Open Case

Resellers are increasingly getting into leather. Leather laptop cases, that is.

As businesses replace desktops with notebooks, sales of cases and related accessories are climbing.

Buyers want more than the basic vinyl cover that comes with most laptops. They want better protection for the

pricey PCs and iBooks inside, more pockets, styles ranging from backpack to messenger and a choice of materials from colourful nylon to studious leather.

“”One of the challenges our retailers face is the basket of (accessory) goods for notebooks is a little less than for desktop computers, so it reinforces the importance of selling things like cases and notebook accessories,”” says Tim Billing, senior director of sales for direct and consumer markets at Ingram Micro Canada.

“”These are critical for our retail customers to make sufficient gross margin on the sale of a notebook.””

The result is that vendors such as Targus Inc., Kensington Technology Group, Belkin Corp. and Case Logic Inc. have been refreshing and expanding their case and accessory lines, hoping to get a bigger slice of the corporate market and promising VARs better margins with higher-priced bags. They’re also fattening their related product lines such as anti-theft cables, battery chargers and wireless mice.

To boost visibility, vendors are expanding their retail channels from computer VARs to chains such as Canadian Tire and Wal-Mart.

Another sign of competition: Last month California-based Belkin, which admits its presence in Canada is minimal, opened an office in Toronto to better serve distributors and resellers here.

“”We are going to be working very strongly to grow that business,”” says Lisa Person, the company’s national account manager for distribution and VAR channels.

“”It was managed primarily through the U.S. distributors who had Canadian presence. We decided we needed to take it a step further and really support this market.””

Belkin’s also launching a North American solution provider alliance this year, giving its resellers dedicated pre- and post-sales support, technical training and opportunities to earn rebates and points.

Market leader Targus has recently announced several new lines that will ship this year. Fusion is priced at between $60 and $80 and is for younger, more fashion-conscious buyers. The City Lite line is aimed at women who want a lighter bag. The Port line for corporate users has been updated and is now called Port 3.1, with more pockets and pouches. And the Mobile Pack value line will range from $40 to $80.

“”Our bag mix in cases has dramatically changed in the last three years,”” says Zeno Ricci, president of Targus Canada. “”Retail now represents 40 per cent of revenue, corporate another 40 per cent and OEM 20 per cent.

“”Two years ago the number one accessory for a notebook purchase was a carrying case. Now that notebooks are more of a desktop replacement, users are buying mice, USB expansion ports, security cables and keypads. So our accessory lineup has expanded incredibly over the last 12 to 16 months.””

This year those will include a wireless mouse that can also be used as a laser screen pointer.

Kensington has just launched a line it calls Contour, because the cases curve to the hip of the user, which is suppose to put less strain on the neck and back. The line will start at $99.99.

Another newcomer is the Crossbrace line, which has a removable inside sleeve to protect laptops from shocks. The nylon version will sell for $150, while one in leather will cost $200. A $100 sports bag with reflective material on the outside has been added to Kensington’s Saddlebag line.

On the accessories side the company has announced a partnership with Mobility Accessories for a line of Kensington-branded power adapter products, as well as wireless mini-mice.

Valerie Grasman, senior product manager for the Canadian branch of Kensington’s parent company, Acco Brands, said last year sales of cases here were up 60 per cent, mobility-type products up 150 per cent and input devices 45 per cent.

Belkin has added 11 SKUs to its NeuElements line, including one tailored towards women, as it drops what it calls its “”me-too”” cases. In accessories, the company recently signed an exclusive agreement with Comarco Inc. giving it worldwide distribution rights for Comarco’s ChargeSource programmable mobile power adapters.

In May Case Logic will bring out a new Ultimate Pro series of bags running between $70 and $130, featuring a suspension protection system.

Finally, while buyers are attracted to brand-names in this field, Ingram’s Billing notes the distributor is looking at adding non-branded cases and accessories at lower price points for certain niches not touched by other manufacturers.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com

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