David Norman says he has seen a shakeout in the computer industry coming for some time. Two years ago, he felt time was so short that he couldn't afford to skip even a day between departing Dataquest Inc., the market research firm he founded in 1971, and starting work on the 15-page business plan for Businessland Inc., his chain of retail computer centers.
"I couldn't take six months off, like most entrepreneurs who have created something successful," the 48-year-old Norman recalls. "We were right at the crest of a wave. Six months later, we would have missed that wave." Instead, Norman is riding high. The 44-store chain -- which caters specifically to the business community -- posted revenues of about $90-million this year and is expected to have about 60 outlets and enter the top 20 U.S. markets by year's end.
Businessland's fast-growth strategy follows from Norman's belief that the impending shakeout will mean survival of the biggest. That is partly why he took Businessland public last December, raising some $50 million to finance the company's rapid expansion.
But for the poorly positioned among computer makers and retailers, Norman sees trouble ahead. He predicts that the major chains will soon come to dominate the retailing of computers. When that happens, manufacturers of less-popular computers will be edged out of shelf space. As a result, today's 200-plus field of manufacturers will be reduced to IBM and a handful of others by 1990. "It took the automobile industry 50 years to consolidate to just a few carmakers," he offers. "It'll take 5 years for the microcomputer industry to do that."
This doesn't mean smaller retailers and independents will disappear; in fact, Norman believes that one-third of the market may still be theirs in the shakeout's wake. Rather than selling computers, however, they will focus on solving particular problems. "They will be pushed into vertical markets," he says. "They'll find vertical market niches or unique technological niches. But the major business will be dominated by the major players."