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Hand uses "free" PCs as incentives

In the latest twist on the concept, Hand Technologies is offering free or heavily discounted PCs to people willing to join their network of "consultants."

Hand Technologies is giving away free computers, Tupperware-style.

In the latest twist on the free PC concept, Hand Technologies is offering free or heavily discounted PCs to people willing to join their network of "Technology Consultants." These salespeople, or "TCs" in Hand's parlance, sell PCs, software, and peripherals. They're sold door-to-door, over the phone, and through individual e-commerce Web sites set up and run by Hand. The company has 5,300 representatives thus far.

As computers continue to drop in price, more and more companies are inventing PC giveaway promotions, usually with the intent of recouping the costs of such programs through lateral marketing and services revenues. In the last few weeks, companies like InterSquid, Gobi and DirectWeb have all announced free PC plans. Some, like Gobi, recover their costs by charging incremental fees on ISP services. Others recoup expenses through advertising.

Hand, which is run by former executives from Dell Computer and CompUSA, is one of the first multi-tiered marketing companies to use the PC as a hook to lure new salespeople.

"Until now, free-PC offers have come with many strings attached, requiring people to sign up for everything from Internet service to constant advertising," said Andrew Harris, chief executive of Hand Technologies, in a statement. "Our approach is much simpler."

The consultants make a commission from each sale, in addition to other bonuses from signing up teams of new salespeople, according to Hand. On top of that, incoming consultants now get a new Cyrix-based computer when they sign up to sell Hand PCs and software.

The offer is limited to the first new 10,001 people who sign up, and is contingent upon each consultant passing a computer competency test and paying a fee of $145, the standard requirements to sell Hand products.

Alternatively, the company is also offering a coupon for an Intel Pentium III computer for $699.

Neither computer comes with a monitor, although consultants are free to purchase one from Hand, a company representative said.

Hand's strategy echoes those used by other outfits such as Amway and those who sell "Pepino"--the alleged "fruit of the future." But Hand claims the strategy is "revolutionary" and will change the way that PCs are sold.