When Michael Pavletich and Glynn Smith found themselves running identical businesses six years ago, they decided they better join forces. Their operations in Katikati had the same business approach and philosophy and they also shared a love of motorcycling.
However, though the partnership works well, Pavletich admits running a small business like Katikati Computers can be trying when one of them is away. Early in January, for example, Pavletich was effectively tied to the shop, while Smith was on holiday. Foot traffic and phone calls come and go, creating peaks in work that can only be overcome by coming in early and taking some work home.
Surprisingly, for techies, they also find pen and paper most efficient for taking notes of what needs to be done. However, they also use remote support where possible to ease the load, adding that customers don't mind the odd after-hours follow-up.
Katikati Computers has been operating since 2006 and serves customers mainly around Katikati but as far afield as Paeroa and Tauranga, with an 80/20 split between small businesses and consumers. Mostly the businesses are related to farming, with some manufacturers and service organisations.
The venture employs Pavletich and Smith, plus two part-timers. Pavletich has worked in building and manufacturing. Smith has a farming background.
Pavletich became interested in computers while being a salesman for Wholesale Computer Supplies, which provided ribbons and toners to resellers. There, he trained in IT and now counts his former boss as a customer, despite him living 250km away.
Smith loved computers and did a course in IT, opening a business in Paeroa before moving to Katikati in 2005, with the pair joining forces the following year.
Pavletich says the name of the business identifies them with the town and also prevents potential competitors from moving in and using it. "We don't try to compete with the chain stores because they are not interested in after-sales service or hardware longevity," he explains. "We choose to provide primarily hardware brands at the top of the reliability scale because while we don't mind customers boomeranging, we don't like systems coming back unduly. Every reseller knows that the hardware cost is only 8-10% of the TCO so we focus on hardware for which we can provide long-term support, which ends up being more lucrative in the long run."
Katikati Computers uses Dove, JDI and Synnex to supply regular hardware, with Asus, Enermax, Gigabyte, Sony and Toshiba being preferred brands."Most of our suppliers provide overnight service for all these brands and we have a good relationship with them all," Pavletich says.
However, when it comes to software, he prefers open source, saying elements of it is used in 95 out of 100 systems that come across his testing bench. "Our custom built systems will always have some form of OSS software pre-loaded into the Windows system and a handful of systems are provided as dual boot for customers that choose our advanced software builds."
"Some customers, after having experienced OSS first hand, return their systems asking us to remove Windows altogether and make OSS the primary system. These customers enjoy a stable system that is feature rich, never slows down, requires less maintenance and is more reliable than anything they've ever seen," he adds. "Most customers who choose OSS have an intense gratitude to us for having introduced them to OSS, so they come back, not often for repairs, but for more of the same for themselves or others for additional tuition, which is no different really to what Windows users require," Pavletich explains.
And though OSS is supposedly 'free', it still means money can be made in repairs and coding and the lack of software licenses allows for higher margins too.
Last year, Katikati Computers continued the shift in sales towards personal devices, as laptop sales also exceeded PC sales. "We have been suitably impressed with the recent flood of Android offerings, especially the Asus Transformer," Pavletich says. He expects sealed devices like tablets will be the way of the future and younger people are certainly "lusting after" such devices.
When recession struck, Katikati Computers had to let its receptionist go and it finds business still suffering from the knock-on effects of a bacterial disease known as PSA affecting the prosperity of the local kiwi-fruit dominated local economy. Pavletich expects the same in 2012, with further economic downturn and greater challenges for profitiability, forcing them to be even more attractive to end users. "When a business provides a great service, it gets A grade customers and maintains a healthy growth pattern and this is our desire and goal for 2012," he says.