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Computer Makers Mine Rich Hispanic Market
June 3, 2001
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- The technology economy's downturn has opened the eyes of personal computer makers to the nation's booming Hispanic population, which has grown 58 percent to 35.3 million in the past decade.
The overall U.S. market for computers is saturated. Computer ownership among white households is 55.7 percent; among Asians, it's 65.6 percent.
Yet just 33.7 percent of Hispanic households owned a PC in August 2000, according to the latest available data from the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
"It's simple math," said Eric Newburger, a statistician with the Census Bureau. "If you're selling computers, you'll see that a lot of the Hispanic population doesn't have computers."
Computer marketers, their sales badly sagging, are waking up to customers such as Otelia Mendoza. A Mexican immigrant living in East Palo Alto, Mendoza recently bought a Gateway computer to help her five children through school.
"It took a long time for them to notice us -- computers have been around for 10 years," said her 13-year-old, Genaro Lombera Jr. "Just because we're Mexicans doesn't mean we don't need computers."
The nation's top PC vendors -- Dell Computer Corp., Compaq Computer Corp., IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Corp., Gateway Inc. and Apple Computer Inc. -- all have some services aimed at Spanish speakers, including multilingual help desks or Web sites.
But none have marketing campaigns as intensive as Gateway, which drew 20,000 visitors to its small store in Stockton, in California's Central Valley, by inviting champion boxer Oscar de la Hoya.
The San Diego-based PC maker was the first to make a major push, increasing its Spanish-speaking call center staff from nine to 65 beginning in September, and putting merchandise and staff dedicated to Hispanics in nearly half of its 300 stores.
Compaq plans its own Spanish-language initiative by the end of July, offering Presario 5000T desktop models with Spanish-language software, operating manuals and keyboards, which were previously available only in Latin America.
IBM, meanwhile, is increasing its involvement with Hispanic associations and businesses; HP is setting up product booths at cultural festivals.
"We realized we weren't talking to them, we were talking at them," said David Turner, vice president of marketing for Gateway's consumer division. "Now we're talking to them, and they've responded favorably."
Gateway said it made three times the revenue from Hispanic customers in the first quarter of 2001 than in all of 2000. By year's end, it expects revenue from Hispanics will be 13 times greater than in 2000.
Gateway also runs TV commercials in Spanish that are made from scratch -- and not just a translated version.
Marketing experts who have seen the ads say Gateway has smartly captured the attention of Hispanic viewers, appealing to their strong family values and aspirations to succeed.