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TAIPEI-It's the fifth largest personal computer marketer in the world, but many consumers barely know the name. So Taiwan's Acer Inc. is out to make its computers-sold now under many labels by different manufacturers-known by its own brand name.

"Acer already ranks as the world's fifth largest PC maker in 1994 with shipments [under the Acer name and others] totaling 2.2 million units in 1994 for a 4.7% share [of the 48.5 million-unit] total market," said Tai-Yueh Lay, VP-corporate marketing. "Our target is to have Acer become the fifth leading producer under its own name by the end of this year."

To achieve its goal, Acer must leap ahead of well-known competitors-NEC with a 3.5% share and AST Research, Dell Computer Corp., Toshiba Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co., virtually tied with Acer at about 2.5%. The top four companies, according to Acer, are Compaq Computer Corp. with 10%, IBM Corp. with 8.7%, Apple Computer with 8.5% and Packard Bell Electronics with 4.7%.

The goal also will require the company to increase shipments under the Acer brand name almost 85% to 2.2 million units from 1.19 million in 1994.

Mr. Lay is confident the target is attainable, pointing to a 68.4% growth in Acer's total sales to $3.2 billion in 1994 from $1.9 billion a year earlier.

These worldwide ambitions are being realized through local marketing. Mr. Lay said the company encourages maximum local participation at all levels. "We believe in local management, local ownership and local investment," he said.

The company now markets Acer-branded computers in 100 countries.

Whenever possible, Mr. Lay said, Acer attempts to form a joint venture with local partners. In the event that a jointly owned company is listed on the local exchange, Mr. Lay said, Acer attempts to maintain ownership of 19% to 50%, ensuring a significant, if not controlling, say in the running of the company.

"By working with the local partners, Acer is becoming a global brand with a local touch," he said.

Under a policy dubbed by the company "21 in 21," Acer plans to have at least 21 such publicly owned companies operating by the beginning of the next century. This year, Acer plans to have publicly listed companies on the stock exchanges of Singapore and Mexico and next year in the U.S. and Taiwan.

In the short term, the company's business philosophy is paying dividends in rapid sales growth as Acer has emerged as the No. 1 PC in most of Latin America as well as in several European countries. Acer's greatest concentration of sales in 1994 was in North America (41%); followed by Asia, Central and South America, and the Pacific (33%); Europe (17%); and Taiwan (9%).

The company's policy of autonomy also extends to campaigns.

"We develop a comprehensive package of advertisements for both print and broadcast media," mainly in-house, Mr. Lay said. "Our local representatives are encouraged to use these and are subsidized when they do so. But they are in no way obligated to use the advertising prepared by Acer."

Concentrating on its local approach, Acer currently uses magazines and newspapers, but Mr. Lay said the company is considering adding TV by yearend.

Mr. Lay said Acer will spend $150 million to $170 million on advertising worldwide in 1995, including reimbursements to local representatives, making the company Taiwan's largest advertiser.

The company's ad budget is split 25% for Central and South America and another 25% for Asia; 33% is spent in North America; and 17% in Europe. Acer prefers local advertising, but uses a global theme in local ads: "Global brand, local touch."

At home, Acer took over the position of the island's largest exporter in 1994.

"The rapid expansion of sales puts the company well on line to achieving its goal of topping $10 billion in annual sales by the year 2000," he said.

In addition to personal computers, Acer markets a rapidly expanding range of electronics. Other companies under the Acer umbrella include:

Acer Peripherals, developing, manufacturing and marketing color monitors, laser printers, fax machines, communications products and keyboards.

Texas Instruments-Acer Inc., a joint venture semiconductor manufacturer.

Acer TWP, Taiwan's largest high tech book publisher and the market's leading distributor for several major foreign software producers.

Ambit Microsystems Corp., a joint venture between Acer and Telefunken Microelectronics, a member of the Daimler-Benz Group, is one of the leading custom module manufacturers in Taiwan. The company provides electronic packaging and miniaturization services to clients in the computer, telecommunications, automotive and electrical industries.

PCs, however, make up the bulk of Acer's business, Mr. Lay said, and will continue to be the focus of the company's research and development and advertising efforts until well into the next century.


Corporate close-up


Headquarters: Taiwan

1994 sales: $3.2 billion

1993 sales: $1.9 billion

Leadership: Stan Shih, CEO

1994 worldwide market share: 4.7%

Ad spending: $150 million to $170 million (projected 1995)

Recent successes: Gained a 34% share of the Mexican market last year through a partnership with Computec Latin America; this year will list a local subsidiary on the Singapore exchange.

1995 challenge: Increase number of Acer brand PCs from 1.2 million in 1994 to 2.2 billion this year to make the brand the No. 5 seller of PCs worldwide; hike its Acer brand market share from 2.5% in 1994.

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