Phoenix from the flames
We were contacted yesterday by a major player in the UK tech channel alerting us to the situation with system-builder OP3. They informed us that they had gone bust, but that the website was already up and running again, with the same brand, but trading as T3 Computers.
This situation had been covered the day before by PC Advisor, under the headline: PC maker 'OP3' ceases trading, but brand will live on. It turns out the OP3 brand had been used by Cardiff PC-maker Top Banana Computers, but that Top Banana had ceased trading on 31 May 2011. PC Advisor published a letter sent from Top Banana to its customers, which we've reproduced below.
"On 31st May 2011, Top Banana Computers Ltd ceased to trade following a period of financial uncertainty and difficulty caused by lower than expected orders due to the current economic climate in the UK. At this point, in line with the terms of its licence, the authority to use the OP3 brand was withdrawn. With no assets and significant debts it is expected that the company will be wound up in the coming months by its creditors.
"Any customers who ordered through Top Banana are urged to contact their card issuer to seek refunds for outstanding orders. The company offices have been closed with immediate effect.
"On 6th June 2011 the authority to use OP3 brand was quickly snapped up by T3 Computers Ltd.
"T3 Computers Ltd was granted the licence to use the OP3 brand by its owners. T3 is a dynamic new player in the computer market, who has acquired manufacturing facilities within Cardiff, and expects to take advantage of the OP3 branding to produce top quality electronics equipment at affordable prices. The company envisages becoming one of the top 10 computer manufacturing companies within the UK by the end of 2012."
OP3 Technology was founded in 2008 by Zak Ali, we know this because he has courted the media openly, including this interview with Business in Focus in March, this listing in the PC Retail Marketplace - which names Kerry Linda Collins as the leader of its telesales team - and a Linked-In page - which until earlier today linked to Kerry Collins as an employee.
On the new OP3 site - which is also served by the URL custombuildmypc.com - the ‘about us' page claims T3 Computers is a dynamic new player in the computer market, led by managing director Kerry Collins. It also claims a partnership with ASUS, but our sources in the channel tell us there's no direct relationship there.
Expert Reviews also covered the story yesterday, having been in the process of reviewing an OP3 PC at the time. They had been alerted to the situation when readers emailed to say they hadn't received PCs ordered from OP3 in April.
One reader received an email back from OP3 saying their "order was placed with Top Banana, which is no longer trading. You have emailed T3, which is a complete different company. The only similarity is we are now licensed to use the OP3 brand. I would recommend contacting Top Banana." We tried to contact Top Banana by phone, but it wasn't answered.
Later in the Expert Reviews piece they contacted the sales manager at T3 Computers, one Zak Ali no less, who said T3 would honour Top Banana warranties.
Intrigued by the recurrence of these two names in the past and present ownership of the OP3 brand, we attempted to contact T3 via the number listed in the Expert Reviews piece, but it went straight to a call queue and eventually went dead.
The Kerry Collins Linked-In profile, which was taken down today, listed two concurrent jobs for Ms Collins: telesales manager at OP3 and owner of Touch3 - a complementary therapy clinic. The Touch3 website has links to Facebook and Twitter accounts, the latter proudly announcing, among the tweets promoting massages, etc, "The OP3 forum is now online! http://www.op3.co.uk/forum/".
There was also a tweet with a contact number, so we thought we'd give that a try. We duly spoke to Kerry Collins, who confirmed that she combines running her complementary therapy company with being MD of T3 Computers. When we asked her about OP3 she said "I have no connection to OP3 - I don't know what you're trying to suggest." She said she had no contact number for Zak Ali and suggested we call the office number.
In summary, a PC company has gone out of business with considerable debts - something sources in the channel have confirmed. That company has transferred its brand to a new company, which has commenced trading, presumably free of those debts. The sales manager of the old company is now the MD of the new one, while the MD of the old company is now sales manager of the new one.
It is, of course, down to the individual to decide whether to do business with this new company, but we would welcome your thoughts on the matter. Additionally, should Zak Ali or Kerry Collins decide to contact us to explain further why people should buy PCs from them, we would be happy to speak to them.