by Perry Longinotti, Alberta Canada
For every twenty-five Toyota Camry's sold in the USA each year Ferrari sells one car worldwide. Ferrari could sell more cars, but they don't want to. They have reached a point where they can build cars to their own high standards at a pace that does not dilute the brand. It is a delicate equilibrium because there is always the temptation to cash in on the brand and make a Ferrari for everyone.' Sometimes it takes more discipline to stay small.
There are analogues to Ferrari in other industries. Envy inducing watches, bags, electronics and even computers exist for people with discerning taste. These are not always products made for the affluent. If quality and style matter to you then you can usually find a way to obtain these products. But these are most certainly not for people who do not think that the items they buy are a personal reflection of style. To some folks a watch is just a time piece, an outfit is just clothing and a car is just transportation. There isn't anything wrong with this way of looking at things, but if that is your perspective than a Voodoo PC is probably not for you.
If you want the things that you buy, including your computer, to be as unique as you then keep reading. I recently toured Voodoo PC's facility in Calgary Canada and it was a real eye-opening experience. I have also been to the Ferrari factory in Italy and I saw some similarities that makes comparison between the two companies a good one.
External: Unlike their fancy cases, Voodoo's new building was not designed by them. (view larger image)
Voodoo PC is the creation of Rahul Sood who was later joined by his older brother Ravi Sood. Founded in 1991, Voodoo was an early innovator in the early era of custom high-end PCs. Initially they established themselves for putting together very powerful gaming rigs. Over time, even the most powerful components began to become commoditized. Voodoo PC switched to differentiating their products through service and construction. Rather than cashing in on the brand and going main-stream, as many of their early competitors did, Voodoo PC continued to perfect their offerings.
Currently, 60% of Voodoo's sales come from notebook computers. This reflects a shift in the PC market whereby most consumers are recognizing the benefits of going portable as the compromises become fewer and less significant.
Recently, Voodoo PC moved into a brand new facility in one of Calgary's newer industrial areas. Ravi was kind enough to give me the tour and spend a few minutes sharing Voodoo's product philosophy and their vision for the company's future.
Upon entering you are treated to an aesthetic that definitely matches the appearance of Voodoo's products. The coolness extends from the environment through to the final product. The look is techno Tribal and it works. Rahul and Ravi have created a cool looking and comfortable work environment.
Voodoo's Foyer and entrance area (view larger image)
Voodoo PC Foyer area (view larger image)
Awards are sprinkled everywhere. Computer magazine awards, industry association awards, government awards. You name it.
Ravi is particularly fond of an award granted to Voodoo by the System Builder Summit for innovation. As Ravi would later tell me, they want to reinvent the way people look at their computers and how they choose them. Innovation is a big part of this.
All orders, even those completed on the company's state of the art website, are accompanied by a customer consultation. Voodoo takes a velvet glove' approach with their clients. There is lots of communication. The objective is to get to the root of the client's needs and make sure they are getting the right tool.
"Our people are trained to consult with every client. They need to understand as much as possible about the client's needs. This includes asking detailed questions about the applications that will be used on the PC, what the working environment will be like. For examples, is it quiet? What is the temperature like? Those sorts of questions help us line of the client's need with what they are buying, ensuring a higher degree of satisfaction."
This may seem like a smart way to identify up-sell opportunities, but as Ravi states,
"This consultation is just as likely to result in the client buying a less expensive notebook once we fully understand what they need."
Another good idea that Voodoo employs is sharing people between the customer service area and production line. People are rotated between the two positions. This insures that only a highly qualified support staff ever speaks to clients, and it also insures that Voodoo's employees understand how the work they do will affect the types of calls they receive. This is a very holistic approach to manufacturing that is unique in my experience.
Customer service representatives work on location at Voodoo headquarters (view larger image)
Tech Support station at Voodoo (view larger image)
Does this approach work? When is the last time you visited any PC maker's site that had 10+ pages of client testimonials (with fresh content added regularly)? They also post their reseller rating of 9.71 (lifetime) out of ten. When is the last time you got 97% on a test? I know whenever I did I was pretty proud of it. And Voodoo should be proud; these are some pretty impressive service stats.
Voodoo is ISO9001:2000 registered and it shows. Much like cool air passing through one of their custom desktop PC cases, Voodoo's facility is designed with efficiency in mind. New orders come in through the front, completed products ship out the rear and everything in between is as neat and ordered as you can possibly imagine.
The assembly line is optimized for the construction of what are essentially one-off computers. This is a lean manufacturing environment because as we all know; today's fastest part is tomorrow's budget part.
Assembly stations were clean and organized with some pretty awesome looking computers in various states of completion. You could eat off of the floor in this place.
One in particular that Ravi pointed out was exceptionally well designed. It was a dual CPU (each with dual cores) desktop with GeForce 7800 cards in SLi. These are components that create copious amounts of heat, so a water cooling system with built-in refrigeration was used. Air was pushed front to back by giant inaudible fans. I am not exaggerating when I say that there was not a single cable of any kind visible through the case window, just the blue iridescent water tubing. The exterior of the custom manufactured case (made by Voodoo, not made in China) was anodized black, with the distinctive Voodoo tattoo machined into the case's thick aluminum shell. Inside the case was anodized red. Even the rubber feet had the Voodoo logo machined into them. It would take significant effort to knock this case over -- it was solid. This was easily the smartest looking rig that I have ever seen.
These custom cases are designed in AutoCAD. Even the internals are designed with aesthetics in mind. Tasteful and subtle branding, like the feet on the case described above, is everywhere.
