IBM, Lenovo Merger Could Boost Whitebook Sales

"The majority of my customers see ThinkPad and they still see IBM," said Steven Plotz, president of Computer Systems of Tampa, a system builder and solution provider in Gibsonton, Fla. "Only if I educate them [about Lenovo buying IBM's PC business] prior to them buying would it make a difference."

Some solution providers say the IBM ThinkPad brand has permanently lost its luster.

IBM reached an agreement to sell its $12 billion PC business to Lenovo last month in a deal that is expected to close next quarter. IBM-branded PCs and ThinkPads will continue to be sold through existing IBM channels, including about 7,000 IBM PC business partners in the United States. Lenovo will continue to use the IBM brand for up to five years.

But some white-box builders said the IBM ThinkPad brand has permanently lost its luster.

"Why would you buy a ThinkPad over a whitebook unless they drastically change their pricing?" said Pat Walsh, president of Computer Station of Orlando, a system builder in Longwood, Fla. "The deal has to give some advantage to white-box builders."

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Plotz, however, was not willing to count out the IBM notebooks yet. He said that the ongoing impact of the ThinkPad brand on the market depends on how Lenovo markets the product. If Lenovo chooses to slash prices on ThinkPads, "then it would hurt us," Plotz said.

But as it stands, he's not worried about major disruptions caused by the deal. He noted that already Dell is selling a laptop for $699, and Sam's and Wal-Mart have entered the low-priced laptop fray with a $499 offering running Linux and an office-productivity suite.

Plotz said that his whitebook product can't compete on price with the slew of cut-rate offerings already on the market. "My customers won't buy any technology unless they call me first," he said. "And I only sell them products that I can service."

He added, however, that as diehard IBM ThinkPad customers grasp the realization that the laptops are no longer coming from IBM, that could open up opportunities.

"These customers may look for a local supplier," Plotz said.