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From the September 2, 1996 issue of CEN

Fenasoft: The World’s Largest Computer Store

By David English

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL—Imagine a computer store that’s open one week out of the year, but has a million shoppers during that single week. Imagine IBM or Compaq selling 1,000 computers a day in that store—and almost all those sales are financed at 24% a year.

Where on earth is this strange and marvelous place? It’s Brazil’s Fenasoft, the world’s largest computer trade show, which marked its 10th anniversary this past July. The six-day event is held in Anhembi, the world’s largest aluminum building.

Despite Fenasoft’s size, it hardly makes a dent in the hustle and bustle of Sao Paulo, the world’s second or third largest city, which currently has anywhere from 17 to 22 million people. Brazil has recently recovered from a 1,000% inflation rate to settle into what Brazilians consider to be a mild 20% inflation. The country has also eliminated its strong trade barriers to computers that are produced outside Brazil.

That has made the nation ripe for high technology, and companies such as IBM, Compaq, Apple, Corel, Creative Labs, and Epson have found a population willing and able to purchase their latest products. Brazilian distributors have also found a ready market for such essential items as Duke Nukem 3D, MechWarrior 2, Print Artist 3.0, Norton Utilities for Windows 95, Iomega Zip drives, and books on Java programming.

How did Fenasoft grab such a large piece of the Brazilian computer market? "We were in the right place at the right time," says Maximiano Augusto Goncalves, the man responsible for establishing and running Fenasoft. "Brazil is the same size as the U.S.—and geographically very similar—but distribution is very difficult in Brazil. It’s not so easy to find computer magazines and computers here." Fenasoft has helped fill the gap at retail by providing a once-a-year chance for Brazilians to see the latest computer goods and buy them on the best terms available.

According to Luiz Carlos Pimentel, business unit director of the consumer division for Compaq Computer Brazil, about 97% of Compaq’s sales at the show were financed. Many of the major vendors had a Brazilian bank office built into the booth and offered a variety of easy payment plans for 6, 12, 18, or 24 months. Compaq was offering a monthly rate of 1.99%. "By Brazilian standards, that’s pretty aggressive," says Pimentel. "Outside Fenasoft, about 5% a month is normal." IBM has exhibited in each of the show’s 10 years. "In 1995, we sold 3,400 computers in the booth and about 5,000 to 6,000 throughout Fenasoft," says Sergio Benchimal Saad, sales manager for consumer products for IBM Brazil. "We sold a total of about 9,000 in Brazil that same year."

Goncalves says that a combined computer trade show and selling show has its advantages. "Vendors can show their products to the industry in the morning and see the public’s reaction that same afternoon." This year, the show was open to the trade all day Monday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. But from 2 p.m. until 10 p.m., the aisles were filled with eager buyers who paid $30 each day to attend the show. On Saturday, Goncalves let children 10 and under in free, causing this year’s attendance to rise, according to the Sao Paulo newspapers, to 1.15 million. Last year’s official count was placed at more than 800,000.

Can the show grow any larger? Probably not. Goncalves is planning a series of smaller trade shows—corporate, children’s, regional, Internet, and entertainment technology shows—in order to siphon off some of the growth from Fenasoft. Also, the distribution system for computers and software is filling in fast.

"The channel is more developed than a year ago," says IBM’s Saad. "Last year, it wasn’t possible to find more than one brand at a retail store. This year, you can go into any place that sells stereos and televisions and find three or four brands of computers."

Those retailers will face tough competition from a near-unstoppable Fenasoft. After all, where else can you find Microsoft representatives in colored wigs, hundreds of attractive women handing out leaflets, a line of midgets wearing IBM T-shirts, and a Brazilian Elvis impersonator singing karaoke—all under the same roof?




Photograph courtesy of Chico Sander.

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