PC Mall makes bid for government business

PC Mall Gov, a subsidiary of product and services provider PC Mall Inc., officially opened its doors last week under the leadership of former Comark Inc. executive Alan Bechara.

The new Herndon, Va., office will focus on business development and contract management for government clients, said Bechara, president and general manager of PC Mall Gov.

The new office supports the company's strategy to expand sales in the government and education markets, which already accounted for $70 million in business last year, Bechara said. "The government business is a growth business for everybody," he said, but you have to have a "long-term strategy."

PC Mall sells more than 100,000 products from companies such as Apple Computer Inc., Microsoft Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM Corp., via phone, catalogs and the Internet.

Despite stiff competition from companies such as GTSI Corp. and CDW-G Inc., Bechara said PC Mall Gov's "simple formula" would win customers: provide good service, support and technology; serve as an information source for customers; ship products the same day; and offer competitive pricing.

Still, the question remains whether PC Mall can indeed make headway in the market against established competition.

"In general, I think the federal marketplace is becoming increasingly difficult for new companies to penetrate," said Payton Smith, an analyst with Input, a market research firm in Vienna, Va.

"The current administration is emphasizing solutions over specific requirements, so acquisitions will favor companies and teams of companies that can deliver integrated products and services," Smith said. "In addition, established federal contractors have always had a competitive advantage based on past performance."

As the government becomes more solutions-focused in its information technology acquisition strategy, he said, the challenge for resellers is to forge strategic partnerships with service providers to become part of a "solution" offering.

Low Overhead

Part of PC Mall's strategy for keeping prices down is keeping overhead costs low. The company plans to run its sales operations out of its headquarters in Torrance, Calif., because personnel costs are so much higher in the Washington, D.C., area, Bechara said. PC Mall already has 80 employees dedicated to government sales.

Meanwhile, PC Mall Gov officials plan to revamp the company's Web site to make it more interactive for government customers, similar to how its commercial site operates, Bechara said.

The PC Mall Gov site is a "landing page" with static information, but soon it will offer customers the ability to set up their own Web page to make ordering easier, he said. This page would contain product information specific to a particular customer. In the future, PC Mall Gov will offer live customer service on its site to answer questions promptly and directly and offer product suggestions.

Some companies may turn away an order of less than $1,000, Bechara said, but "if they don't want to take it, call us."

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