Dell sets off on overseas sales blitz

Dell Computer is aggressively expanding into new geographic markets, as it seeks a counterbalance to slowing U.S. sales.

Dell Computer is aggressively expanding into new geographic markets, as it seeks a counterbalance to slowing U.S. sales

In a presentation during Dell's annual analysts meeting on Thursday, vice chairman Kevin Rollins said the company is in a "show-me mode" as it seeks to demonstrate that it "can consistently grow into these markets both profitably and at much higher growth rates than our competitors have."

But Rollins said it would take several more quarters before Dell would make "believers" on Wall Street that the company can grow beyond its U.S. base.

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"I think it's no surprise to many of you that our regional mix vs. that of the market is heavily skewed toward the U.S.," he said. "Addressing this global imbalance...is one of our top three strategic initiatives globally this year."

Any increase in sales overseas would be welcome. In the analyst meeting Thursday, Dell said that its revenue for the current quarter would be $8 billion, down from $8.7 billion in the fourth quarter.

The United States, which accounts for the bulk of Dell's revenue, has become an increasingly hostile sales market, according to Dataquest. The market researcher expects overall worldwide PC sales to grow 10.7 percent this year from their 2000 level, but remain flat or decline in the United States.

Dell (Nasdaq: DELL) leads in the United States with 23 percent of the market and 44 percent year-over-year growth in the fourth quarter, Rollins said. The consumer business grew 78 percent compared with a year earlier.

"As they find the U.S. market less lucrative than it used to be, they certainly have the incentive to focus overseas," said Gartner analyst Martin Reynolds. "Quite frankly, that represents quite a threat to the other manufacturers."

Rollins said that if Dell's market share were the same in other geographic markets as it is in the United States, "we would be adding about another $28 billion to the incredible revenue upside for Dell." Clearly, he said, there is "enough opportunity to expand into those markets."

In the fourth quarter, Dell grew at six times the rate of the overall the European market and four times the rate in Japan. Its growth in Latin America was three times that of the market, and in Asia it bested the market 40-fold, he added.

Rollins dismissed concerns that geographic regions where Dell sells are sluggish. The challenges are operational including overcoming resistance to the company's direct-sales model, he said.

Dell has been fixing some operational issues in Asia. "One of the big drivers in Asia's growth rate has been the consumer expansion, which is a market we really haven't tried to play in particularly well," he added.

Earlier in 2000, Dell struggled in Europe because of operational issues, but in the fourth quarter "we pretty much declared the turnaround is complete," Rollins said. "We're breaking out in terms of (declaring) Europe as a growth vehicle as well as a profit contributor for the overall company." Dell is No. 3 in Europe, he said, with 31 percent year-over-year unit-growth rate in the fourth quarter.

Dell operates in 17 European countries, where server sales grew 15 times the market rate, Rollins said. Server sales soared 89 percent in Germany and 98 percent in the United Kingdom during the fourth quarter, he added.

"The European PC market has seen slower growth, so Dell's results from that region are not as strong as compared to the Asia-Pacific and U.S markets," said Technology Business Research analyst Brooks Gray. "I still think they're having some problems penetrating some countries outside of France and the U.K."

Gray said that Dell faces challenges selling direct where dealers are the preferred means of distribution and that the company is aware of the culture clash. The company lacks the necessary sales force in certain locations and is still very dependent on the direct model, which has far less acceptance in regions outside the United Kingdom, France and Germany, he said.

Reynolds also does not expect many other locations to be as receptive to the direct-sales model as the United States. But he didn't perceive this as a major handicap, because Dell typically targets large corporations first and works its way down into a market.

"Once you've got a major corporation deciding it's going to buy a PC direct, the battle's over," Reynold's said. "Once you break through that, the direct issue doesn't matter much." Rollins said that in Latin America the company has been selling systems for about a year and already has a 4 percent market share. The company gained a full 2 points of share in Brazil, where a new factory is being constructed. Argentina and Brazil account for about 69 percent of Dell's Latin American business, Rollins said.

"We think we're poised for great growth opportunity in Latin America," Rollins said. "Our corporate business is profitable after one year's growth."

In Japan, Dell is No. 6, with about 5 percent market share, said the Dell vice chairman. The company saw 77 percent growth in the fourth quarter compared with a year earlier. Server sales grew 122 percent year over year.

"In Asia-Pacific, we're No. 7 overall, with about 4 percent market share there and 52 percent year-over-year growth rate," Rollins said. He had little to say about China, a key area of concern for analysts.

Overseas, Dell is "growing in the right places," he said, adding that 95 percent of that growth "came at the nondesktop, or beyond-the-desktop, product service areas."