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Company not intimidated by taking on the big boys of the computer world

Howard Computers finds competitive marketplace

LAUREL — Mississippi is hungry for the high-tech, better-paying jobs that are the key to improving the state’s average per capita income, so any efforts by Mississippi businesses to start down the road of creating the state’s own Silicon Valley are watched with great interest.

Two years ago one of the state’s biggest home-grown business success stories, Howard Industries, entered the personal computer market. While the new development was of great interest, some people wondered what in the world Howard Industries was thinking of going head- to-head with the Dell, Gateway and Compaqs of the world.

Actually, since Howard Industries had already taken on the GE, Westinghouse and Motorola in the transformer and ballast businesses, relative newcomers like Dell and Gateway just didn’t seem so intimidating as you might think.

About 30 years ago Howard Industries entered the transformer market. Howard Industries is now the largest transformer manufacturer in the U.S. with a 42% share of the $1.2-billion annual market. The company also started a ballast division about seven years ago, and is now the third-largest ballast manufacturer in the U.S. The company branched out into transportation in the mid-1970s by launching a successful trucking company, Howard Transportation.

Howard Industries is now the fifth largest private company in Mississippi with a work force of 3,300. With three successful business startups behind them, the electrical products giant decided starting Howard Computers was a natural business evolution.

John Harper, a regional sales representative for Howard Computers, said the company was building a lot of its own computers in house to facilitate transformer manufacturing when the idea arose for a computer division.

“We already had three successful business startups behind us,” Harper said. “We were experienced at competing in low-margin, highly competitive industries. And when we looked at the computer industry, it had a much larger potential for sales than our other industries. The computer industry has sales of $150 billion per year. Even 1% of a $150 billion wouldn’t be too bad.”

All the biggest names in computer manufacturing take less than half of the market. The smaller companies have 57% of the market. The current market share leader has only a 16% share of the market.

“We’d like to get 16%, but we don’t have to because the market is so huge,” Harper said.

Initially, Howard Computers has focused most of its efforts on selling computers to schools from kindergarten through the 12th grade. The company is registered on state bid contracts in 48 states, and has concentrated on the Southeast. The company has two direct sales representatives in each state in the Southeast except Florida, which has one sales representative. There are plans to add two more representatives in Florida in the near future.

Harper said the biggest thing Howard Industries offers to schools that is attractive is service and support.

“We try to have the best technical support you can get,” he said. “Customers have accountability through their local salesperson instead of having to call someone through a toll-free customer support number. We hope that distinguishes us in the marketplace.”

Howard Computers hopes that other businesses in the state will be interested in doing business with the new kid on the computer block. The company believes state businesses will consider the value of buying from another Mississippi-based business especially since the prices are competitive.

State businesses which have already established good relationships with Howard Industries through its other businesses are likely to support the new enterprise.

“Howard Industries has always been innovative and creative in their ability to manufacture and deliver quality goods and services,” said Dwight Evans, president of Mississippi Power Company. “Their presence in the computer market will be a definite plus for utilities, industries, and individuals.”

One thing Howard Computers is doing to distinguish itself in the marketplace is its Promotion Partnership program. The company partners with utilities, alumni associations, banks and other entities to provide a package that includes a Howard Computer and an ISP contract. Partners get a percentage of the sale price and can, if they choose, also offer financing.

Harper said that partners can get good rates by bargaining with ISP because of the number of customers. And partners usually can advertise inexpensively in bank statements or alumni newsletters. Some banks already participating are Lamar Bank in Hattiesburg and Purvis and People’s Bank is McGee and Mendenhall.

The next area being targeted for sales is government. The company is also working on getting a GSA contract in order to sell to military installations, and also is working on sales to local and state governments.

Howard Industries is one of the private partners in an effort to develop a technology park on 500 acres near Ellisville. An estimated investment of $10 million is needed to provide the infrastructure for a park that could potentially provide 10,000 jobs. If the park is successfully launched, Howard Computers will be the centerpiece of the park.

For more information on Howard Computers, call 1-888-912-3151 or visit the Web site www.howardcomputers.com.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.

About Becky Gillette

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