PC Locs schools competitors on innovation

09/06/2011 - 00:00

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PAUL Symons could never have predicted the tangent his life would take when he left his job as a high school teacher in 1998 to start Malaga-based company PC Locs.

PAUL Symons could never have predicted the tangent his life would take when he left his job as a high school teacher in 1998 to start Malaga-based company PC Locs.

After the success of his lock-down system to prevent the theft of computers and other IT equipment from schools, the company was approached by Apple in 2001 to design a laptop trolley for its first MacBooks, which were being sold into some Australian schools.

Since then the company has become the leading supplier of trolleys, carts and lockers for charging and storing laptops to the Australian education market.

It also recently launched its products in the US after a steady stream of enquiries for its products during the past five or six years.

These will be sold by its US subsidiary Lock ‘n’ Charge Technologies and distributed exclusively through The Douglas Stewart Company, which has a network of more than 4,500 education resellers in the US and Canada.

“The biggest and most exciting thing is just how well they’ve been received in America,“ PC Locs managing director James Symons said.

“There are competitors in America and they’re bigger competitors than here but the designs are very unique. They’re very different to what they’ve got there so people are really glad that there’s something just different that they can offer their clients,” he said.

The company’s growth was boosted by the federal government’s Digital Education Revolution, which promised a laptop for every high school student by November this year.

At the time it was launched, the government approached PC Locs and asked it to create a cheaper version of its existing trolleys (at a cost of $100 per laptop space, which was less than half the usual price).

James Symons, who took over as managing director from his father, Paul, in 2008, said the company came out with “a basic, horrible looking thing”.

“But we kept our premium range. You know, you want $1,600 for 16 laptops, you got it, and then that thing just took off,” Mr Symons told WA Business News.

Mr Symons said the company, which was currently involved in discussions with Apple in Australia and the US to promote its products, had kept ahead of its competitors through innovation.

Apple is especially interested in PC Locs’ Powerhouse Cubes, which have been installed at Curtin University.

The cubes are powered lockers – basically a box with five doors – that allow students to connect their smartphones and laptops to get an hour’s worth of charge in between classes using a digital lock or pin, which means they are not dedicated to one student.

“The way the company’s worked is, every time there’s been some new technology and it’s advanced in some way, we’ve always tried to make sure that we have got the next product ready for what’s going to happen next and that’s where our iPad solutions are coming in now,” Mr Symons said.

Although 98 per cent of the company’s business still comes from the education market, Mr Symons said its IQ cart could have further commercial applications because it allowed data from iPads to be synchronised easily.

“The application with iPads now is far more commercial than what we’ve traditionally done. You’ve got restaurants in Melbourne that are giving everyone an iPad as a menu, you’ve got Virgin airlines who are giving customers an iPad for $5 if they want to use it for their trip ... so they need these [storage] banks,” Mr Symons said.

In March this year the company signed a deal with UK company Cambrionix to become the exclusive Australian OEM distributor of its circuit boards, which has enabled it to develop the IQ range.

PC Locs now has offices in Perth, Melbourne and Queensland and its products are sold throughout Australia and New Zealand through an accredited resellers program and direct dealings with Lenovo, HP, Dell and Acer.

A new company, Lock iT Down, was established to sell the locking devices. Paul Symons, who heads the business, also sits on the board of PC Locs and is primarily involved as a consultant on product development and design.

“He [Paul] was really one of the brains behind the aesthetic design of the IQ,” Mr Symons said.

Other board members include Paul Symon’s wife, Sue, Chalice Financial Services managing director Peter Jackson, and David Shawcross of Sitevisuals, who acts as an engineering consultant.

“A lot of people are quite surprised that a company of our size has adopted that corporate structure but that has been vital to the way that we’ve grown and the way that we’ve done things as a company,” Mr Symons said.

“Just having that board of wisdom there ... and for us to be planning regularly what is going to be the future direction of the company, what’s next, where are we going to go when this technology dies, they’re really important questions.”

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