Yes, how the product looks is a big part of the Voodoo appeal. Custom paint is one of the features that make Voodoo products stand out. Ravi introduced me to the resident painter/artist; Joe. Prior to joining Voodoo, Joe painted custom and exotic cars. Now he paints custom PCs (desktops and notebooks) in a European downdraft paint booth (full sized) with the finest DuPont paints -- most of which are custom mixed on-site.
Joe showed me a thin and light notebook he was finishing. It had a gorgeous, mirror like pearl white color. Joe pointed out the subtle color shift in different angles of light that were the result of tiny metallic purple flecks in the paint, "the customer asked for purple sparkles.'
Joe has a partner who details the computers he paints. She sands and waxes them to a luster finish. Yes, you read that right, they wax them!
Down draft paint booth (view larger image)
Detailing -- paint booth (view larger image)
Ravi was quick to mention an anecdote that has become part of Voodoo lore. Trevor Kells joined the company several years ago. He got Ravi's attention by claiming that he could put a PC together from parts while blindfolded. Ravi let him prove it and the rest is history. Trevor is now the Production and Service Leader at Voodoo.
Thoughtful design of the product is one thing, but with Voodoo the attention to detail borders on the obsessive. One example of this is the new packaging they are planning to roll out. In a bit of an exclusive, Voodoo showed us what their computers will be shipping in soon; an awesome branded wooden crate. This is exactly like you would imagine a DC-3 air-dropping into some exotic and inaccessible jungle location -- it matches the tribal Voodoo theme perfectly. Upon prying it open, a drum beat plays. It's even scented with sandalwood! I am not making this up.
Another testament to the attention to detail in Voodoo PC's is the custom manual that comes with each computer. Inside are actual test results from your machine. All the benchmarks are done for you after a proper burn-in period. This provides a great baseline reference that is documented for you by people that really know what they are doing. As new drivers come out, and you yourself have the opportunity to tweak your system, you will have these stats to refer back to.
Voodoo PC new case (view larger image)
It takes a unique kind of person to make products like these. You need the traits of a highly technical person who is also an artist. Rahul and/or Ravi meet every person that gets hired at Voodoo. It is their way of insuring quality at every level. They have assembled a team of technically skilled craftspeople with the hearts of artists.
You simply can not put this sort of effort into something unless you are really passionate about the product. Voodoo's people have pride in their work and it shows.
Voodoo has only been in their new building for a year and they made sure that it has a lot of room to grow into. They currently generate eight digits of revenue and the new facility has capacity for $100,000,000.00. As they go into their 15th year, they have a clear focus and their determination to change the PC industry is as strong as it ever was. Buying a Voodoo has gone from a numbers game where the results where measured in stats and raw performance to more of an experience. You get the fastest PC your money can buy -- Voodoo is always vigilant when it comes to new technology -- but you also get a service and out-of-box experience second to none.
Somebody is going to love this desktop! (view larger image)
Back to the previous analogy, Ferrari has become a very profitable company by providing an overall experience in addition to really fast cars. You might even say they are the model for how to succeed in the enormous auto industry by building a relatively low volume high quality product. They know their market. I suspect that Voodoo will continue to be similarly successful in their market. I saw nothing but a singularly focused and uncompromising approach to building the best Windows PCs on the market.
But Voodoo is about more than just building the fastest computers. They want people to have computers that reflect individual personality. Voodoo PC wants to give us tools that we can be proud to use and are built for our specific applications.
Personally, I hope they succeed. There are too many beige boxes out there. As someone that sees products from many vendors, I have to be honest; It is hard to get excited about technology that the designers themselves probably would not buy. This makes Voodoo computers all the more refreshing. You get the feeling that at Voodoo the person who made your computer is as excited about building it, as you are about buying it.
We at NotebookReview.com will work to bring some reviews of Voodoo's notebooks in the near future and determine how well they are succeeding in their quest to change the way people think of their computing tools. Stay tuned!
Thanks goes to Voodoo PC for allowing us to visit and snoop around their headquarters!
Some Current Voodoo PC Notebooks
Envy i:522 (12.1-inch screen, 4.0lbs)
The Voodoo ENVY i:222 is a fantastic featherweight, featuring a 1.3 megapixel rotating video camera. This is a great feature for video conferencing and keeping in touch with family while on the road. The ENVY i:222 also features carbon fiber construction and a fantastic allure finish. This notebook is great for business people on the go who want to stay in touch with family, college students, movie buffs, those who care about maximum portability, ultimate style, and battery life.
ENVY a:522 (15.1-inch screen, 5.4lbs)
The Voodoo ENVY a:522 is our sexiest gaming capable notebook. Featuring ultra thin featherweight carbon fibre constructions, this notebook is great for gamers, business people on the go who want to stay in touch with family, college students, and those who care about maximum portability, ultimate style, gaming performance, and battery life.
ENVY u:522 (15.1-inch screen, 5.4lbs)
Our most upgradeable platform, the Voodoo ENVY u:522 notebook features an incredible 1600x1200 display, upgradeable graphics card, and performance to die for. This notebook is among our best for professional gamers, graphic artists, animation, CAD design, professional content creators, those who care about extreme performance and want decent battery life.
ENVY u:709 (17-inch screen notebook, 13lbs)
The Voodoo ENVY u:709 uses the AMD Athlon FX desktop processor as well as a selection of Dual Core processors from AMD. This makes it the worlds fastest notebook, period - nothing touches it. (This Voodoo Notebook is currently on pre-order at the moment. Stock should arrive at the end of October.)
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