The Computer Shop has been a part of the Timaru scene since the early 1990s.
In fact, Tim Small, who took over the business in 1998, calls himself a dinosaur of the IT business for being around so long.
Small was an electrician in a previous life, but he saw the writing on the wall.
“I figured it was the area that was going to develop in the future," he says. "It was leading into that Millennium era when a lot of companies started looking at their systems. At that point everything was starting to evolve and we were starting to see a bit more internet coming around as well."
Putting his career into perspective, Small says he came on the IT scene at the dawn of the x486 PC age. Back then, the shop was still focused primarily on retail sales, a period that Small reflects on like an old timer waxing nostalgic.
"In those days it was all dial-up," he says. "There was no such thing as broadband and modems used to make that lovely noise."
The amazing technology of the day, he says, was a live video feed (featuring a vending machine in Dunedin) displayed on a desktop in the shop.
“Looking back it was a bit Wild West back then," Small continues. "There were people popping up left right and centre all doing their own little things and some of them had some fairly ‘out there’ ideas of what they could implement on the systems that they had at the time. Now it’s become much more standardised."
The Computer Shop evolved over time to include some cloud services, Small says.
"It seems to appeal to the smaller businesses, as in one to five users, not Microsoft’s idea of a small business: I think New Zealand is a small business according to them," Small says. "If you’re bigger than that it seems to be that in-house is still the way to go. We predominantly use Microsoft Small Business Server 2011. For the majority of our customers that’s an ideal platform. The various offerings in that means that it suits their business down to a tee.”
Small avoids open source technology, and even Apple, because neither suits his personality.
"I find it better staying with what I call the mainstream and staying with products that you know are getting a lot of use out there and getting support out there, whether it’s just free support off the net or support through Microsoft if you get really stuck," he says. "We don’t want to develop too far into the fringes and that’s why we predominantly avoid the Apple platform as well. The market share is just too small. We’re so busy dealing with businesses that want to stay in the Microsoft arena, then why would you go outside that arena? We haven’t got enough hours in the day to cover that already. So why add something else to the mix?”
Small has always been based in Timaru, and most of his staff have roots there, as well.
"We like Timaru. It gives us the best work life balance," says Small. "The people are generally pretty laid back. They like the fact that people get a break and have time off and we like that fact as well."
The town is situated within reach of other markets where the Computer Shop has customers, from Omaru to the south, up to the Mackenzie Basin, Twizel and even Ashburton on occasion.
"It works out well sometimes because we can go and do jobs in Twizel and then stay there for the weekend," he says. "But Timaru is still the sort of place where you can drop your wallet on the road someone will pick it up and give it back to you.”
The Computer Shop has a staff of five, focused primarily on installations and project support for commercial clients. The company provides a "core business grouping" with "break-fix support" says Small, and a lower level of service support for a wider group of customers.
These days, the company does a lot less retail work than when Small took over. The company does 20 percent retail, 30 percent repair and maintenance, and 50 percent support and sales to commercial clients.
"Probably one of the reasons we’re still here is that we’re constantly changing the mix of our business as the market changes," he says. "If you don’t keep up you’ll disappear.”