COMPUTERLAND, SANS RETAIL, REBORN AS VANSTAR

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The objective seemed simple yet difficult: rename, reposition and market a $1.1 billion computer company, without leaking the new name before its formal unveiling.

Only 20 of the former ComputerLand's 3,200 employees knew before the March 21 announcement that their employer would become the new Vanstar.

Even IBM Corp. Chairman Lou Gerstner couldn't get the name from Vanstar Chairman-CEO William Y. Tauscher when the two met last month at the Winter Olympics.

Now, Vanstar will rely heavily on its employees to publicize the new name; internal work on the name change started two months before the announcement.

"Over our e-mail, we had something called The Daily Bigmouth," said VP-Marketing Kathleen Schaub. "It was a fun thing. We published letters from people, had a running joke on where to put the stickers [with the new logo] ... It allowed us to build excitement and communicate messages on the Vanstar story and what should employees do to spread the word."

The switch came after ComputerLand's January exit from the retail computer market where the company made its name. Selling its retail division to computer distributor Merisel Jan. 31, ComputerLand also gave up its name in the $110 million deal.

The new Vanstar helps Fortune 2,000 companies buy, integrate and manage personal computers throughout their enterprises. Marketing is made easier by the narrow target-the organization's PC buyers and managers.

"We have a relatively more focused customer base than some companies," Ms. Schaub said. "We aren't out to talk to every person on the street."

"Our goal was to begin on day one with as much hoopla as we could muster in a name change, which in and of itself is not that important, and immediately start to reposition the company," she added. "The [old] name was handicapping us. People were constantly thinking we did something that we don't do."

Chairman-CEO Tauscher explained the choice: "The Vanstar name was selected because we see ourselves in the vanguard."

But the process was more complicated.

"They wanted a neologism, a new word," said Bill Smith, president of Addison Whitney, the Charlotte, N.C., company that helped pick the new name.

Among the rejects were Maxstone, Fulcrum, Synergen, Ingenium, Ingenix, Aviax, Mosaic and Avicor.

Advertising plays a relatively small role in Vanstar's repositioning. Ads, created by Battenberg, Fillhardt & Wright, San Jose, Calif., broke March 22 in The Wall Street Journal. A limited run in a handful of computer trade magazines will be over by May.

To carry its new message, Vanstar is relying on public relations coordinated by Neale-May & Partners, Palo Alto; new collateral materials; and 60,000 pieces of direct mail to "anyone we felt would be an influencer," Ms. Schaub said.

"People don't enter into contracts with us lightly," she said. "Our sell cycle is something between three and nine months."

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