CompUSA Inc., the nation's largest chain of computer superstores, said yesterday that it will open two stores in the Baltimore area, setting up a clash of "category killers" that could ram down computer hardware and software prices throughout the region.
Nathan Morton, president and chief executive of the Dallas-based company, said the two stores, each as big as a medium-sized grocery store, will open within six months. He declined to specify the locations because lease negotiations are not complete.
CompUSA's entry into the market sets up a battle between it and Tandy Corp., which operates Computer City Supercenters and plans to open two even larger Incredible Universe stores this fall.
Tandy opened the area's first computer superstore this week in the Yorkridge Shopping Center in Timonium, and Alan Bush, president of Computer City, has said his chain is looking for another location in Baltimore's southern suburbs.
The two category killer chains -- so named because their low prices and extensive selections can wipe out weak competitors -- take the same basic approach, offering a wide variety of computers, software, printers, modems and just about anything the computer user could want. Both have service departments, classroom instruction and special departments for business customers.
However, Computer City emphasizes its comprehensive selection of big-name brand items, including IBM, Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Compaq and Tandy.
CompUSA, which carries Apple products but not IBM or Compaq, puts more emphasis on low-priced "house brand" products.
CompUSA, a publicly traded company with $544 million in sales for the year that ended June 30, 1991, has 26 stores, including outlets in Rockville and Tysons Corner, Va.
Computer City's Timonium store,which will hold its grand opening Thursday will be the chain's 10th store since it made its debut last fall.
Both chains are expanding about as quickly as they can find suitable locations with about 25,000 square feet of space.
"They're in a real estate race," said Lise Buyer, a vice president in the Boston office of Cowen & Co. "CompUSA is in the lead, and Computer City is coming up on the rail."The clear winner in this fight is likely to be the Baltimore-area computer user, who stands to gain from increased price competition.