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MESH in Administration: the day the UK PC industry died?

What MESH's demise means for the UK PC industry

Regardless of whether you were a long-term fan of MESH, barely conscious of it, or a 'never again' customer (and there were a few), its decline and fall makes this a sad day for the UK PC industry. The final independent UK manufacturer of its size, MESH's demise is bad news for its 150 or so employees, bad news for customers awaiting product or refund, and even worse news for the idea that an independent UK medium-sized business can compete with the likes of Apple, HP and Dell.

What makes it worse is that - in terms of selling desktop PCs, at least - MESH didn't seem to do a lot wrong. Evesham, the previous UK PC maker of a similar size, went under because it over-exposed itself to the whims of politicians. Having spent a fortune speccing up for the Government's Home Computer Initiative, it was caught with its pants down when HMG suddenly pulled the scheme in 2006. Evesham was unlucky, but naive. Political parties have been known to change policy. But MESH made no such mistakes.

The demise of MESH is easy to explain, however. Take a walk to MESH HQ at Staples Corner in north London, and it soon becomes obvious. As PC Advisor's Forum Editor explained to me in a prescient email several months ago:

"You only have to cross the road from Mesh to the Staples corner branch of PC World to see the problem. The store is a sea of laptops - mostly big name brands. Your average computer user isn't much interested in a hulking great desktop PC any more - laptops are the thing."

Although MESH made laptops, and even sold some through the channel via sites such as eBuyer, its core business remained desktop PCs, sold via phone and internet. And given the complexity and low margins of such a business, it remained pretty good at it. Or no worse that it ought to be.

But the world has moved on. And just as the 'average' PC Advisor reader now incorporates everyone from PC build hobbyist to casual PC purchaser, the PC-buying market has spread to incorporate... well... everyone. Virtually every household now has a PC, and to the vast majority of them it's nothing more than a commodity. Something to be bought on price and reputation, with a bit of research, but something to be picked up off the shelf and purchased like a TV or a kettle.

Laptops have outsold desktop PCs for some time now, and most consumers are happy to make a purchase from a high-street store or even a supermarket. PCs are consumer products. The day of a bespoke desktop PC manufacturer making a good profit from selling mysterious grey boxes is long gone. PCs work, by and large, and when they don't they go back to base to get fixed.

The Administrator in the MESH case has claimed that tablet PC sales have hit MESH hard. But I don't buy that. The iPad didn't kill MESH any more than the PlayStation 3 did. People aren't buying tablets to replace PCs, but to supplement them. It's just that most punters require only Facebook, photos and Word on their PCs, and a £450 laptop from a global brand will provide all of that, with the security a big high-street business can offer.

None of which means that the UK PC industry is dead. It's just changed.

Leaving aside the fact that one of the principal beneficiaries of the tablet revolution is the UK's very own ARM, you need only look at our PC reviews pages to see that UK PC makers are still going strong.

As well as the big beasts such as HP, Dell and Apple, we regularly review models from smaller concerns such as Arbico, Chillblast, Dino PC and OP3. These are small concerns who use their PC builders' ingenuity to blend available components and create bargain systems for the educated buyer.

And then there are bespoke PC manufacturers such as PC Specialist and CCL. Tell them what you require, and they'll source the components and put it together for you, with a high-quality finish. These are not high-volume businesses, but specialist retailers who rely on repeat business and reputation with technical consumers - PC Advisor readers.

And some of MESH's forefathers and contemporaries in the PC manufacturer world have gone on to bigger and better things in the worlds of education, public sector and corporate provision, and components sales. Think Viglen, Stone, RM and Novatech. They still make PCs, but the route to market is different.

So PC buyers can now choose to go down the route of buying a branded commodity laptop or desktop from a big-brand on the high street or online, or search for better value from a smaller UK concern.  

We won't see the likes of MESH again, but there's plenty of variety and ingenuity left in the UK PC market. And whatever kind of PC you need - desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone - you can get all the buying advice you need from PC Advisor.

See also: MESH in administration: What you need to know

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