HTC refocuses its smartphone efforts in SA

HTC has announced the launch of its M9 phone in South Africa. (Gareth van Zyl)
HTC has announced the launch of its M9 phone in South Africa. (Gareth van Zyl)

Johannesburg - Taiwanese smartphone maker HTC is rebuilding its presence in South Africa following years of inconsistency in the country.

This according to HTC officials speaking to Fin24 at an event in Johannesburg where the company launched its M9 smartphone - a device planned to hit stores by June 1 and cost between R8 500 - R9 500.

HTC’s head of Middle East and Africa marketing, Neeraj Seth, flew in from Dubai for the event. He also appeared alongside the company’s new partner in South Africa, distribution company Brightstar.

HTC has been working with Brightstar for around 12 months in South Africa to try rebuild its presence in the country.

The Taiwanese company established its own offices in SA in 2012 after cancelling a partnership with distributor Leaf International. However, HTC then exited its SA office to partner with Ingram Micro, only to then cancel that arrangement as well.

Now, HTC is working with Brightstar in a bid to boost its after-sales service and expand its marketing presence.

“We’ve kind of had a start and restart in South Africa specifically,” Seth told Fin24.

“We held our activity a little in 2014 to get our house in order because we wanted to big in South Africa.

“And this is the year we do want to go big. So, we are very confident now. So, we’ve got the right set of marketing people; we’ve got the right set of salespeople,” he said.

Seth said that HTC is experiencing growth rates of between 10-15% in the Middle East and Africa. However, he did not disclose what HTC’s market share is in South Africa, where the company is facing stiff competition from the likes of Samsung and even BlackBerry.

A study released by research firm World Wide Worx and measuring company GeoPoll this week revealed that Nokia leads the SA phone market at 36%, Samsung at 21% and BlackBerry at 14%.

Chinese smartphone players have also moved aggressively on the SA smartphone market with the likes of Huawei and Hisense having launched devices in the country.

In separate research, the managing director of World Wide Worx Arthur Goldstuck said that smartphone usage in SA is expected to top 23.6 million users this year, up from 19 million in 2014.

Brightstar's growing SA involvement

Douglas Jewson, Brightstar's director for sales and distribution in Africa, explained to Fin24 that his company is a global distributor for HTC.

Jewson also said that other than Vodacom, which has a direct HTC engagement, BrightStar manages other operator partnerships in SA.

“So, HTC actually has staff and resources based in-office ... that work within our infrastructure,” Jewson told Fin24.

“So, basically we become an extension to the HTC field-force, HTC sales force, HTC marketing and after-sales service in country.

“There was a lot of after-sales and legacy issues and all of that, and that was one of the biggest barriers that we had when we launched the M8 collectively with the HTC team,” Jewson explained.

Jewson further said that Brightstar is looking to help HTC build a stronger foundation in the country so that it can accelerate future growth.

Incidentally, Brightstar and MTN are reportedly in talks about a possible retail outlet outsourcing deal.

But Jewson said he was not in a position to comment on these talks.

“Unfortunately at the moment, I’m not allowed to comment on that because those commercial negotiations are still under way,” Jewson told Fin24.

In the meantime, Brightstar and HTC plan to leverage their partnership to spur on adoption of handset such as the M9 among South Africans who are said to view the brand positively.

“South Africans love us and the brand is loved in South Africa even though we don’t do a lot of marketing,” HTC’s Seth told Fin24.

“All our research points out to the fact that there’s no negativity on the brand,” he added.

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