AST's channel is scrambling to clear up any outstanding businessr floundering. involving the struggling Korean PC vendor, amid rumours that it is set to close its UK operation.
The move follows the departure from AST UK of Con Mallon, on 10 February, the company's marketing director and acting general manager. Mallon oversaw AST's withdrawal from the desktop PC and server market, announced two weeks ago (PC Dealer, 4 February).
The withdrawal involved mass redundancies in the AST workforce based in Limerick, Ireland and the eventual sell-off of premises to Dell. Mallon was understood to have taken up a senior marketing role with Toshiba UK.
Ashley Ford has been named general manager in his place, moving up from corporate sales manager.
More redundancies are understood to have followed on 11 February, leaving about 27 people within the Limerick premises who will oversee the changeover of the property to Dell, due to take place on 4 March. Many of the workers are said to be still negotiating redundancy payments after it was ruled that they would only receive the statutory minimum for services rendered to AST.
However, channel insiders believe AST will have difficulties pulling out of Ireland altogether because the vendor would have to pay back a grant awarded by the Irish government to establish its business in the country. It was also believed that parent Samsung will be reluctant to pay back the grant in the wake of resource cutbacks across the organisation, forced on it due to the financial crisis in its home country of Korea.
In addition, several of the vendor's channel partners have expressed concern that AST UK's days are numbered. Two large distributors are understood to be winding up their AST divisions as a result of the vendor's cuts.
One partner said: 'It is booting people out left, right and centre. The belief is that the company has only got between 30 and 40 days before it disappears.'
There was also speculation that Samsung could sell the AST brand name to potential candidates so it could be used to brand a range of desktop machines.
Toshiba and AST declined to comment.
HP TARGETS WILTING BASE
Hewlett Packard is looking to capitalise on AST's departure from the desktop and server market by taking on the vendor's reseller base.
HP will take advantage of AST's withdrawal for the PC market by directly approaching AST resellers, offering to fulfil any initial shortfalls in their desktop requirements and supply servers in the future.
According to Dave Thompson, UK marketing manager at HP, the vendor will also tout its products to AST's installed user base and launch a national advertising campaign in the press quoting prices lower than those of equivalent AST models.
'We hope to capture a lot of the AST installed base. It has very few large customers and a lot of small customers and dealerships. Typically AST is low priced.
'Our ad campaign will introduce a directly competing product at a lower price. And we will be making the point that we'll be around for a long time,' he said.
One AST reseller said: 'I want nothing more to do with AST. It has treated us, as dealers, very badly.
It has pulled the rug out from under our feet without any prior warning.
The communication between us and AST has been appalling.'
Thompson said HP would also approach Unisys dealers, and intended to take advantage of Compaq's possible preoccupation with its recent acquisition of Digital by approaching Compaq resellers as well.
'If I were a Compaq reseller, I'd work out that it probably won't have a lot of time for me right now,' he added.
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