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Lenovo's Best Buy deal may attract 'normal folk'

Retail stores are an increasing part of PC maker's strategy to move past IBM's enterprise customers. Video: New Lenovo ThinkPad

Lenovo's deal to sell ThinkPads and Lenovo 3000 PCs through Best Buy stores means the computer maker is no longer merely experimenting with the retail market.

As previously reported, Lenovo and Best Buy announced a deal on Tuesday to sell ThinkPads and other Lenovo PCs at Best Buy stores. The PCs will be available initially at more than 135 Best Buy for Business stores, which are special sections dedicated to small-business customers inside of the big-box consumer electronics stores.

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Related video: New Lenovo ThinkPad
CNET's Michelle Thatcher takes a first look at the Lenovo T60.

Lenovo signed a deal with Office Depot last year to distribute ThinkPad notebooks, but Best Buy stores come with the added bonus of attracting consumers who might be willing to purchase ThinkPad and , said Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates.

"Consumers create visibility. It's important for normal folks to know you exist," Kay said. Consumer PC sales have also grown more quickly than business sales during the past few years, he said.

IBM took its PC business direct in 1999, hoping to cut costs and focus on the enterprise market. But after agreeing to purchase IBM's PC business in December 2004, Lenovo has its sights set on a larger market. It is maintaining direct PC sales over the Web to please long-time ThinkPad customers while expanding into retail stores like Office Depot and Best Buy to attract new users.

The company has been aggressively marketing the Lenovo brand in the U.S. over the past few months, highlighted by a blast of commercials during the Winter Olympics in February. While the initial focus of the Best Buy relationship will be the small- and medium-size business customers that have always been ThinkPad targets, Lenovo could eventually find buyers for its PCs within the aisles of Best Buy, Kay said.

"They definitely would like to have some more consumer business in the U.S. They have plenty of it in China," Kay said. "But they don't feel that they are positioned for it yet. They need to do a bit more setting up."