There's plenty of fight in 'proud Northlander' Dion McCracken.
Not only does he run the appropriately-named SlamIT in Whangarei, McCracken is also New Zealand's top authority in wrestling and a black belt senior instructor in Taekwondo.
Originally from Dargaville, McCracken met his wife Sasha in 1994 when the pair were the first graduates in Northtec's Bachelor of Applied Information Systems degree.
After graduation Dion worked as a support contractor for Whangarei District Council, looking after a large Citrix environment, before launching IT support services company SlamIT in 2004.
Sasha McCracken worked for an IT consultancy before joining SlamIT.
"The business is largely a lifestyle one for us. We can work from our home office (in suburban Whangarei) and spend a lot of time with our children Jake (6) and Taimaina (3). We're very lucky that we get to spend so much time with them and can still run a successful business. We could certainly earn a lot more of we worked for a consultancy, but the pay cut is worth the investment in family," McCracken explains.
"Whangarei has plenty of small IT shops serving SMBs in Northland with similar values of 'great IT solutions, fast service and happy customers.'
"The 'big boys' certainly have a much larger workforce and support base, but they're not able to service customers as quick as we can. That's the feedback we're getting," he continues.
The husband and wife team each have their own clients spread around Whangarei, with a few in Dargaville, and say they can bounce problems off each other. Almost all the work is business-related, but after previously redirecting consumer work to others, they have begun doing a little more such work themselves as McCracken says "you cannot be picky."
"Times are certainly tough and businesses aren't spending as they did a few years ago. But that forces you to come up with more innovative solutions to problems and to try to squeeze everything you can out of technology to help customers move forward," McCracken says.
Microsoft, HP, Cisco, ESET, m86Security, Storagecraft and Seagate make up the bulk of SlamIT's product and service offerings, received through Ingram Micro, Datastor and Chillisoft. Delivery is fine, though orders must typically be made in the morning for next day delivery.
McCracken says Northpower laying UFB in Whangarei is "presenting opportunities" but a "right first time" mentality helps SlamIT keep and win trade. "I'm sure I'm mildly obsessive compulsive with problem solving, too, so I make sure support calls are dealt with very rapidly," he adds.
Holidays are few and far between, but the couple make sure weekend work is rare. If they do head away, the pair ensure projects are signed off and other small IT shops can cover for them.
Last year business was 'good' despite dropping, though low overheads and 'great customer relationships' helped with survival. But 2012 is looking better, with business already improving with new clients, some early server sales and greater optimism in the air.
Cloud Computing presents challenges for businesses, with it changing how they operate. McCracken says he will look more closely at how cloud offerings can both save and help make his clients money.
One recent change was SlamIT launching MyITDept, which is essentially a rebranded all-you-can-eat support contract for clients, allowing them to budget their IT expenses and for SlamIT to spend as much time as needed for customer IT systems to operate efficiently. "It's proven quite successful amongst the 10 plus staff SMB site and continues to make up the core of our business," McCracken says.
"IT shops like us need to fundamentally change what we do if we want to survive. I often think I should have been a chef - a good steak will be cooked the same in 20 years, but IT evolves so rapidly, you can't sit still and rest on your laurels. Not that that is a bad thing necessarily."
All the same, Dion is hopeful for the future, helped by his extra curricular activities that "keep me sane."
"I'm a 3rd Dan Black Belt Senior Instructor at Pacific Sun Taekwondo, running my own classes twice a week. Two of TKD's tenets are 'Courtesy'and 'Integrity', so those teachings have definitely benefited me in business."
McCracken also plays club cricket thoughout the summer, though he is perhaps better known as a former commentator and current commissioner for Impact Pro Wrestling, helping bring that sport to Maori TV.
"That basically involves me playing the evil boss character - a great stress relief - and running live events across the country, which is a lot of fun," he adds.