Editorial: HP's Restructuring of VoodooPC

It’s becoming an increasingly familiar story in the PC world : Behemoth manufacturer (Dell, HP) snaps up boutique vendor (Alienware, VoodooPC) in an effort to spice up the behemoth’s staid image—and to compete with hipster Apple.

Then the rumors start : The boutique vendor is a) losing its soul or b) is going to be consumed into the bigger brand and disappear. I contacted HP spokesperson Ann Finnie about rumor “b” this morning. She gave me this response, which she said Rahul Sood, VoodooPC founder and Chief Technology Office of HP’s Voodoo Business Unit, had dictated to her yesterday (dictation being necessary, according to Finnie, because Sood had a cycling accident over the weekend and broke his hand) :

“HP is working on a plan to better leverage its existing resources to bring Voodoo products to market faster and make them more accessible to consumers”

If Sood actually said that, he sounds like a very different person from the one who, reflecting on Dell’s acquisition of Alienware, wrote this in his blog on March 22, 2006 :

“Alienware is widely considered to be the volume leader in gaming, they have scale. To me scale isn’t as important as “customer experience,” but time will tell if I’m right. I have not for a second ever considered dumping our price in order to compete head to head with Dell like our competition has. I believe the Voodoo brand is all about the experience, and as a result we keep adding more value to our experience–and we will continue to do so regardless if this happens.”

I emailed Sood directly asking some additional questions about what’s happening at Voodoo, but have not yet received a reply (I’ll update this post if I do). But the quote that Finnie gave me sounds like code for a plan to shut down VoodooPC’s Canadian manufacturing operations and incorporate them into HP’s much larger operations in Asia as a means of cutting costs, achieving scale, and competing with Dell on price.

VoodooPC might never have had to do that, but it’s no longer a company, it’s an HP brand ; as such, it must compete with Dell. The question is, can it do that and still deliver the customer experience that Sood credits for the company’s success ?

And then there are VoodooPC’s employees to consider. It’s very likely that the semi-skilled folks will be getting pink slips, while the key employees responsible for designing the high-end systems VoodooPC has long been known for will be retained.

It’s always unfortunate when someone loses their job, but HP didn’t buy VoodooPC for their manufacturing operations. And while it’s also true that all of VoodooPC’s employees contributed to the company’s success, the people who designed last year’s Blackbird 002 desktop rig and this year’s carbon-fiber Envy 133 deserve a much larger share of the credit than those who screwed the machines together.

That’s a harsh assessment, but it’s true.

As for what what will to happen with VoodooPC in the long run, I think change is inevitable, but the Voodoo brand will survive—soul intact—as long as HP continues to let them do what they do best : Design innovative PCs that aren’t necessarily targeted at the masses.

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