Choosing the right kind of customer has become a vital aspect of business for The PC Zone in Helensville. Owner Richard Downer, 38, says servicing home computers has become uneconomic and he now prefers to stick to his list of small business customers who work with servers and terminals, over repairing or reselling new consumer products. The commercial aspect of the business provides real value to his company in recognising the staff’s skills as computer techs.
Reseller News last spoke to Downer in 2008, at the start of the recession. Helensville has seen some huge changes since then. Many businesses have closed down, leaving the local high street with empty shops, as the nearby industrial zone became festooned with vacancy signs. Downer’s business decisions have seen him through the recession as the company retains its position, turnover and staffing levels while others have folded.
“Whilst we’re still looking after some home users our core is the small business market,” he says. “We’ve always looked after small businesses but basically we’ve got to a point where we’re not taking on any new [home user] clients.
“My mind has changed a lot in the way we perceive business and the way we do things.” He says his main changes are: “Focusing on the here and now and looking after what we’ve got and focusing on my life and priorities as well.”
Despite the PC Zone being located on Commercial Road, which is Helensville’s high street, Downer says he doesn’t encourage a retail trade. “I don’t put out signs that we’re open or any pavement signs. All our customers that know us and want to use us know where we are and how to find us. We’re just not encouraging people to walk in off the street.
“Case in point: one of our competitors closed down and we took their phone number because they weren’t using it anymore and we thought what a great way to get more business as they are no longer available.” He says those customers proved to be unprofitable to service, however.
“I let it [the phone number] go after a month. Hindsight is beautiful. Basically I was then paying for all those customers I didn’t want anyway.”
He says dropping unprofitable customers is a practice written about in many business journals including the Harvard Business Review.The practice is often considered to be taboo in this recessionary climate but Downer says he has proved the strategy works simply by staying in business while others around him have fallen to the wayside. He says that concentrating on what the company does best, supplying technical expertise, is better for the customers too.
“I’m a technician first and foremost. I like looking at anything technical. If there’s a problem, I’m a problem solver. If I was still doing what I was doing when I first started my business we would’ve been like the other businesses in town, long gone.
“More and more people are picking up tablets and all they want them to do is get on the internet and email. People are doing less with their computers and they just want basic functions. The more that these devices become throw-away with less configuration the better for the users but for computer repair businesses it’s going to be harder if that’s your core focus to fix home machines.”
Downer says his move towards maintaining small business servers has paid off and says he only supplies HP ProLiant servers. “A server, especially in a Terminal Services environment or RDC as it’s now called, has got customer expectations. Why would you sell something that hasn’t got a bigger company behind it supporting it?”
He says he has only ever had one HP server fault and he puts that down to a fluctuating power supply.
Downer says the advance of cloud computing is not yet affecting the business. “Here and now that’s not affecting us. A lot of our clients have been using Drop Box and finding limitations with it. For our smaller customers we can actually sell and configure NAS drives that have cloud services built into them. Therefore we’re still in demand to sell those, to set them up and to show users how to access their stuff. There’s definitely sales money and time in configuration.”
“As in reselling cloud services, it’s probably not something that we would do at this stage. The feeling is that whilst there is money to be made, it’s going to be kind of like selling stuff on line, and trying to establish yourself and compete against people that are all trying to sell the same thing. Especially as people like to chop and change. Your ongoing revenue is not always going to be there.”
Downer is now looking towards remote monitoring as a new stream of business. He says there are opportunities in the monitoring of alarms, DVR systems and other kinds of surveillance systems.