be able to take their systems for local repair."

For its Premier Reseller Program, AOpen is in the process of identifying about 1,000 solution providers that sell 100 or more sets of AOpen components a month, said Su.

"Such resellers are very knowledgeable and deal with education, government and other very demanding customers," he said. "Such customers want proof of distributor and AOpen support before placing orders, and so our distributors are asking for special support for their resellers."

For the top 20 to 30 solution providers in each geography that become Premier Reseller Program members, AOpen will offer extended tech support, extended after-service and RMA support including direct service with the vendor, and extended marketing programs including 3 percent co-op funds, said Su. "That's the highest co-op funds in the industry," he said.

AOpen's goal is to have about 160 solution providers signed up by the end of this month and about 1,000 by the end of the year, Su said.

John Thomas, owner of solution provider Access Interactive, Novi, Mich., said he would be proud to be chosen as one of the company's premier partners. Thomas said his company does about $3 million to $5 million in AOpen components per year and has worked with the vendor for about 10 years.

Thomas called AOpen a channel-friendly vendor, one that provides consistent quality products, easy access to information and fast payment of market-development funds. "AOpen has a good, clean organization," he said. "They have very loyal channel partners. I've never seen [AOPen bid direct."

Su said the small-business market is his company's lifeblood. "I cannot compete with IBM or Dell in the Fortune 500s," he said. "And I cannot compete with HP or eMachine in the consumer space. So where can I succeed? Small business."

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