Revving Up the PC
London's SavRow steered clear of commodity-product traffic by offering technology buffs a Formula 1 version of the personal computer.
By Mark Halper

(Business 2.0) – The PC industry has long since gone the way of a commodity trade, where the only race left is the one to the bottom on price. Yet out of an eight-man boutique tucked away in London's funky Camden Town, 28-year-old Ali Raissi-Dehkordy has forged a business out of selling computers for as much as $40,000 apiece.

Raissi says his company, SavRow Bespoke Technology, will generate $4 million in revenues and a "modest profit" this year from sales of fewer than 400 PCs. Implausible, but it turns out that some technology buffs will pay almost anything for a computer that's truly unique. Raissi knew that such people existed, because he was one of them himself.

In 2002 the Iranian-born Londoner quit his six-figure investment banking job with Goldman Sachs, slapped $150,000 in debt onto his credit cards, and founded SavRow because, he says, "I was tired of the Dell postpurchase anticlimax. You'd buy it, you'd get the new computer smell, and it was a little bit faster--but not really cool. I wanted a Porsche, a Bang & Olufsen, an Aston Martin of PCs."

Borrowing its name from London's Savile Row--famous for its tailor-made clothing--SavRow custom-designs a computer to match a client's taste and performance requirements, and then painstakingly builds it by hand. "The amount of time you spend at your computer is five times what you spend in your car and possibly more than you spend in your suit," Raissi says. "Your car and suit are expressions of your personality. We see the computer the same way."

Each machine is a work of art. Start with the sporty Monza laptop. Inspired by the cars at Italy's historic Grand Prix racetrack, the laptop casing is red, accented with a green-white-and-red racing stripe--which SavRow's technicians even took care to mimic on the screensaver. The Monza averages about $3,000. Another SavRow specialty is the paint job known as the TVR because its iridescent color resembles British-made TVR sports cars. The finish is applied by hand by an artist whose day job is, naturally, painting exotic cars. The TVR treatment alone costs $1,000, but other finishes cost even more. For a swank hedge-fund trader in London, SavRow upholstered a desktop in hand-stitched leather for $13,000. The gold-plated SavRow desktop built for a businessman in Dubai, meanwhile, sold for $36,000.

The latest technology purrs under the hood too. Raissi claims SavRow built the first PC ever to run on a 4-gigahertz processor; the $7,500 machine went to an IT director at a London law firm. Where most PCs store data on a hard disc, SavRow offers flash memory, which retrieves information faster but costs $2,200 for 8 gigabytes. If clients want extra-quiet machines, SavRow adds plates coated with a cooling paste made of diamonds, which lessens the need for noisy fans.

All these options and upgrades explain why even SavRow's midrange computers cost as much as $10,000, or 10 times the average PC. "I could have bought the highest-spec Dell, but I needed a very well-designed, beautiful piece," says Greger Hamilton, who purchased a chrome-plated PC for his wife, a photographer, so that it could be "part of the overall design of the room."

The real beauty, of course, is in the margin generated by these ultraluxury computers. Where Dell's profit margin strains to reach 7 percent, SavRow's starts at 20 percent and goes even higher on labor-intensive machines. Lucrative, to be sure, but Raissi knows that his market will always be small, so his roughly 1,000 customers are pampered with personal attention, including one-on-one technical support and house calls.

Raissi expects his revenues to nearly triple in 2006, buoyed by a new sales office that recently opened in Manhattan. He also plans to launch GadgetDoc, a deluxe technical support program for owners of run-of-the-mill PCs. Their computers may be mass-market, but customers will nevertheless receive white-glove treatment, including those convenient house calls. With GadgetDoc, Raissi hopes to generate recurring service revenues--a steady cash flow to help fund the growth of SavRow's business.

Still, Raissi has no plans to go mainstream or deviate from SavRow's high-end-only business model. "We'll never aspire to the giant middle of the bell curve," he says. Too bad for the rest of us.